Here are some tips for a smooth transition.
Everyone needs their space
If possible, it is best to keep foster dogs & resident dogs separate from each other for the first 2 days. This is a stressful time for both the foster dog (who may have been on the street/in the shelter/in a transition foster home before arriving at your house—a lot of change for an animal that likes to have a “pack” and some stability in his/her life!). Also, there are some common sicknesses that sometimes don’t show up for 1-2 weeks that dogs often get at the shelter, so separation can ensure that your dogs don’t get sick.
If it is not possible to keep them separate, be aware that your dogs may be exposed to illness. However, also be aware that many of the diseases that shelter dogs get (Kennel Cough, Diarrhea, etc) are stress related. Many have had poor nutrition and a hard life before coming to your home. SDH&H cannot be responsible for resident dog vet bills, we do not have the financial resources to make that commitment. If it is not possible to physically separate the dogs, try to ensure that everyone has their own “personal space” of a bed, a crate, or a special area. This will keep the stress levels lower for your own dogs and the foster dog.
The backyard is not an acceptable place to leave the foster dog alone & unsupervised, however. They may be destructive (digging, trampling plants), they may be escape artists, they may bark incessantly, or they could be snatched. A crate or a room that is enclosed (like a kitchen) are the best choices.
Introduce your resident dogs to the foster dog on neutral territory, at a park or down the street from your house, for example. Introduce them on leash, with an adult holding each leash. Allow a quick “hello” sniff or walk-by, and then separate them, even if things seem fine. This gives them a chance to think about things, and often, they will then seek each other out to get a lengthier greeting. Give lots of positive reinforcement so that both dogs feel safe and that the other dog is a friend, not a foe. If one dog gets aggressive, separate them quickly, comfort the dogs, and slow down the pace of the introductions. Don’t force things if they are not immediate best friends, sometimes it takes a few days for dogs to accept each other. Sometimes, dogs just don’t like each other. By giving them each attention separately, and making them feel safe about their bed, toys, and food, you can minimize any tension.
Dogs are pack animals. There is usually one who dominates. Correction of one dog by another (whether it is your resident dog or the foster) is normal. As long as the dogs are responding positively to each other and seem to recognize the “pecking order”, this is fine. So, one dog may growl at another. If the dog reacts by moving away or showing passivity, then usually, the dogs will get along fine. If they are constantly battling for the “alpha” position, then they will have to be separated, and may not be a good fit for each other. Never leave the dogs unsupervised together. They are still getting to know one another, and will need correction on appropriate behavior toward each other, which means supervision. If you are leaving the house, then crate the dogs or otherwise physically separate them.
Again, feed the dogs separately. This reduces stress for everyone. Food aggression between dogs is common.
First, make sure that your cat has his/her own sanctuary—preferably a room where the foster dog will not be allowed to go. If you can keep the cat’s food & litter box in this room, and keep the door closed, then the dog & cat can sniff each other under the door for a few days before meeting face to face. This will make things go a lot smoother, as they will most likely feel they have already “met.” Supervise the dog’s behavior even at the door, reinforce playful, curious behavior and correct any aggression or obsession.
When introducing the dog & cat for the first time, put the dog on a leash & just allow the cat to walk by if he/she wants to. Here, you’re looking to evaluate both the dog & the cat. Is the cat fearful or curious? Is the dog happy/playful or chomping at the bit?
After introductions have occurred, keep in mind the following tips:
- Never leave the cat & foster dog unsupervised, even if it looks like they get along great. A playful dog can still unintentionally harm a cat.
- Make sure your cat has places to jump up to in each room or hide under where the dog can’t get him/her.
- Playful chasing is normal, but always remind the foster dog to play nice/slow down/not run.
- Don’t allow the dog to stare down the cat. The dog should know that he/she is not allowed to obsess on the cat.
- The cat may swipe at the dog or hiss in order to correct. This is usually a great help in ensuring the dog knows his/her place. But, keep an eye on interactions to ensure the cat doesn’t injure the dog, as well.
With all your resident pets, allow the animals to accept one another on their own time. Never push them toward each other or force interaction. Many animals become companions and playmates, while others simply tolerate each other.