New puppy introduction to pets — in my case, dog to cat and puppy to dog introductions — is one kind of dog school that everyday dog obedience classes may not teach. While dog to dog introductions are a bit easier in some ways, puppy to cat introductions work very well when both pets are supervised. Puppy school starts in your home with basic dog training. When it involves a smaller pet like a resident cat, safety is also an issue. Refer to cat-to-cat intros here.
On Sunday, May 31, 2020, a stray puppy showed up at our house. We didn’t plan on a new pet, especially since Bravo-Dawg developed major health challenges–read about that here. As it turned out, Bravo adopted the new baby as his very own comfort-pup. They remained inseparable until we lost Bravo in March 2021. Sometimes God sends unexpected blessings that have four feet and fur. So now Shadow-Pup has joined our household, continuing to be our comfort puppy.
Healthy interactions with other pets (and species) offer unique environmental, social and emotional enrichment opportunities. No, I’m not talking about grazing in the kitty litter box! The critters actually learn each others’ language, entertain one another, and teach respect for one another. In the best situations, they develop a bond that’s equal to the love we share with them. Success in this arena prepares baby animals to better deal with future challenges, like visiting the vet and being handled by strangers with weird hospital smells.
We have no history on Shadow. Here’s a blog focussing on him. But for the purposes of this post, it appears he had a history with other dogs or at least a Mom-dog that taught him proper puppy manners toward adult dogs. We introduced Shadow and Bravo through solid doors first. And a first meeting outside in the yard happened with the pup on leash, Shadow threw himself on his back at Bravo’s feet, allowing sniffs, and alternated with face-licking. Good puppy! And Bravo, already gentle and respectful of Karma-Kat (due to the training outlined below), was equally respectful.
Puppy Training 101
Science has shown us that 2-3 or even sometimes 1-minute puppy training sessions are a far better learning experience than an hour of learning. I did this with Magical-Dawg when he was a baby, and have continued this puppy training practice with Bravo-Boy. He already has a pretty reliable “sit” (both verbal AND hand signal — with or without treats!). He just had a light-bulb moment with the “down” command. I trained in 90-second periods, two or three times a day.
Bonus: Karma-Kat can be a distraction but he wanted to train alongside Bravo, so there’s some sibling competition there. Using everyday situations helps your puppy learn quicker, have more fun, retain more, and it will be more enjoyable for you both during puppy training exercises.
New Puppy Introductions & Dog Training
But wait — what about new puppy introductions? How does puppy training fit into dog to cat introductions? To be honest, when I introduced Magical-Dawg to Seren-Kitty all those years ago, their situation was very different. Neither one had ever met the other species, and a high drive German Shepherd pup challenges the best of us.
Part of Bravo’s education included Fear Free vet visits. We visited Dr. Clay at least once a week for the puppy’s weight to be monitored. He also got his claws trimmed (or paws handled, anyway), with the accompanying praise and treats. The whole staff got in on the puppy lovin’ which makes visits in the future nothing to angst about. Since our clinic also has a resident three-legged cat, I wanted Bravo to be respectful and accepting not only of Karma, but any feline he might meet.
Bravo continued his vet visits once a month for nail trims and loving attention from his “girlfriends” at the staff. That helped immeasurably to reduce his anxiety, stress, or fear when he needed cancer treatments. We’ll plan on similar puppy-happy visits with Shadow.
Dog to Cat Introductions: Enriching Their World
Whether or not your pets will love each other immediately or take time to warm up to each other depends on several factors. Breed differences, socialization, ages, and health all influence the new puppy introductions. Terriers or sighthounds, for instance, may have a tendency to chase and injure smaller critters. Cats typically dislike anything new — even if they accept other pets in the past, a newbie can prompt fear.
Bravo grew up with 7 littermates, 7 adult dogs, a couple of cats, and horses. Wow–we were fortunate he’d already been well socialized to other critters with good cat manners. His foster family didn’t allow dogs to pester the cats. He also came to us at 12 weeks, a bit older than many new puppy introductions. He’s also a Bullmastiff, a breed that’s not nearly as manic as pups of some other breeds (like Magic!)
Karma adored Magical-Dawg, and mourned him deeply. Our beloved GSD rescued the cat, and we were determined to help Karma find a new doggy love. Even so, we were vigilant to ensure safety between the pets during initial dog cat intros. After all, Bravo at 40 pounds could have easily hurt Karma just by sitting on him. Little did we know that a new puppy for Karma would prove to be equally rewarding for Bravo. Hey, treats and balls are fun but a kitty of his very own? Bravo won the doggy lottery!
Karma tolerates the pup, and we supervise since Shadow came with no cat skills whatsoever. In fact, Bravo used to step in to cut short puppy roughhousing to protect Karma. Now that Bravo has passed away, Karma and Shadow have become wrestling and tag buddies, and have learned how to inhibit tooth and claw for safe play. Read more about introducing dogs and cats in this post.
Dog Behavior & Cat Behavior Clues
Watch your pets’ body language to gauge their feelings. A tail-up greeting from the cat indicates a friendly approach. A canine play bow, an easy-going wag, and perhaps a yawn or two or rolling on his back says Rex means no harm. Delay the next step if you see the cat swish her tail or pin her ears flat to her head. That means she’s fearful and may become aggressive. Pushy dogs may place a paw on the cat’s back, or signal aggression with raise hackles, or a snarl.
