Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How to Introduce Another Animal into the Family

We have been very lucky to introduce a new family member this summer.  Her name is Penny and she is a very cool coloured cat.  I thought I would share how I go about introducing my animals to each other.

Introducing a new animal into the household is always stressful. You have a happy cohesive group and any changes might not always work out the way you hoped. Familiarity is the key. Be it a new kitten, a new puppy or even an adult animal the approach is similar.

Safe Zones
Creating a safe space is vital. Coping with change is easier when you feel safe. The same applies to animals.
  1. Create a safe zone for the new family member. X-pens and crates work well but baby gates also do the trick. This is a space intended for the new member only. No other animal should be allowed inside it.
  2. Ensure the safe zone has all the necessities: water, food, toys, and litter.
  3. Provide something for the new member to hide in or behind if she gets scared.  A crate or even a box will work.
The Introduction
  1. Put all other animals away, in their crates, outside or in another room behind a door.
  2. Introduce the new family member to the safe zone.
  3. Once the new family member starts to explore her safe zone, release the other animals one at a time.  If you have multiple animals start with your calmest and work your way up.  Take your time.
When you release the others, they will run over and sniff the safe zone. This will likely scare the new member. Let them be unless you end up with unacceptable behaviours such as; non stop barking, aggression, charging, etc. They will soon get bored and go about their day. The animals (old and new) will sniff and interact with each other through the barriers of the safe zone.  

The Great Release
Once you see that the animals have reached a level of familiarity, you are ready for the release.
  1. Have only one animal in the room, again starting with your calmest animal.  Wait until everyone has settled down and are not standing at the gate waiting.
  2. Open the safe zone to allow the new member to come out and investigate. Make sure she can ran back to be safe whenever she feels the need.
  3. Allow the animals to interact under your supervision.  Be prepared to intervene but at the same time don't panic.
Building familiarity takes time ... for both old and new
Safe environments are required for both animals to get comfortable with each other. The length of time required before everyone is comfortable varies. Don’t force it. 

Work with the existing group is required. Remember basic training principles and reinforce the good behaviours. Having multiple animals can offer interesting training options. For example, if the old dog barks at the new puppy (excessive barking remove the old dog), toss treats into the safe zone so the puppy gets a reward every time he got barked at.

Build up freedom little by little. Taking the time to make introductions is the foundation to building good relationships within your family.

What have you done to introduce your new animals? Share your strategies and tips by commenting below!