Have you ever had a relative or friend stay at your house a little too long? We all have, and it can be frustrating at the time, but when they leave all you remember are the smiles, great times and how much fun you had. So why should it be any different for our furry friends when they have a visitor that they perceive to stay at the party way past bedtime? It’s not! But thankfully animals adapt, and with the right guidance and some tricks of the trade, they can do so quickly.
The Introduction: Always play it safe when introducing new animals to each other. If you are introducing a small animal that lives in a cage to a dog or cat for example, you may want to keep the small animal in their carrier and let the dog or cat sniff and get used to this new creature. Try to take the curiosity out of the newcomer so the resident pet will think “no big deal” and leave it alone. Then find a safe place for the foster pet to reside until their soldier or vet retrieves them.
If the small animal is a cat and you are introducing it to a dog – do your homework! Make sure your dog likes cats and the foster cat likes dogs. Again, practice caution and keep the cat in its carrier until you are comfortable there will be no altercations. Read the animal’s behavior as they will let you know if it’s ok to comingle – these guys are wonderful at displaying their disdain for each other!(For practical purposes, the remainder of this article will focus on dogs.)
Bringing Home Your New Foster: Dog on dog greetings should be handled with a little more care. It’s best to have dogs meet each other on common ground outside of the house. When your foster dog arrives, have your dog on a leash and ready to go for a walk. This serves a few purposes; walks are associated with fun and what dog doesn’t want to have fun? With the dogs already in a good mood, it’s time to make friends. When you see that everything is going well on your walk and tails are wagging, find a tennis court, quiet dog park, or some other enclosed area where both can be let off leash safely. When they start to run and play, or even ignore each other, it’s time to go home! Let the foster dog explore your home and backyard in private by putting your pet in a room or crate. Again, this is all new and can be stressful so you want to make sure you give the foster pet time to check things out and get comfortable with their new surroundings on their own terms and without distraction. This is natural and ok. From there, your foster will most likely be exhausted and need a long nap.
Day 1: Your new foster dog may go through a period of separation anxiety or stress the first day or so. After all, there are new smells, new friends and maybe even some new rules to follow. Signs of stress can include whimpering, waiting by the front door, shedding or not eating. In order to acclimate your foster pet, try to keep some sort of schedule at first and foster security by treating them the same as if they were home using the same rules and boundaries. It is also a good idea to ask the owner for an item of clothing that their pet can sleep with; this will make the pet more at ease just being able to identify with their owner’s smell. Try not to over coddle the dog as this intentional act of love and caring may have the unintentional outcome of reinforcing the pet’s anxiety.
Week 1– and after: Keep the dogs separated until you are confident they will get along – this could be done using crates, separate bedrooms or, if the dogs are small enough, barriers so they can see each other. Don’t leave them home alone out of the gate; test the waters first by leaving the house to run a few errands. Slowly leave them for longer periods of time until you are confident they have bonded. However, they should play together every day to form a bond, and you’ll want to make sure their experiences together are positive ones. Dogs are known for their pack mentality and in no time should be best buddies.
Remember, take it as slow as you feel is necessary for the foster pet’s comfort level, your pet’s comfort level but most of all – your comfort level.
Keeping a Happy Home
- Be the pack leader – dogs need to know that their human is in control; otherwise, the dogs will try to establish dominance.
- Food – remove the dog’s food, water and toys during the time of the introduction and beyond – do not feed the dogs together, put them in separate rooms or one inside and one outside to enjoy their meal. Once everyone has finished, pick up the dishes (you’d be surprised at the yummy morsels that can be left in the bowl). Water is ok to share once a friendship has been established. This same philosophy applies to rawhide bones or anything that can be perceived as food or highly desirable. Toys should also be avoided if you notice any possession traits (growling, picking up the toy and going into a corner, or stealing toys from one another).
- Fighting – it’s just a fact that dogs may fight and they do so very many different reasons. Actually, what we perceive as a fight can often be just their way of communicating. Or more seriously, they could be trying to establish dominance (if you believe this to be the case, the dogs should never be left alone unattended until the issue is resolved). Regardless, no one likes it when it happens. Your first concern should be your safety, do not put your hands in the way of their mouths. If there are two people present, each person should grab the dog’s hind legs and pull at the same time. This only works with two people, if you pull one dog and not the other; you have given the unattended dog the advantage. Water also works well with most dogs. Keep a spray bottle handy as well as hoses in the yard. A good squirt will most likely divert their attention and stop the fight. There are many great articles on the web that address this topic, so educate yourself, and remain calm and assertive if a fight breaks out as they are looking to you to be the alpha.