Introducing a new pet to your household

Woman crouching down next to black dog

Your pet will need time to adjust to its new home, and the transition may be somewhat stressful. An animal that displays a happy, playful attitude at the shelter may act wary and fearful in a new environment.

Watch for cues about how your pet is feeling. If your pet seems timid, try to move slowly, or just sit in the same room reading a book and let your pet come to you. If your pet is full of energy and ready to play, get out the toys right away. But be cautious. Pets can be both scared and full of energy. Modify your actions to make your new pet feel welcome. The care you take with your own behavior in early days will pay off in the future as your pet learns that you are someone to trust.

Resist giving your pet the run of the house

Many animals coming from the shelter have been in a cage or kennel for days or weeks before arriving at your home. To have the run of an entire house can be overwhelming, especially if it happens too fast. Resist the temptation to let your pet run loose in the house during this first week, especially if you have other pets.

Dogs

Give your new dog a week or more to settle in and feel comfortable with her new environment. If your new puppy or dog seems comfortable and relaxed, meaning not hiding and is willing to come to you for affection and food, you can provide access to other areas of your home.

If you have other pets, follow the steps for successful introductions.

If your new dog is your only pet, you can give him the chance to explore. Before you begin, be sure any off-limits areas (basement, attic, garage) are not accessible, so the first big tour doesn’t end up in a frantic search.

Try introducing your dog to other parts of your house while on leash, so you can provide understanding of where and where not to go. On your first tour, walk around each room and let your pet sniff everything. If your pet tries to jump on something off-limits, calmly redirect him to an appropriate area. Pet or play in these accessible areas to associate these locations with positive things. Depending on your dog’s nature, you may need to give several “guided tours” on a leash before your pet understands how to behave in the house and which areas are accessible. Puppies should stay in a limited area in your home where you can supervise them until they are house-trained.

Some animals respond very well to an expanded living area. Others become frightened and retreat. If your pet seems more nervous now that you have given more access to the house, slow down the introduction process to match comfort level. Some dogs feel safest in a relatively small area, only willing to explore other parts of the home if you accompany them. Every animal is different. Get to know what your pet prefers and try to support those preferences.

Cats

Because cats are more “creatures of habit” than dogs, a cat may choose to hide under a bed or in a closet for the first few days. Don’t force interactions. Set up a small, quiet area for your new cat to help establish a safe and secure environment.

Give your new cat a week or more to settle in and feel comfortable with her new environment. It’s best to confine to a single, quiet room with the cat’s own litterbox, food dish, and a box or bed. Use this time to make sure your new pet is healthy by keeping your appointment for the free physical exam.

If your cat  seems comfortable and relaxed, meaning not hiding and is willing to come to you for affection and food, you can provide access to other areas of your home.

If you have other pets, follow the steps for successful introductions.

If your new cat is your only pet, you can provide the chance to explore. Before you begin, be sure any off-limits areas (basement, attic, garage) are not accessible, so the first big tour doesn’t end up in a frantic search.

When you’re ready, open the door from your pet’s room and sit just outside. Encourage your cat to come to you, then reward with attention or a treat. Staying seated, let your cat wander freely. If the cat seems comfortable after 15 minutes, get up and go about your business in the house, but stay near enough to make sure there is no trouble. Restrict free time to less than an hour at first, but gradually lengthen it until your cat or kitten is out in the house whenever you’re home. Once your cat has found places to play and relax, move food, water, and litterbox to their permanent location. If you’re moving the litterbox a long distance (from an upstairs bedroom to the basement, for example), set up a second box in the new location, but leave the first one in your cat’s special room until the second one is used on a regular basis.

If there are places your cat is not allowed to go – tabletops, counters, plant shelf – establish those rules during the first tour of the house. Placing double-sided tape on counters and tables can help teach your cat to avoid these surfaces. Rattle a can full of pebbles as your cat approaches off-limits areas to help associate the behavior with an unpleasant noise. Don’t allow your cat the run of the house when you’re not around until you’re confident the “house rules" are understood.

Some animals respond very well to an expanded living area. Others get frightened and retreat. If your cat seems more nervous now that you have given more access to the house, slow down the introduction process to match comfort level. Some cats feel safest in a relatively small area, only willing to explore other parts of the home if you  accompany them. Every animal is different. Get to know what your pet prefers and try to support those preferences.

It’s a jungle out there

Keep your cat indoors. Predators, disease, fast-moving cars, and toxic chemicals are just a few of the dangers cats face when allowed to roam outdoors. If you want your cat to experience the great outdoors, use a harness and leash and accompany him as he explores your yard. Always keep a collar and ID tag on your cat in the event he should accidentally get off leash or escape the house.

Introducing your pet to resident pets

If you already have pets at home, you are no doubt looking forward to a happy, harmonious relationship between all your animals. Follow the guidelines listed here to give everyone the best chance for a lasting friendship.

Children and pets

Caring for a pet can be a wonderful way to teach your children respect and compassion for all living things. Make it clear to children that pets are not toys. Animals must be treated gently and handled with care. Young children must never be left alone or unsupervised, with any animal, even for a moment. Although children can participate in light-care activities like grooming and playtime, a parent must be fully prepared to be the primary caretaker.

Dogs and puppies

  • Even the most docile of dogs can cause harm if teased or frightened or if his/her prey drive is triggered. As a parent, it’s up to you to teach your dog appropriate behavior, as well as teaching your children how to behave around pets.
  • Socialization and obedience training are key to preventing undesirable behaviors in dogs. Call our Pet Helpline at 952-HELP-PET if you need assistance with your pet.
  • Always supervise your children’s interactions with any pet. An adult should be present to ensure a safe and positive experience for both child and pet. Some suggestions include:
  • Teach your children to treat animals with respect. Show them how to approach and touch dogs properly. They must never provoke a dog into growling, barking or lunging.
  • Help children understand canine body language so they can recognize when a dog is friendly, fearful or aggressive.
  • When a child greets a dog, move slowly and offer the dog the back of a hand to sniff before petting. Petting the dog under the chin or on the chest will be less threatening to the dog than petting the top of the head.
  • Children should not encourage a dog to chase them. Quick movements and high-pitched voices can trigger a dog’s attack-and-chase response.
  • Avoid tug-of-war games, as this sets up a competition between child and dog. These games often over-stimulate a dog and can encourage the dog to grab at hands and clothes.
  • Teach children to respect a dog’s privacy. Never allow a child to disturb a dog while eating, chewing on a bone or toy, or sleeping. Dogs are naturally territorial and may growl, snap or bite to protect their possessions.
  • Tell children not to look a dog directly in the eye. In dog language, a stare is a threat and may trigger the dog to act dominantly or aggressively.

Cats and kittens

Your new cat or kitten will need several days to adjust to its new home, so limit your child’s interaction to gentle petting, and only when the cat approaches. Do not allow young children to pick up, carry or put their faces close to the animal. Sudden movements and loud noises can easily frighten your pet, so children should speak and sit quietly around the cat.