Introducing New Pets to Your Dog
For thousands of years, dogs have been predators, chasing small game for their meals. Even though they have evolved immensely, that instinct to hunt is still present. If you’ve decided to add a small animal to your family, it can turn into a dangerous or tragic situation. Dogs with a high prey drive will instinctively chase the animal and could hurt or even kill it.
You’ll have to do some significant work to make sure your new pet is safe and comfortable. Before bringing home your new pet, your dog needs to be obedient to certain commands, like down or stay. Keep practicing until your dog obeys you reliably.
Once your dog has a strong foundation, you can begin to introduce him to his new neighbor.
Whether it’s a rabbit, ferret or cat, they should never be put into direct contact with each other. That can be terrifying for the new pet and too exciting or agitating to your dog. Instead, place the animal in a cage or crate and bring the dog over to sniff his new friend. Your dog should be calm and in a sitting or lying position. If he begins to bark or paw at the cage, correct him immediately.
You’re looking for the two pets to be able to smell each other without fear or aggression. It could take several days or even weeks for a dog to be able to be near the animal without trying to get to it, so practice daily and have patience.
Once your dog is consistently sitting quietly near the new pet without barking or whining, you are ready for the next stage. Put your dog in a sit or down position and open the new pet’s cage. Allow the pet to wander around his surroundings, but do not let your dog get up or change position. If you’re dealing with inquisitive creatures like bunnies, they likely will come over to sniff the dog, so stay close and correct if necessary. Staying still is a very tough exercise for prey-driven dogs, so this process may take a while to accomplish. Continue at this stage until the new pet can explore his surroundings—including his new dog friend—until the dog is completely relaxed around the pet.
After stage two is complete, you will see both animals beginning to relax with one another. In particular, rabbits learn habits quickly and will associate the dog with positive things like playtime out of his cage. Many will come over to the cage door when they see the dog coming, begging to be let out.
Success at this point does not mean you can lay back and leave the pets alone together; your dog may be fine when the new pet is just slowly exploring, but prey-drives may be stimulated if the small animal runs. Supervise them together at all times and be ready to intervene.
After doing this work, your dog and new pet will be comfortable and relaxed with one another. You may even see them begin to cuddle or play together. While you should still never leave them unsupervised, this does open up many opportunities to enjoy both of your pets together.
One word of caution: For some dogs, no level of training is strong enough to eliminate their prey drive, so be aware before bringing a pet home that your dog may not be able to handle it. But for many, training and patience will go a long way to ensuring a happy relationship between your animals.
About the Author:
Kat Tretina is a freelance writer who specializes in pets, career, and health. You can find out more about Kat and her work at www.ktretina.com