Helping Unfamiliar Pets Get Along

There have been a number of times when we've taken our pets and visited friends who also have pets.  We know we aren't alone because many "pet people" have friends with pets they often like to visit. 

One such experience occurred over new years one year when we and another set of friends invaded our host’s house.  We brought our two dogs, and our other friends brought their three. Needless to say, our host’s six cats were less than pleased. Having to share their home for three days with 5 dogs was not their idea of a good start to the new year.

While we had a few minor skirmishes, for the most part everyone got along fairly well. We thought it would be helpful to share with you a few of the precautions we took to minimize all the animals' stress and prevent any fighting. Our precautions can be useful to anyone introducing new pets to the family, managing ongoing conflicts between family pets, or as with us, when pets unfamiliar to one another are forced to quickly learn to co-exist for a short time.

1. Feeding times were private. Before any of us began to prepare our pets’ meals, we separated each family of pets. Pets know that the clink of dishes, or the sound of a can opener mean feeding time is imminent, and may launch into guarding behavior before the food actually appears. Don’t wait to separate until feeding preparations have already begun. Everyone was kept separated until all dog food bowls were picked up and put away. The cats had their own private room with food and litterboxes that no dogs were allowed into.

2. Dogs were not allowed to stare at cats. One dog in our group had never lived with cats and at times he would stand and stare at several who were napping in a chair. We felt his prolonged staring indicated he was just becoming too focused on the cats. While it’s possible this behavior would never escalate into a predatory attack, we didn’t want to take the chance. We interrupted all staring by giving the dog something else to do.

3. Because the cats needed a way to escape from and avoid the dogs, they had plenty of hiding spaces. One cat preferred to be in a bedroom most of the time, and others were able to get under couches and chairs, on the mantle of the fireplace, on top of the TV, and in a room barricaded with a baby gate. Cats were also allowed to swat and hiss at dogs as needed.

4. No chew toys were allowed. While the dogs had fuzzy, squeaky toys and balls to play with, no one was given rawhides, pigs’ ears, or other high value chewies. All crunchy treats had to be consumed immediately, and every dog was required to sit and stay while eating one.

5. When one family of dogs re-entered the house after a walk, the other dog-family was kept away from the door. Re-entry into a room can be a high arousal situation that often takes place in a small, confined space. We didn’t want the returning dogs to be jostled, jumped on or threatened by those in the house. The dogs were closely monitored for a few minutes after re-entry, with lots of “jolly talk” by everyone.

6. One of our dogs wore a basket-type muzzle when in the house and all animals were loose together. We just didn’t trust this dog to be reliably friendly with either the other dogs or the cats, so the muzzle protected everyone. She tolerated it well, both because she had previously been accustomed to wearing it, and because it was well fitting and comfortable. We recommend as a great source for well designed muzzles. Interestingly, her behavior toward the other animals was much better than we would have predicted.  You can't be embarrassed about thinking your dog needs a muzzle, when the safety of other pets is at stake.

7. The dogs had lots of exercise. Being confined in a relatively small space with individuals you don’t know is stressful. We took the dogs on many short walks, and we took ours on a longer snow-shoe hike. Tired, sleeping dogs are obviously less likely to have a conflict than those restlessly pacing with pent-up energy. This also allowed the cats to have some quiet, peaceful time as well.

We hope you find these precautions useful. Being proactive allowed everyone – human and pets – to enjoy the new year's celebration.  


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    Animal Behavior Associates, Inc.
    7900 W. Layton Ave. #905 Denver, CO 80123