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Introducing Your Dog into a New Household

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Introducing your dog into a new household with unfamiliar people or other pets can be a source of concern.  If all the pets have been well socialized with a variety of people and other animals, then the fear and anxiety associated with the first few interactions are usually minimal.  However, pets that are fearful, aggressive, or simply overly playful and inquisitive often need some time, effort, and additional training to help them adapt to new situations, new people, and other pets.


When introducing a new dog into a home with other dogs, it's a good idea to have the dogs meet and interact on neutral territory several times beforehand.  When the dogs are together, a leash (at minimum) and head halter can help ensure a positive and gradual introduction, while allowing you to have sufficient control in case of problems.  Desirable responses (eg, tail wagging, friendly sniffing) should immediately be reinforced, while undesirable responses (eg, growling, lip lifting) should be immediately interrupted and then avoided if possible by increasing the distance between the dogs.  If anxiety or excitement escalates, punishment and fear-evoking techniques must be completely avoided.  The goal is to settle the dog in the presence of the other dog(s) and reward acceptable responses.


When it is time for all the dogs to return to the same home, make sure to take them all for a walk together and have a play session first.  Set up separate feeding and sleeping areas for each pet until you can see that they are all comfortable with one another.  If your dog has been crate-trained, the crate will provide it with its own safe place in the new environment.  Keeping new dogs separated when unsupervised prevents problems and possible injury.


When introducing dogs to cats, the response of each animal to the other must be considered.  In most cases, the pets work things out for themselves in the first week or two.  However, the initial introduction of the dog to the cat should be done in a controlled environment, perhaps with the dog on leash and head halter, and with rewards being given for desirable responses.  The cat should have plenty of space and be able to climb and retreat.  Treats and play should also be provided to distract the cat, keep it occupied, and help ensure a positive outcome.  In case of extreme aggression and fear, consult your veterinarian.  It may be prudent to keep the dog and cat separated, unless supervised, to avoid injury to either one.


The basic principle of introducing your pet to unfamiliar people is to associate positive things for the pet (eg, treats, play, exercise) with the new people in the household. At first, these interactions can be done with both the current and new family members present.  New family members should not use any form of discipline or punishment.  Make sure that your dog has a quiet, secure area where it can be comfortably confined if it becomes overwhelmed with unfamiliar people.  And always make sure that you spend some time with every pet every day.

Credit: Written and reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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