ANIMAL CONNECTION: Set your pet up for success

December 25, 2018

It’s the season of giving and you may recently have given a shelter pet the gift of a loving home. Maybe you had been planning for your new pet for months or perhaps she came into your life as a surprise. Either way, your pet deserves the chance to become the best companion she can be, and she’s relying on you to guide her through your new life together.

During those first few days, weeks, or even months, there’s a good chance your new dog or cat will be overwhelmed by the sudden change in her life. She’ll likely feel anxious and will not know what is expected of her. By being patient and proactive with training and also by giving her ample space and time to settle in, you are setting her up for success. It is exciting to have a new family member, but it’s critical not to rush things. When new pets are set up to fail, they often find themselves returned to the shelter due to an incident that could have been prevented.

For instance, taking your new pet to a pet supply store, to the park, or to a groomer on your first day together are all appealing activities but are sure to overwhelm your new friend. It’s best to take your new pet directly home and give her quiet time to settle in.

The first few weeks at home are also not a good time to introduce all of your friends and family to your new cat or dog. This too can be overwhelming and may even cause your new pet to react negatively to the new guests. When introducing other members of the household on that first day, be sure family members always let the pet come to them at her own pace. It may even take weeks before everyone is able to approach and greet her and that is okay. It is never a good idea to quickly approach or corner your new pet as she may react negatively if frightened.

How else can you be proactive in helping your new pet to adjust? Taking your new dog out for frequent bathroom breaks during those first few weeks, and rewarding your dog when she uses the bathroom outside will help her become housebroken. Remember, your dog doesn’t know when and where you’d like her to use the bathroom at first. Once she starts getting rewarded, she’ll understand quickly that she’s doing the right thing.

For cats, confining your new cat to one room where a litter box is located for several weeks will help her learn its location and get in the habit of using this new litter box.

When it comes to pet introductions, it’s best to introduce your current dogs to a new dog in a neutral environment. Allow them to sniff and greet one another on a loose leash. Rewarding both dogs with a treat after their greeting can help them create positive associations with one another. After the initial greeting, take them for a walk together in a quiet area before bringing them into the home.

When introducing a new cat to the home, it is good to keep her in one room of the house for several weeks while she adjusts. Make sure that no other pets are allowed in this space at first. Swap items like beds and blankets between current pets and your new pet so they can begin to get used to each other’s scent before they actually meet. When it’s time for them to meet, be sure the introductions are gradual and in a controlled setting.

Learning anything new in life is always easier with a good teacher to guide us, and you are your pet’s teacher. Spending just 10 minutes a day on training will help ensure you and your pet are on the same page about your expectations. In addition to fostering a harmonious relationship with your new pet, training also provides an outlet for energy and gives her some much needed structure and a sense of consistency in her new life.

From time to time, adopted pets are returned to the shelter after just a few days or a few hours because we expect them to adjust to an entirely new lifestyle instantly. Had these pets been given ample space and time to settle in, and had their new owners taken steps to make their first days less stressful, it’s possible some of these pets would still be in homes.

If you have any questions or concerns about your new pet’s behavior, the SPCA Albrecht Center staff are happy to provide counseling. Be patient and be sure you’re always setting your pet up for success by utilizing the wealth of information and training resources that are available. When more pets are successful in homes, fewer pets end up in shelters.

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