Adopting a Pet: Bringing Your Pet Home

1/1/2018

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This is an important time in your adoption. The goal is to make the adjustment as easy as possible, while establishing a consistent home life. You're not just providing food and water, you're providing a complete home life. It won't be all playtime and snuggles.

Shelter life is very different from home life. Every dog and cat will react differently when placed into new surroundings. Hopefully, the transition is smooth and your pet feels at ease in their new home. Other times, you may need to take extra steps to help with the adjustment. It takes patience.

Welcome to your new home

Bring your pet straight home from the shelter. Avoid running errands with your new pet, even if you don't quite have all the supplies you need. There's plenty of time to get food and bedding later. It's likely your pet has been transported several times during their shelter life. Try to minimize their time in your vehicle.

Proper introductions are always important. Hopefully, you took the opportunity to ask the shelter if your pet is good with other pets and people (men, women, and children alike). Your pet needs to establish familiar faces and scents. Introducing your pet to people is very different from introducing them to other pets. We'll cover both later in this article.

Pets are naturally curious, and have a knack for finding places they shouldn't go. This is a good opportunity to spot problem areas in your home and make any necessary adjustments. Remove clutter that could possibly become scattered or broken. Close off pantries or any space where you store dry food, so that your pet doesn't help themselves to a midday snack. Same for laundry or utility rooms where potentially dangerous chemicals are stored.

Dogs

For dogs, it helps to take them for a good walk before bringing them into the home. Let them sniff and get familiar with the neighborhood.

After your walk, allow your dog to come into the house while still on the leash. Give your dog a tour of the house, spending a few minutes in each room. The same process can be repeated for the back yard. Once you've shown your dog the entire house, shown them to their spot for food and water. Once your dog is calm and relaxed. Feel free to remove the leash.

When you're not home, it may be best to keep your new pet confined. Limit to smaller spaces at first, then gradually more every few days. A crate works well, but you can also use a baby gate in a dog-proof area. After a couple of weeks, if your pet is not destructive or anxious, you can start to let your pet roam the whole house. You might find that your dog prefers to "den" in their crate or dog area, even after you allow them to roam.

Take your new dog for a long walk before bringing into your home

Cats

A new cat, in a new territory, also calls for a slow approach. Isolation to a small space works well for cats, as well as dogs. Create a cozy cat space in a small room, with a litter box, food, and water. A scratch post also helps. Many shelters will provide a cat carrier to help with transport. Place this carrier in your space, so your cat can retreat if needed. Allow your new cat to use this as a safe space, until they become confident enough to roam. Spend time with your new cat in this space, but avoid overcrowding. Your cat will approach you when it feels comfortable.

Meeting people

Avoid crowding your pet. It's best to let them decide how to approach new people. Allow your pet the opportunity to smell when they approach. Reach out your hand, closed in a fist, and allow your dog to sniff your fingers. For cats, slowly reach out with one finger close to their nose. If your pet pulls away, stiffens up, or growls, back off and try again at a later time. If you want to initiate more contact, do it slowly and gently after they've had a chance to smell your hand.

When it comes to children, it's very important to teach and enforce proper treatment of your new pet. Small children need to know that pets are not toys. Grabbing, pulling, or hitting may provoke a negative reaction from our pet. For this reason, never ever leave your small child alone with your new pet. Always supervise any interaction with your child and pay close attention to how your pet behaves when your child is close. Take every opportunity to show the proper way to handle and interact with your pet. Children should also know that your pet should only eat pet food and treats. Sharing human food with your pet can be dangerous, even deadly, especially when sugar is involved. Until they are old enough to know which food is safe, it's best to make "no human food" the general rule.

Meeting other pets

Pets meeting other pets is a slower process. When you adopt a pet, you don't get the benefit of knowing how your pet was socialized. You have to assume your pet will need a properly supervised introduction. It happens in stages, keeping separation at first, before bringing your pets closer together.

Cat Meeting Cat

Introducing your newly adopted cat to another cat starts will keeping your new cat isolated. Find a suitable room where your cat can eat, sleep, and play in a safe setting. Prep the room with proper bedding, litter box, food and water, and perhaps a scratch post for good measure. Place the food and water near the door so that your new cat can get a sense of the activity happening outside the door. Do the same for your existing cat on the opposite side of the door. This will allow both cats to begin creating positive associations with each other.

After a few days, have your cats trade locations. Have your existing cat live in the isolated space and allow your new pet to roam the house. This allow both cats to experience the new territories and get used each other's scent. Once both cats are comfortable in their new surroundings, allow your cats to roam the house together. Both cats might keep their distance at first. It's a good idea to keep their food and water separate, gradually moving closer together. Maintain isolation when you're not home, until you are certain both cats are getting along.

Dog Meeting Dog

The process for introducting dogs is not all that different from cats. Upon arrival, take both dogs for a long walk. Maintain separation between dogs, perhaps walking on opposite sides of the street. Allow them to come together and sniff every few minutes, then separate and continue the walk. When the initial walk is over, allow your new dog to enter the house while still on the leash. With your existing dog isolated (maybe in the back yard), show your new dog around the house. Walk the dog into each room, spending a few minutes to sniff and look around. Repeat the process for the back yard, while your existing dog is inside the house.

As described before, it's best to keep your new dog isolated in the beginning. Your existing dog will be curious about the new dog, but keeping them separated is important until they are acclimated to one another. After a week, swap living spaces between your new dog and existing dog. Your new dog can have run of the house, while your exising dog stays isolated.

Exercise and activities are important, but both dogs should remain seperated and on leashes when away from the home. Any interaction between the two dogs should be closely monitored and never off leash. Feeding should remain separate, even after the introductory period.

If either dog exhibits any agressive signs towards one another - showing teeth, snarling, growling, angry barking, intense staring - separate the dogs and try to socialize another time. Continue walks and exercise in neutral, outdoor territories (parks, neighborhood). Create positive experiences while the dogs are out together by offering treats and rewarding friendly behaviour. Slowly allow the dogs to be closer together with each outing. Once the aggressive behaviour subsides, allow them to be together off leash, but closely monitored.

Additional Reading

If you, or your newly adopted pet, is struggling in their new surroundings, these additional links may help

Hopefully, the transition is a smooth one. A shelter pet has been through a stressful situation. Your new pet may be excited and curious, or scared and confused. Be patient and give your rescued dog or cat time to adjust. This will help set the proper foundation for a bright future together. We offer additional insight in our next article, Living Your Best Pet Life.

Peace, Love, and Paws.

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