Before we moved to Louisiana, I
obsessed researched like crazy, read everything I could find, and talked to people with combined households about introducing dogs and cats. Emmett, Lucas, and Cooper had almost no experience with cats, and Newt had no experience with dogs. The one factor that I thought would work in our favor was that neither the dogs nor the cat were “resident animals” since we were all moving into a new place at the same time. No one would feel like their space was being encroached upon since it was neutral for everything.
We started with a three-pronged plan: Get the used to each other’s smells and stuff, let them see each other at a safe/restrained distance, and (eventually) allow them to meet directly.
I wasn’t sure how long each step would take, but we wanted to make sure they were all comfortable before we increased the difficulty.
One crucial aside: The house is set up to make this process super easy. The dogs have the first floor. You go up a flight of stairs into a large living room – the neutral zone. Then there’s a flight of stairs from that room that goes to the second floor, which is Newt’s area. Each zone is separated by a door, but we also have a series of baby gates set up in each “hot spot” to make sure that there’s no way the dogs can get to Newt until we’re ready for that to happen!
A week into it, we’ve had to make some adjustments… Here’s where we are and where (I think) we’re going:
Smells and Stuff
Before beginning this whole process, we made a few predictions. First, Emmett wouldn’t care about her one bit. Second, Lucas would be incredibly interested, though playful. Finally, Cooper would go nuts.
Our predictions have been pretty darn accurate!
We started this first phase by putting the dogs in the downstairs bedroom with the door closed, taking Newt into the kitchen, then letting the boys upstairs. They had ample time to explore her space, sniff every corner, test out her toys, and generally just to understand that there was a living creature up there. Meanwhile, she prowled around downstairs, climbed into their beds, sniffed their toy box, and got a sense of what she was up against. We did the same thing with the “neutral” room – the dogs got a turn in there, then we’d switch them out for Newt, repeat. We’ve done this several times a day without problem.
Seeing Each Other
After a few days of sniffing, we decided to allow them to see one another. We took one dog at a time on leash into the neutral room. Then we’d open the door that led upstairs and let Newt decide if she wanted to come down or not. The entire time, we clicked and treated for calm behavior and every single time they’d look away from her. I didn’t want them to stare her down! The first time, Emmett looked at her once, then was like, “If she’s not going to give me cheese, then I have no business with her.” She crept quite close to him, I think because he had no interest. Lucas was very interested. His eyes were round, his ears were perked, and his back was tense. He cried and cried (and cried and cried). But he was responsive. He sat. He did watch mes. He did a down. I think all the reactive dog training really teed us up for success. She didn’t want to get too close to him that first time, but she did watch him for a while from a safe distance. Cooper was incredibly aroused, so we cut his first view very short. As soon as we got a sit and a watch me, we ended the session so as to end on a positive note.
We’ve repeated this several times with each dog. Cooper has improved substantially. Lucas is still a little too hyped-up. Emmett still couldn’t care less. Which brings me to…
Newt got brave. I had Emmett on leash on the couch while Newt observed him from under the side table. Then she got a wild hair and decided that his tail looked FUN! So super FUN! Must get it! So she leapt onto the couch and sunk her nails into his wagging tail.
What did Emmett do?
Nothing. Of course, I had cheese, and Emmett gets hyper-tunnel-vision for cheese. I, on the other hand, had a heart attack. 🙂 Then, a few moments later, Emmett turned his head and nosed her!
We also set up a gate on the steps going upstairs. Instead of letting them meet face-to-face, we’ve let them approach each other from either side of the gate. This has been incredibly successful because they can sniff each other while feeling safe. Cooper and Lucas both licked Newt right in the face, which I took as a good sign, though I’m sure Her Royal Highness was horrified.
So that’s where we are… They can’t be totally free around each other yet, but it’s only been a week! We’re going to keep repeating these exercises every day until they seem nonchalant. I don’t know how long that will take, but I think once we get there – where they’re totally “eh” about each other’s presence – we’ll work out a plan for off-leash introductions (I’m thinking squirt bottles need to be on hand just in case). We’ll see when we get there.
Have you ever had to figure out a plan for introducing dogs and cats? Any tips or strategies? Or, perhaps more importantly, things not to do?