Different species don't have the same body language. What means "Hey, let's go play" to a puppy means "I'm scared, and you need to back off" to a cat. Additionally, even though dogs may understand other dogs' body language, that doesn't mean they'll automatically get along.
Generally, it's best to do the introductions one at a time, meaning that if you have several animals, they should meet your new dog separately. You don't want the new dog to feel ganged up on (nor do you want the existing animals to do just that). You also don't need the unpredictability of multiple animals to keep an eye on.
It's also helpful if you have a second person present, so if there aren't already two of you, ask a friend or neighbor for assistance. When it comes to introductions, the primary concern is aggression. According to certified animal behaviorist Robin Foster, Ph.D., "Conflict and fighting between dogs [and] cats in the same household is stressful for everyone, disruptive and can lead to serious injuries to the pets and people."
According to Your Dog's Friend, with dogs, you should start with both dogs on-leash outdoors. Let them walk parallel to each other at a distance. If that goes well, let them move closer, but only let them walk directly side-by-side when you can be relatively certain they'll behave. If they growl or act aggressively, calmly separate them, but don't create more tension by screaming or yanking on the leashes. Then start over.
It's OK to use treats as a reward for good behavior because it helps establish positive associations with the other animal, but don't feed them too close together at first as food aggression issues could emerge.
As you might imagine, this is a slightly hairier introduction (no pun intended). A large dog can kill a cat, even during what a dog might consider play. But it's not just the cat you have to worry about. Your cat's claws (and even teeth) can cause serious injury to your dog.
The ASPCA advises keeping the dog on-leash during this introduction. It also recommends having the nails of non-declawed cats trimmed prior to the first meeting (the first several meetings if necessary). Your cat should have a safe way to retreat if the dog gets too friendly.
A positive approach is crucial. Don't scold or yell at either animal, and don't force the meeting on your cat. It will generally act cautiously or just avoid the situation. But the cat may also act aggressively. Cats are more territorial than dogs are, and if this is their first time meeting, the cat may not be eager to share. Let them do it at their own pace.
If the dog becomes too curious or behaves aggressively, use the leash to gently pull it away and distract it with a toy or treat. If the cat seems defensive, you can distract it with a toy or favorite treat, too. Most of all, keep your calm. You don't want them to associate negative things (tension, anger, etc.) with the other pet.
It may take several "introductions" for them to get used to each other, so be prepared to keep your new dog confined in a different part of the house when you're not home to supervise.
Robin Foster also gave us these cautions about introducing pets.
No one should have to live in a broken home and that includes people whose homes are troubled by animals that don't get along. But that doesn't always mean choosing between your fur babies. If you're having issues, contact a certified pet behaviorist for assistance.
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