Peaceful Pets: Introducing New Animals into Your Dog’s Home

“We really want to adopt a bunny but we already have a dog in the house. How can we make sure they get along?”dog-and-guinea-pig

There are plenty of different animals that coexist peacefully in homes. I know people with dogs and rabbits, cats and birds, and of course dogs and cats. That being said, it doesn’t always happen right away and introducing a small animal into a home with a dog does take some planning and patience.

The two animals should never be allowed to interact unsupervised at first and possibly may never be able to be left alone together roaming freely, so you need to be prepared and have the proper tools for the living arrangements, such as baby gates, tethers, crates and cages.  For the initial meeting, the dog should be on a 4-6 foot leash (not a retractable lead) and be separated from the new pet by a gate or a secure cage.  Pair the presence of the new animal with super tasty treats for the dog, such as dried liver, cheese or bits of hot dog. Whenever the new pet is within view, the dog should be praised and showered with food rewards. The rabbit should have their own treats during this process as well.

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LA/SPCA alum Huggy Bunny poses with his human and dog siblings

If either the dog or the bunny seem stressed out and too anxious to eat, create some distance and try again. This step should be repeated for a while at short intervals, then the animals need to be kept separately when not being rewarded for being in each other’s presence.  Only when the dog seems disinterested and calm at this step should you proceed to the next level.

When you are ready to move forward, have the animals in the same room with a handler for each pet. Interact with the dog, keeping his attention on you and toys or treats instead of the rabbit. The bunny should be allowed to move around a little bit, at the opposite side of the room, and the dog should remain calm.  Do not maneuver the pets closer to each other until the dog acts calm and easily gives his attention to you.

Muzzle training is a great way to insure that these steps toward introduction go smoothly. A basket muzzle allows your dog to pant, drink water and take treats but he can’t bite the rabbit. This way, you can soon allow him close enough to sniff the bunny, but you can also feel safe about the interaction, and easily intervene if something goes wrong.

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Basket muzzles allow dogs to take treats, drink and pant, but they can’t bite. “Max at the Ambra” photo by John Keogh via Flickr.com

Restrained supervision should go on for a while, and if your dog has a high prey drive (chasing squirrels, stray cats, lizards), or he has killed a wild animal in the past, this may be as close as they ever get.  However, with the right set-up, both animals can have fulfilling lives living together separately.

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