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Introducing a Rescue Dog to Our Cat: A Case Study

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 2 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
 
Dog Cat New Pet Resident Rescue

The Anderson family had been talking for a long time about adding a dog to their family – although they loved their old tabby, Mittens, the kids wanted a more interactive playmate and Mike and Harriet wanted a companion they could take with them on their daily walks.

“We weren’t quite sure what kind of dog we wanted,” recalls Harriet. “Just something not too big and preferably not too hairy!” She laughs. “I guess we didn’t really think it through properly. We just went down to the local rescue shelter one day and the kids fell in love with this Staffie-cross called Boo. We hadn’t even thought about how Mittens would take the new arrival until we were filling out some forms and the shelter staff asked us if we had any other pets at home.”

Mike and Yvonne were surprised to learn that it wasn’t as simple as just arriving at home and shoving the two pets together in a room. On the contrary, the introduction between the new dog and the resident cat had to be carefully managed and supervised if everyone was going to live in harmony. Armed with advice from the shelter staff, they went home with a careful plan of how to introduce Boo and Mittens to each other in the safest and most positive way possible.

Introducing the New Member of the Family

“The shelter staff had told us that it was really important for Mittens to have some safe places she could escape to, away from Boo, if she felt threatened. They also said it would be best to keep them separated at first and let them get used to each other gradually,” explains Harriet. “So when we got home, Mike took Boo for a walk to tire him out, so that he was a bit more relaxed, and while he was doing that, I found our old baby gate that we used to use for the kids and I put that up in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen. It’s got bars wide enough apart for Mittens to get through but Boo wouldn’t be able to get through it.”

Mike then brought Boo into the living room, while Harriet stayed with Mittens in the kitchen. At first, the old tabby hissed and spat as soon as she saw the new dog but when she realized that Boo couldn’t get through the baby gate, she relaxed. Over the next few days, the family carefully observed the two pets, while keeping them separated so that they could see and smell each other while being at a safe distance. They also played games and did training with Boo in the living room, so that eventually he got bored of the cat that ignored him and turned his attention instead to the humans who were much more rewarding.

Slowly Does It...

“After a week, we decided to take the next step – so we put Boo in his crate and let Mittens into the living room. You could see that she was a bit wary but when she realized that he was safely in his crate, she actually got quite bold – in fact, she walked right up to the crate and stared at him curiously for ages!”

The Andersons praised Boo and gave him treats for remaining calm in his crate while Mittens was exploring around him and he behaved so well that after a few more days of this exercise, they decided to try the next step.

“We put Boo on a leash and let Mittens into the living room and just waited to see what would happen. Boo got a bit excited and started pulling a bit, to try and get to her, but we just distracted him with a toy and got him to do some training for treats. I was so proud of him because he did so well. Mittens didn’t seem bothered at all, actually. She just sauntered around the room and then sat and watched him doing his training.”

Harriet decided that it was time for the animals to meet so she let Boo walk up to Mittens and try to sniff her. The cat puffed up slightly but did not move away and even returned the sniff. The Anderson family were delighted. It seemed that their pets were going to be good friends!

One Big Happy Family

“After that, it was easy,” says Harriet. “We kept Boo on lead for a few more times – and then finally we let him off. We were all holding our breaths to see what would happen – I was ready to jump in at the first sign of trouble – and we had provided high places for Mittens to climb to, plus she could still escape through the baby gate to the safety of the kitchen…but it all went so well! We were so surprised. He went up to her really respectfully and sniffed her – she sort of ignored him and walked off; he followed her a bit and tried to get her to play but backed off really quickly when she hissed at him. Within 10 minutes it was easy to see that Mittens was totally the boss.”

“Looking at them today, curled up together in front of the fire, it’s hard to believe they haven’t always been best friends,” smiles Harriet. “But I’m sure it’s because we followed the advice and introduced them properly, even though it was a bit of a long drawn-out process. I’ve had friends who didn’t do what we did and one ended up with their cat leaving home and the other one had to give the dog back to the shelter. So I think it’s really worth it!”

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