Introducing New Dogs Into Your Household

Check out our latest blog about Inter-dog Aggression and Ways to Introduce New Dogs into your Household.
Erika Zerebecki, LVT wrote this blog about her experiences with behavior challenges in her dogs. We are sure many multi-dog households can relate.
I have always lived in a multi-dog household. I held dog parties and had foster dogs in and out of my house, regularly. I never had any reservations about inter-dog aggression or thought for a second that the dogs I invited in to my home wouldn’t get along. Until I adopted Watson…
Watson came into my home at a time when I had 4 other dogs. I initially took him in as a foster and tried to introduce him into the house correctly. I started off with some rules and loose boundaries that I slowly let dissolve after I grew more comfortable with him in the house. After about 6 months he started displaying some signs of aggression towards other dogs in the house, and his displays escalated rapidly over a month. He started with food aggression, then aggression over toys or possessions, then territorial aggression as well as redirected aggression during times of excitement. He pretty much covered all of his bases.
When a dog in your home suddenly starts showing signs of aggressive behaviors, pet owners need to act quickly. Rapid progression of aggressive behaviors will force pet owners to make some difficult decisions. The three most common outcomes are: (1) The pet owner decides to live with the dog and manage the behaviors as long as he/she can provide a safe environment for all people and animals involved. (2) The pet owner decides to rehome the dog because he/she cannot provide a safe environment for all involved. (3) The pet owner may be forced to euthanize the dog because he/she cannot keep the dog safely in the home (or alternative placement cannot be found in a timely manner).
I was a happily ignorant dog owner and I can only now look back at all of the signs I missed and ways I may have set Watson up for failure. Dogs don’t naturally welcome strange dogs into their pack, so revolving animals in the house can be extremely stressful for them. Below is a compiled list of guidelines created with recommendations from behaviorists and trainers. These guidelines can be used preventatively when introducing a new dog into a home as well as a tool to work with dogs already showing signs of aggression.
If aggressive behaviors have already been observed:
1: The first step is to seek out professional help, the sooner the better. Rule out any health issues that may be contributing to the aggression. I sought out professional help immediately when I recognized how severe Watson’s reactions were. I took him to a board certified behaviorist first. In addition, a trainer came to the house and I consulted with another non-board certified behaviorist in an in-home consult.
2: Behavioral modification drugs may be recommended by the professionals and can be extremely helpful in managing (not fixing!) aggressive behaviors. Medication is only effective if used in combination with training and routine.
Tips for PREVENTING or working with AGGRESSION in the home:
1. Keep initial introductions short, positive, and conduct them in neutral territories. Dog should never first meet one another with face-to-face interactions.
2: Create rules and boundaries. Example: All dogs have to sit before coming into the house.
3: Learn to read body language and be vigilant with each interaction. Look for signs that either dog is uncomfortable or agitated. It took a long time to learn Watson’s body language. If I notice any warning signs, I separate the two dogs.
4: Create positive social interactions between dogs. Dogs can be trained together and walked together.
5: Toys are only allowed when the dogs are sharing. High value toys, such as bones, are only allowed in each dog’s designated area. Do not allow any opportunity to be possessive.
6: All dogs are fed separately, most in crates. All of the food bowls are pulled up after everybody is done eating to avoid confrontation over such a coveted resource.
I ended up making the decision to keep Watson and continue working with him. I rearranged my entire routine and environment to accommodate him. This was not a simple or inexpensive task. It is important to be realistic. Living with dogs that don’t get along is extremely difficult and unattainable for most people.
I was once at a crossroads where I was faced with the decision to euthanize or re-home Watson. These are the choices that most pet owners face in situations like Watson’s. Like any owner that is bonded with their dog, either decision is heartbreaking. I was lucky in that I was able to invest the time, money, and work needed to give Watson a good quality of life in my home, although separate from my other dogs.
Several years after being separated from the other dogs in my house, I made the careful decision to bring a puppy home to introduce to Watson. I followed all of the above guidelines and so far Watson’s relationship with the puppy has blossomed. My expectations have been exceeded with each interaction they have. He has lived separate from other dogs for several years and it melts my heart to see him have this second chance at bonding with another dog. Although he is still kept separate from the dogs he does not get along with, he now has the opportunity to have the company of another canine friend (something I never thought would be possible).
Erika Zerebecki, LVT

The Fall Itchies

Is your pup or kitty itching more than ever this Fall?  It seems that every year, we see increased numbers of itching dogs and cats and an increased number of ear infections starting at the end of August and extending through November.