Take care to curb the new baby pet’s enthusiasm. Puppies may not understand the “keep back!” signals of the older resident pet. Cats train puppies, too, but basic dog obedience goes a long way to keep pets safe. I used Bravo’s SIT command as a default to help keep him focused on me, rather the cat. Dogs train themselves to act badly by practicing poor behaviors–so I didn’t want Bravo to ever chase Karma. I also wanted him to practice being calm, cool, and confident to prepare for future potentially new/scary situations like those first veterinary visits or trips in the car to pet products stores.
Containing clueless youngsters inside pet carriers, or on leases, can be helpful. At our house, we love pet gates. They keep pets (and belongings) safe from gnawing teething puppies. On the plus side, gregarious pups don’t discourage easily and often wear down curmudgeonly residents, as long as you run interference and ensure safety.
New Puppy Introductions: Dog to Cat Introductions Tips
The following techniques help ease introductions. In almost all cases, it’s best to take extra time rather than rush through the techniques. Don’t be afraid to start from scratch if one of the animals needs this help. I’ve flagged the steps that we used with Bravo and Karma.
- Pheromone products can help reduce the stress of introductions. I used Feliway spray to help Karma-Kat feel more at ease. There’s a dog version (Comfort Zone with D.A.P.) for fearful puppies, too. A fearful pup is more likely to react with aggression, so it’s important to diffuse the stress.
- For fearful cats that have no dog experience, I recommend setting up the isolation room with a solid door so the cat can’t see in. Since Karma had already shared positive experiences with a beloved dog, we set up our kitchen (with pet gates) as Bravo’s (and now Shadow’s) home base. If your new pup came with a favorite bed or toy, put this in his room. Familiar smells help keep him calm and reduce potential shy feelings. Isolating the new pup tells your cat that only a small portion of the house has been invaded, not all the territory. It also allows pups to build confidence in familiar surroundings.
- Expect cats to posture or hiss and dogs to sniff, whine, growl or bark whether they’re new pets or current residents. Bravo ignored Karma, go figure! Shadow couldn’t get enough of the cat, though. But Karma-Kat self-inflated like a Halloween cat and kept his distance. I asked my husband to distract the pup with a toy and pet him, while I spent one-on-one time (with TREATS!) with Karma. Feel encouraged once the barking and hissing fade, especially if the canine “play bows” at the door or the pair play patty-cake-paws under the door.
Note: Karma’s fur smoothed within 40 minutes of Bravo’s arrival, and he staked out the other side of the pet gate to watch this newcomer. Both the pup and cat loved the idea of treats. Karma seemed to understand the process with Shadow, and the intros were even faster. Other pets may respond to toys (feather wand for cats or a ball for dogs). Keep the fear quotient as low as possible with whatever floats your pets’ boats — pets can’t learn when they’re scared.
- After the pup has been in the room alone for a few days, and any hisses or growls have faded, bring out something the pup has scented, such as a plate of food where she just ate, and allow your cat to smell it. With Karma, dog training time means treats for the cat, too. Even the several daily 90-second sessions puppy training sped up the cat’s acceptance of a new family member. If the appearance of the cat equals DOG TREATS (or toys), you’ve turned the association into something positive for both.
- When the cat is still fearful, schedule the pup’s potty breaks to keep them from seeing each other too soon. Put the cat in your bedroom during the dog’s travels to and from the backyard. For confident cats like Karma, the pup’s outdoor jaunts offered a new episode of Kitty TV through the window.
- Replace the isolation room solid door with a baby gate so the pets see each other, and sniff or paw pat through the opening while safely separated.
- Whenever possible make initial meetings in an open room with lots of space (with the pup on a leash for control!), and lots of cat second-story perches available. That way, the cat can check out the dog from her cat tree, well beyond nose-sniffing range, and feel more comfortable. That also prevents the pup from cornering the cat (or vice versa). Be sure to trim kitty claws to prevent your playful (or fearful) cat from injuring an inquisitive puppy nose or eyes.
- Keep first nose-to-nose meetings to only five or ten minutes, and then give everyone a break and return the dog to his room. That also keeps the pair interested but not worn out by each others’ presence.
- When the dog and cat willingly nose sniff, the cat cheek rubs the dog, and/or Rex play bows an invitation to a game, that’s great! Allow play for a few minutes at a time, but interrupt before either pet becomes overexcited. Bravo now invites Karma to play with play bows and barking. Karma often seeks out Bravo to tease him to chase–and we humans referee, of course. They’ve even begun to sleep together.
- Continue to offer planned meetings for another week, monitoring the dog until he can control himself and respects the cat even when off leash.
- Segregate the new pet alone in his “safe room” whenever you can’t directly sup
ervise until you are satisfied that the cat and dog get along well. Be sure both have “safe places” they can retreat when necessary. The dog needs his space, too.
Shadow-Pup’s training education has just begun and will last a lifetime. Since I work at home, puppy training happens all day long at my convenience. GOOD dog!