We added a desert tortoise to our family years after our terrier, named Peter Parker, joined the family. Peter Parker doesn’t quite know what to think about this large, slow-moving creature — but luckily, tortoises pretty much keep to themselves.
Things are a bit trickier when you bring a new cat or dog into the mix — and a great transition is important to the sanity of the whole family. Tempers can soar and fur may fly if some pre-planning isn’t put into that first nose-to-nose introduction.
“When dogs are worn out after exercise, they are generally mellower — and calm dogs socialize better,” said one trainer.
“Different pet situations require different steps,” Seven Flores of Tucson, Arizona, told LifeZette. Flores has worked with veterinarians and trainers with her own pets, as well as others’ animals. Adding a new puppy to the family, for example, will be extremely different from bringing in an older dog from an animal shelter. The sex of the animals — as well as if they are spayed or neutered — may come into play as well.
Bringing a new animal into the house is a serious decision. “Nobody wants to regret bringing another family member home, so one of the best ideas is to make a good choice beforehand,” Will Bruner, a dog trainer with AZ Sports in Phoenix, Arizona, noted.
That means considering what your current “pet life” is like. “If you and your dogs enjoy the quiet life, bringing in an overly exuberant, active puppy can be disruptive,” explained Bruner. “This can also hold true if you have a calmer or more passive dog and you bring in a dog who greets like a truck and plays like a linebacker.”
You don’t always know what personality a new pet will have, but you can ask questions of a breeder or the shelter when you visit. Spending some time playing with a cat or dog to get a feel for how it interacts with humans is important, too.
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Bringing the new addition home. Patience and space are crucial when your new animal companion enters the house — the place where Pet No. 1 has been in charge. “Dogs can be naturally territorial of their space and nothing is more disturbing than a stranger that comes in and jumps on your bed, takes your spot on the couch and steals your toys,” explained Bruner.
Crating your new dog can give both animals their own much-needed area, and the same goes for cats or ferrets. “This gives a new dog somewhere to go to and acknowledges your existing dogs’ right to own their space,” noted Bruner. “It can also help during feeding times allowing all to eat without wondering if the new guy is going to help himself to someone else’s food.”
Using strategies that create calm. Naughty dogs are often those with lots — and lots — of energy. One of the best strategies for making peace between dogs who have to share a house? Simple! Wear them out. “When dogs are worn out, they are generally mellower, and calm dogs socialize better,” said Bruner. “A secondary benefit of doing those walks is that it helps dogs form bonds with each other.”
Listening and staying alert from a distance are also crucial skills for the humans in this situation. No matter the animal, new relationships have to develop without you.
“Dogs are usually very good at setting boundaries with each other and often our intervention can cause more problems than it helps,” Bruner noted. Your old pet might feel protective toward you, too.
So when should you step in? “If you have an older dog or a very passive dog that won’t stand up for itself when the new puppy is chewing on its face, this is when you need to step in,” Bruner advised.
“Well-trained dogs are generally calmer and can be easily called away from situations before there is tension,” said the canine expert.
He means stepping in literally: “Place your body between the two dogs and calmly back the young upstart away, praising when they turn away from the other dog. Then try to engage them in a new task such as a toy or a short training session. You’re letting the old dog know you’ve got his back and telling the young dog you will support the old guy if needed.”
Seeking expert help. Getting training for both animals — or just the new family member — doesn’t mean you have been defeated. “Well-trained dogs are generally calmer and can be easily called away from situations before there is tension,” Bruner said. Training can also be a terrific bonding activity for you and your pet, as you spend time together learning the ropes.
Accepting other animals is an important part of training. You can try either group or try one-on-one instruction, which could potentially grow to include the rest of the family — those who walk on two legs or those who travel on four. With persistence and patience, a happy “pet family” can be an enriching reality for your family.
Eliana Osborn is married, has two children, and lives in the Southwest. She writes about higher education topics and parenting.