There are two main causes for the head-shaking and scratching that seem to develop every year at this time…seasonal allergies and fleas!

 

Seasonal allergies cause the Fall ear infection your pet has developed.  In our area, there is a definite uptick in cases of foot-licking and chewing, dermatitis, and ear infections right now.  If you find the licking, chewing, and head-shaking to be unbearable, be sure to schedule an appointment for your pet to be examined.  Now, more than ever, there are great non-steroid options to treat itching in dogs.  Although there are fewer new drug options for cats, we are still able to help support our feline friends through allergy season.

The other big cause of itching and dermatitis right now is fleas.  The Fall season is also Flea season.  Many pets (including indoor kitties) can be exposed to fleas and can often be allergic to them.  As the weather cools, many pet owners stop using flea preventatives, but this is actually the time of year that flea protection is increasingly important.  Should your dog or cat have fleas, it is best to treat him or her with flea preventative for 4 months in a row in order to break the flea life cycle.  It is also very important to treat every dog or cat in the household.  If you are caring for outdoor cats, it is also helpful to treat them with flea preventative in order to help your indoor pets to get rid of the fleas more quickly.

Please reach out to us if you need help making your pets more comfortable this Fall season.

Taking your cat to the vet doesn’t have to be a stress-filled rodeo event. Really.

Recently we dedicated a staff meeting to the discussion of low stress handling of feline patients. Our goal is to deliver medical care to our furry friends with the least amount of stress as possible…in a fashion that promotes safety for cats and for people.

It is well known in veterinary medicine, that in comparison to dogs, cats are not given the medical care that they deserve.  There are many reasons that cats are not presented to veterinarians for care, but one of the biggest reasons is the stress involved for the cats (which, of course, translates into stress for the people who love them).  Whether it is trying to “catch the cat”, the meowing in the car during transit, or the cat’s reaction to being handled at the animal hospital, we know that feline check-ups are no fun for anyone!

It really is important for cats to get an exam once a year.  Cats are masters of disguising illness and pain.  Regular exams can help us to prevent problems before they become difficult to treat or manage.

There are ways to make veterinary visits easier for cats.  Here are some ideas:

  • At home. Cats are very leery of changes to their environment. All cat owners know that getting out the cat carrier usually results in the cats running away and hiding under furniture.  Imagine being a cat and associating the carrier with being caught, pushed inside, driven in a car, and brought to the vet.  Often when not feeling well…  This scenario can change to be more feline-friendly by just getting the carrier out of storage several days or weeks prior to a veterinary visit.  The carrier can be left out with the door open and an inviting blanket or bed inside.  Treats and food can be placed into the carrier and the cat can go in and out at-will.  With this method, the carrier becomes associated with normalcy and good things, so it isn’t the scary trap that most cats think it is.
  • The car ride. It is true that many cats vocalize in the car. They often don’t travel much and when they do, it is likely for stress-inducing reasons.  You can help to make the car ride a little less frightening for your cat by placing a light sheet or blanket over the carrier and securing the carrier on the car seat so that it does not slide around.  Sprays like Feliway or Pet Remedy applied to the sheet can be helpful in producing calming sensations for the cats.
  • Visiting us. Walking into a veterinary hospital can be a sensory overloading event for cats. They are out of their safe and normal environment, there are smells of other cats and dogs and people, and there are often barking dogs to be heard somewhere.  You can help your cat to feel safer at the hospital by putting his or her carrier down in the kitty waiting area (away from dogs) and keeping the light sheet over the carrier.  If your carrier isn’t too big, placing it on a chair can be helpful for your cat because cats feel more in control when they are at a height.

Once in the exam room, remove the cover from the carrier and open the door with the carrier on the floor.   Your cat can walk out on his or her own while you discuss your concerns with a technician.

We love taking care of cats.  They are hilarious and fierce and loving creatures.   Being “indoors only” doesn’t mean that they do not need medical care.  Having a healthy cat is so much more than just getting “shots”.  If you have anxiety about bringing your cat in for care, feel free to give us a call and one of our staff members can talk with you about the best way to help your kitty get the healthcare that she deserves.