3 Things to Know About Having Dogs Around Other Pets
Over the past 2 years, I have added several new species of companion animals to my very dog-oriented household. (cat and chickens)
As a behavior consultant, this has given me the opportunity to go through the process of helping my dogs become acclimated to these new animals --- with the end goal of them being able to coexist in the same living space.
Both of my dogs have some level of prey drive and had never lived with these species (to my knowledge) before, so I was unsure about what the outcome would be with these new additions.
**This is a great place to mention the big disclaimer that while many dogs can learn to successfully live with other animals, it is not guaranteed. There are dogs in the world that are not safe to have around small animals. This could be due to their history, prey drive, and/or responsiveness to training and acclimation.**
Below are a few main points that I think are important to know when working with dogs around other animals:
1. Dogs are natural predators. Safety measures are essential!
Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to chase and hunt other animals.
The majority of different species that we may want dogs to live with are smaller and more prey-like than they are. Cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, other small rodents, and birds are the main types of pets that we may have in our homes in addition to dogs.
It is important to remember that it is TOTALLY normal for a dog to be very interested in these animals, especially when first meeting them, and to want to chase them.
For this reason, it is very important to always use safety measures when it comes to having dogs around other pets. Leashes, baby gates, exercise pens, and basket muzzles are just a few safety measures that I will often use. Because dogs find chasing to be inherently fun, it is important to make sure that we use safety and management to prevent the dog from being able to practice the behavior of chasing. Typically when dogs chase, it will cause the other animal to run away, which makes the chasing game even more fun for the dog. Not to mention, being chased is scary and stressful for the other animal in the equation, which does not help our cause of acclimation. So I recommend using lots and lots of management and barriers to make it so that our dog cannot chase the other animal.
2. Acclimation can take time.
Having a "long-game" mentality with acclimating animals can set you up for success. Do not expect immediate friendship and coexistence. It is pretty unrealistic to expect a dog to meet a new small animal, a cat for example, and for Fido to immediately be able to be calm and relaxed around the kitty.
Here is an example. When I first brought my rescue hens home, my dog Susan was "through the roof" excited. She was unable to even go potty in our backyard because she was so excited about them in their coop in the back corner of the yard. So rather than trying to "push through it" right off the bat, I took Susan out to potty in the front yard for the first several weeks of having the hens at home. This was our starting point. I waited for her to not be obsessed with staring out the back door at the chicken coop before we started working in the yard. This was also giving my hens plenty of time to get used to their new living space before adding an excited dog to their environment. Slowly but surely, through gradual training sessions, Susan became less excited about the hens. They started to become boring. After about a year of very gradually moving closer, Susan was able to be loose in the yard with her hen friends every day without chasing them. But it all started with what she could handle on Day 1--- going potty in the front yard away from the hens.
3. Parallel activities are your friend.
Most people want to focus on direct interaction between animals when trying to help them get used to each other. Instead of direct interaction, I focus on encouraging both animals to engage in "species-appropriate behaviors" in each other's presence. For example, can a dog lick a Kong while the cat plays with a mouse toy on the other side of a baby gate and across a room? If so, start there.
When I first had Susan around my chickens, I engaged her in treat scatters in the grass several feet away from the chicken yard. Once she could readily engage in her scatter at that distance, we moved a little bit closer. What was I doing here? I was helping BOTH animals to get comfortable with each other's presence in a bite-sized way and structured way. There was no pressure or excitement to directly interact. Even to this day, 2 years after the hens joined our group, my dogs both get treat scatters in the grass when the hens first come out of their yard to roam. Why? Because their exit is exciting. And this routine helps my dogs have something else to do besides getting excited about their feathered friends when they first come out.
Below is a picture of my animals coexisting during "outside time." They are all given activities to do that are healthy and relaxing for their species. The dogs are sniffing for treats, the cat is looking for birds and critters, and the hens are pecking and scratching. And because we took it very slowly and I have always managed their interactions closely to prevent chasing, stress, or "over the top" excitement about each other, they all coexist.
I hope these tips are helpful if are trying to have your dog around other animals. If you are looking for more help, work one on one with a certified behavior consultant for a full training plan. Check out my private training services here (in-person and virtual services offered): www.perkedears.com/private-training-sessions.