You’re not the only one marrying your significant other. Nope, your entire family is marrying them, including your pets. With everything going, however, you might not realize that it may present a bigger challenge than expected. My husband and I thought we had all the stresses of the wedding behind us until my cat and his dog were forced to live under the same roof. Mufasa was a street cat who enjoyed fighting off raccoons and getting petted by every stranger walking around my apartment complex. Shiner was a spoiled chocolate lab used to getting all his owner’s attention. Colliding worlds doesn’t have to be traumatic to your pets as long as you follow some guidelines.
Pets don’t like change. They’re used to sunning in the same window, lounging in the same spot on the floor, and chasing the same squirrel up the tree in their backyard. They have to find new favorite places in your home and they may not like it. Just be patient with them and make the new place feel as at home as possible. Give them space and don’t intrude on their space during this time. They will come to you, and they will probably warm up to the other animals in their own time.
Introduction on Neutral Ground
It’s best to introduce animals on neutral ground. This way neither of them believes the other is stepping on “their” territory. Introduce them in a friendly environment with minimal distractions. It is best to keep the first introductions short, at about five minutes. It may take time for the animals to get to know one another so they may do a lot of sniffing and staring. A simple rule of thumb is if you are taking your pet to the other’s pet home, make sure not to enter in the front door. This might make the animal more territorial. Take the pet through a back door and even introduce them in the backyard if possible.
Socializing pets as early as possible is key to defining their relationship and behavior. Your pets may already know one another from visits back and forth between you and your spouse in the past, but they need to understand it is their new brother/sister. Sometimes, if you only have a single cat or dog, they might not be used to much interaction with other animals except a trip to the dog park or a casual hello as they pass another pet on a walk. It can be even worse with cats, as many spend all their time indoors (and most cats think they are the most superior animals anyway!).
A great way to socialize a dog and cat is actually by keeping them away at first. Make sure the cat has their own space away from the dog’s area so they feel safe, but they are also able to explore this new house. When the cat enters a dog’s territory it’s usually time for some fur to fly so let each feel one another out in their own time.
You need to sit down and have a serious discussion about discipline before even bringing the animals together. You and your new spouse may have separate rules. Where does your dog sleep? Some owners refuse to let the dog sleep on the bed while others have multiple dogs pushing their boundaries each night. Do you allow pets to sit on the furniture? Some animals love to lounge on the couch while others prefer the cool floor. You may have to compromise on some of these things before bringing the animals in. The old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” might be exactly right in this situation. Your dog that’s slept in your bed for five years might not appreciate the new sleeping on the floor rule and may be upset before another animal is even thrown into the mix.
Never leave your animals alone together at the beginning. It might not take much for aggressive behavior to start and you will want to be there to stop it. See how they interact and supervise them for the first few days before you leave the house with them in the same room. You probably didn’t have fist fights with your siblings while your parents were in the room, so think of it as babysitting.
Spend Alone Time
All your pet understands is they’re in a new place with new people. They don’t even understand you’re married! It’s important to spend special time with your animal so the transition disrupts them as little as possible. Sit and pet them, go on a long walk, or play with them so the pet understands they’re in a new place, but your relationship is still a comfortable constant. It’s important to also spend special time with your spouse’s pet so it understands you aren’t there to take over its territory, but to join in the pack.