By Samantha Randall — YouTuber, podcaster and editor-in-chief at Top Dog Tips.
“Rescue Me” is a recurring column by Samantha Randall, editor-in-chief at Top Dog Tips. She’ll provide personal anecdotes and perspective about her life as a pet lover with a passion for cat and dog rescue. Today, she talks about introducing a rescue to other pets in your home.
There are many good reasons to rescue dogs or become a foster parent for pets in need. However, bringing home any new rescue dog can also be stressful for owners and pets, especially if there are already pets in the home.
Will they get along? Will they kill each other — literally? Most of the time, there are some tense moments in the beginning, but everything ends up working out just fine.
Generally, if you are bringing home a rescue dog, you’ve done your research and considered all possibilities. But just in case, here are my eight tips to create a successful transition for every member of your family.
1. Ask Questions
The good thing about getting a rescue dog is that the shelter (or wherever you find your new pup) you are getting your new pooch from knows about the dog’s behavior. This is especially true if the canine has been fostered in a home already. They may already know if the animal is good with other dogs, cats, kids, etc.…
Never hesitate to ask as many questions as you can, and don’t be afraid to change your mind. The shelter will understand. They want to make a successful match just as much as you do.
2. Remain Calm
It is indeed a very happy and exciting time for those adopting a rescue dog, but it is important to remain calm and rational, and to devise a good plan of action. It will be a stressful time for the new addition as well as for your other dogs and cats.
Make sure other family members, including your current pets and kids, know how to behave around the new dog at this time. Don’t shout and squeal. Don’t immediately start petting and playing. Understand the position of the new rescue.
If one of the dogs starts growling, that’s not the time to get angry and fuss — be prepared, stay calm and deal with the situation carefully. Your new four-legged friend will need a couple of peaceful days to take everything in and settle into their new home. If you rush it, either one of the animals may become aggressive.
3. Keep Toys and Treats Out of Sight
Before the new dog arrives, you want to pick up all toys, treats and even food bowls. Canine family members are encouraged to play with their own things, so they really do view them as “mine” which sets a precedent for the dog’s resource-guarding behavior. Dog trainers warn that the current resident pet may become territorial and aggressive when the newbie is around their stuff. You probably should keep all dog toys put away until the animals are friendly with each other.
My dogs cannot have chew bones, for example. They get very selfish and growl and bark, even flat-out fight. On the other hand, they’re fine with stuffed animals, so these are the only toys they get. The behavior highly depends on the individual dog, thus some trial and error will be needed.
4. Take It Slow
Basically, your plan of action should include more than simply coming home, setting the kennel down, and opening the door for the other pets. Even if you know the new pup and your pets are friendly with other animals, this is a new situation. Everyone may need some time to adjust.
Keep them separated for a while as they get used to each other. Consider using a pet gate (especially when combining dogs and cats), so they can see and smell each other, but they still feel protected. If you have more than one resident pet, introduce the future friends one at a time. The goal is to not overwhelm the new addition.
5. Meet on Neutral Territory
Most shelters and rescue agencies allow meet-and-greet sessions before the official adoption. You may want to set up a visit at a local dog park or a friend’s house that happens to have a large yard — anywhere that the resident animal won’t feel too protective of the home.
If there are other humans in your household, that’s great! You will need someone to help you here. In these situations, you don’t want the animals too close to each other at first, so it’s best if you hold the new dog on a leash and you have someone else that can handle your resident pet(s).
6. Keep on Leash
Now your new addition is ready to tour the home. Keep your resident pet outside and let the newcomer walk through the house getting used to the smells and sights.
Once the new rescue seems to have settled in and smelled everything around, put him or her outside. It’s time to bring your old friend into the house now. Let the resident pet walk around. This will allow them to get used to having the new dog smell in their house.
It’s finally time to bring both pets inside at the same time. You want to keep both dogs on a leash at this time. The goal is to establish some ground rules and let the dogs know that you’ll intervene should there be any problems. A leash also gives you more control if things start to go bad between the pets.
Anytime your animals start to growl, act aggressive or seem frightened, immediately stop and separate the two. Give them both reassurances separately, and after a break, start again. It may take a few days, or even weeks, but you should never leave your pets alone until you are 100 percent sure they will get along with each other 100 percent of the time.
7. Separate at Feeding Times
Some animals get very territorial when they eat. It is best to feed them apart until you know more about not only the behavior of your new rescue but also the relationship the two dogs (or the dog and a cat) have. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry!
8. Don’t Force It
We all like some people more than others; animals are the same way. Your new pet and your old pet may never really get along, and that depends on many different variables. They may also just tolerate each other. While that’s not ideal, it’s much better than being aggressive towards each other.
You may have hopes of a big, happy household with all the animals being the best of friends. It is great when it works out like that, and I’ve seen this happen most of the time (including my own situation). But you have to realize that it can be fine if that’s not totally the case.
Shelters and rescue organizations want what is best for the animals too. They won’t be angry if you have to bring your rescued friend back. Yes, it may break your heart, but you can search for another rescue dog or cat that will get along better with your existing pack.