Bringing a new four-legged family member home is really exciting! There are so many great times ahead — so much bonding, snuggling, playing, and genuine affection. And if you adopted from a shelter or rescue, there’s that extra feel-good factor of knowing that you’ve helped to save a life. With all these wonderful things to look forward to, it’s easy to get ahead of ourselves and rush into the ideal we’re seeing in our imaginations. In reality, pets (and their new people) all feel stress and uncertainty when they are brought into a new home. This is normal. How you choose to introduce new pets into your home can help to ease transitions and start new relationships off on the right paw.
First thing’s first. Make sure all people in your household are on the same page about how introductions should be handled. This includes children who should be taught to be kind and respectful of animals. No wrestling, tail tugging, forceful head pats, chasing, etc. Introductions to new people should be calm, one person at a time, and should go at your pet’s pace. Do not force a frightened pet, and do not crowd them. Some will be bold and accept attention quickly, but others might need some time to learn that they are safe.
Introductions with other pets in the home should be managed strategically:
For dogs, it’s best to meet on neutral ground outside of your house. A walk together can be a good first activity before you even go inside. This gets the dogs working near each other but without a face-to-face dynamic that could escalate quickly. Once inside, try to maintain a calm environment and do not force interactions or allow a pushy dog to overdo it with a nervous dog. Be mindful of your own energy, too. If you are nervous or pulling on the leash, the dogs will know and will follow your lead. Stay calm. Meetings in small doses might be best for everyone. Your new dog should be provided its own safe space to decompress if needed.
Do not bring food or treats into the introduction between dogs. This can easily turn into a negative experience as one tries to claim the food or compete with the other for the treat or your attention.
For cats, never just put them in the same space together at their first meeting. No one likes to be hissed or swatted at. Plan to allow your new kitty to have it’s own quiet space in your home for a few days with a blanket or towel that already has it’s scent on it. Cats are comforted by having their own familiar scent around them. You can even swap an item with your new cat’s scent for an item with your existing cat’s scent as a way for them to get used to each other. From there, visual introductions can be made through a baby gate or screen door. First interactions should be supervised. As always with cats, you can’t rush them. Let them go at their own pace.
During this initial time, try not to introduce any more significant changes to your household. It’s probably not the best time to host your child’s baseball team for a weekend-long pool party or to do major construction on your house. Your initial focus should just be in making sure your whole family is aligned in how to be patient and consistent with your new pet. Children should be respectful of their space as trust builds, training should be using consistent positive reinforcement techniques, etc.
Cats and dogs tell you a lot about what they are feeling if you watch their body language. People often misunderstand what is being said, so it’s important for any pet owner to learn what to look for. For example, a panting dog isn’t necessarily hot or happy and playful. Panting is also a common sign of stress. In cats, the same goes for purring. It’s not only something cats do when they are content. It’s also something they do to try to create contentment when they are anxious. Learn to see a relaxed body, relaxed ears, tail position, etc. as a form of communication. When you know how your pet is feeling, you can adjust your behavior to support their needs.
Even if a pet seems upbeat and happy, keep in mind that stress can be underlying and cumulative. Dog, cat, horse, or bird, the experience for them is that their whole world has just changed in the course of an hour, and even if it’s a major upgrade, they will be confused and possibly upset initially. Some pets take longer than others to adjust, but it’s a good rule of thumb to expect it take a few weeks before you fully see your new pet’s relaxed personality shining. Young puppies and kittens will likely adjust more quickly, though.
As always, we’re here if you have any questions! Please check out our other helpful articles that might be helpful if you’re thinking of getting a new pet!