4 tips for introducing a puppy to family and other pets

Everybody will joyfully be anticipating the arrival of the new puppy. The temptation is to arrive home and show the puppy to everyone – humans and animals. But slow down for a second! Your puppy has just left the only home he’s ever known. He’s left his mom and siblings, and the people who cared for them.

A whole new world is opening up for your puppy, and it can be a bit daunting. And although the human side of the family may be keen to meet the new little one, the animal side might be a bit uncertain. Suddenly finding a puppy in their home can be highly stressful for resident dogs or cats, which can influence both reactions to the puppy and general behaviour. This is a huge change for everyone. For a smoother transition, take note of these four tips.

1. Safe

Your puppy is a baby. He is fragile, both physically and mentally, so safety is of paramount importance. This is not a time for children to pick up the puppy: suddenly being picked up by an unknown small human, who may be a bit clumsy, could easily unsettle or frighten a puppy. In addition, a spooked puppy may wriggle, and any risk of him being dropped or mishandled must be prevented.

It’s essential to be especially careful when introducing your puppy to resident animals. Cats have claws and dogs have teeth, and they won’t always hesitate to use them if they’re distressed. Make sure your puppy is protected at all times when meeting new animals. This could mean holding your puppy, putting resident dogs on leash, encouraging cats to raised positions where they’re out of reach of a pup on the ground, or conducting introductions through a security gate.

2. Slow

There’s no need to be hasty; introductions can be conducted over several days. This is especially significant with resident animals. Doing short introductions, but keeping the puppy separated from other animals the rest of the time, is a good idea. It takes the pressure off all the animals involved and they can adjust more gradually, which generally makes for a more harmonious household.

Let your puppy take his own time to investigate his new companions and avoid forcing the pup to greet anyone – don’t be tempted to hold your puppy close to your other dogs or cats, as this can be frightening for everyone. Starting all the animals at a distance from each other is ideal. Acceptance takes time, and older animals must not be rushed. Calling them to see the puppy or forcing them to interact in any way is bound to backfire. So slow down and take it easy.

3. Calm

Remember, everything is new to your puppy, and your puppy is new to everyone else. There’s likely to be a lot of excitement, but excitement can be overwhelming. On a cautionary note, excitement can push animals closer to their emotional threshold, which means they may be more likely to display aggressive behaviour. Relaxed and peaceful introductions are essential. Keep movements slow and voices soft. Children need to learn to be calm around animals, so starting off in this way is beneficial. Animals need minimal pressure when experiencing something new, so the quieter and calmer the home during this adjustment phase, the better.

4. Positive

It can’t be stated enough: puppies need to have as many positive experiences during their early development as possible. This helps to set them up to be stable, confident adults. Puppies who have overwhelming or frightening experiences can be affected by such for life, and their behaviour will correspond accordingly.

Introductions to new people and animals must therefore be enjoyable for your puppy. Allowing them the time and space to explore on their own is crucial in this regard, but you can heighten the experience by the simple addition of appropriate puppy treats. For example, you’ve already asked your child to sit calmly on the floor while your puppy takes his own time to investigate this new person. Now you can give your puppy treats for approaching, showing interest and behaving calmly as well. It’s best for adults to give treats if very young children are involved, as sharp puppy teeth can hurt! Older children can absolutely give treats to their new friend.

When doing introductions with other animals, make sure to have something high-value at the ready. Adult dogs or cats should receive a flood of treats upon first seeing the puppy, and for any further affirmative and relaxed behaviour in the pup’s direction. Possibly the biggest mistake made when introducing puppies to other animals is the use of scolding for undesirable behaviour. An older dog may be scolded for being too rough, or a cat is pushed away after hissing. This is not helpful. Firstly, you’re creating a negative association with the puppy, and you’re also showing your puppy that you can be scary.

Secondly, you’re forgetting that this is a challenge for your existing companions – they have a lot to learn about the puppy as well. So, keep introductions fun and enjoyable, with plenty of praise and treats.

Even with the best intentions, introductions between puppies and family members can sometimes go awry. If this is the case, or if there is any concern about bringing a puppy home to meet the residents (human or animal), it is best to consult with a qualified behaviourist. Keep in mind that the dog behaviour profession is unregulated, so in the interests of your animals’ safety and well-being, contact the COAPE for a referral.


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