Helping Pets Get Along

We’ve received a number of emails recently about problems introducing cats to resident pets – both to other cats and dogs.  This topic has been on our radar because Suzanne just finished presenting a lecture on “The Peaceable Kingdom” to the Tri-County Humane Society’s Animal Welfare conference in St. Cloud MN, and we’ll be giving a similar presentation at the Animal Behavior Society’s Public Day during their annual conference in Boulder CO in July. 

The two biggest mistakes people make are:

1. Not creating small “baby steps” during the introduction process so that cats can become accustomed to their new housemates gradually.  People tell us that they start out by confining the cat to a room by itself, which is a good thing.  Cats are generally more neophobic (afraid of new things) than are most dogs, so it’s important for cats to become familiar with and comfortable in their physical environment before having to contend with a lot of social contact with animals they don’t know and don’t yet trust.

Unfortunately what we hear is that after several days of confinement, the tendency is to then just let the animals have complete visual and physical access to one another.  It’s as though the confinement itself is somehow going to magically help the pets accept one another. 

Successful managing introductions among new and resident pets is both a passive AND an active process.  The process is passive from the standpoint that when new and resident animals are confined in different areas, they are passively becoming accustomed to the odors and sounds from one another.  Given the sensitive senses of smell and hearing dogs and cats possess, it would be next to impossible to prevent them from being exposed to one another’s smells and sounds.

Introductions must also be an active process because owners must be enticing and encouraging each pet to approach whatever physical and visual barrier separates the two.  Each animal should be able to be calm and relaxed on either side of a closed door (or in subsequent steps with the door propped open very slightly so that each can get just a glimpse of the other) before they are allowed additional contact with each other.  That brings us to the second biggest mistake.

2. The second biggest mistake we see is owners not using the pets’ behavioral signs and signals for deciding when to move to the next step in the introduction process
Too often folks are relying on an arbitrary time schedule and keeping the pets separate for only several days and then allowing them together without basing that decision on the pets’ behaviors.  Here are our suggested guidelines:

  • Both pets must be able to play and eat with relaxed calm demeanors on either side of the door that separates them.  If either appears anxious or nervous, or won’t even approach the door knowing the other animal is on the other side, the time is not yet right for more contact.
  • If one animal won’t even go down the hallway leading to the room where the other is confined OR alternatively if one pet stations itself outside the door and is “obsessively” interested in the pet confined on the other side, it’s not time for further contact
  • Scent exchange should be part of the introduction process and if one animal avoids the item containing the other’s odor  or instead is overly interested in it, that’s a sign neither is ready for more contact.
  • Any displays of threats or aggression – barking, lunging at the door or growling or hissing are definite indications the pets are much too aroused to tolerate seeing one another.

For complete protocols and more information about introducing pets to one another, take our On Demand course The Peaceable Kingdom  available

Members of Behavior Education Network receive a 20% discount and unlimited access to the course.


  • Linda McLaren

    Reply Reply

    I recognize that picture!!! That’s me, playing “treat me-treat you” with Monroe, Loki and Sydney. Monroe was dog-dog aggressive (we worked with Nancy Williams) and we were working on getting her to accept Sydney into our home. I’m pleased to say that Sydney came and became part of the family shortly thereafter. She crossed the bridge in 2010 but we were such a success with Monroe that we now have 6 dogs of our own, and currently 4 fosters. And over the course of the last 3 years we have pulled and saved over 40 dogs for Dalmatian Rescue of Tampa Bay and they’ve passed thru our home. This brings back such memories!!!!!!

  • Suzanne and Dan

    Reply Reply

    Hi Linda – thanks for your message! Nancy said she had checked with you about us using the picture – we sure hope you are OK with it because it is perfect for this site – Sensible Dog Training. I had Dals from the early 80s until we lost our last one about a year ago – only one came from a breeder, the other 2 were rescues. Not an easy breed, so I applaud you for all the great work you’ve done with Dal Rescue in Tampa. And for those of you in the MD area who need pet behavior help we highly recommend Ms. Nancy Williams, M.S. ACAAB – check her out at

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