Posted on

Introducing a New Dog to the Resident Cat

So, you’re bringing your sweet, new dog home to the den and you’ve already read up on how to welcome him into the pack with ease and grace in Part 1 of this series. But what if your unique pack includes a member of the feline variety? Introducing your new ESA to an established cat is another thing altogether and can be fraught with tremendous challenges if the two of them aren’t disposed to be friendly with each other. In ancient times, cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.

Ideally, you want your special pack to be tight-knit and well-bonded, for the obvious fact that it’s simply a better way to live. Luckily, there are certain strategies you may employ to help your beloved cat and your new service dog/emotional support dog (or just dog) adjust to each other, leading to a happy family all around.

Can Dogs and Cats Really Be Friends?

Long considered quintessential enemies, cats and dogs are often comically portrayed as each other’s arch nemesis. Perhaps it is this ingrained meme that makes the reality of dog-cat friendships so insanely cute. Indeed, it is not uncommon for these animals to be quite affectionate with each other: nuzzling, playing and sleeping in a cuddle puddle.

It’s wonderful to witness the bond that can develop between a hound and a feline, and a joy to see what pleasure and companionship they bring to their relationship. There can also be an extra benefit: Your emotional support dog/service dog and your Purrs-a-Lot will entertain each other, so you don’t have to be always on duty!

Even if your cat and new dog don’t become the best of friends (you can’t force personality and chemistry, even with animals), they can at least be taught to respect one another and live in a general state of peace. There is nothing more tiresome than having to break up frequent fights or, even worse, being forever on the alert for the safety of your cat.

While it’s true they can be the best of friends, it’s also true that they still need time to get acquainted initially. In the beginning, some tension is inevitable. Naturally territorial, a resident cat will likely feel threatened by the arrival of any new animal, particularly that curious, slobbering oaf of a dog, who is likely insensitive about his invasion of Kitty’s personal space. There is bound to be some hissing and general unpleasantness.

The unpleasantness will, of course, be compounded if there is an actual physical threat to the safety of the cat from the emotional support dog. In some cases, the dog is the one who is threatened!

It is therefore advisable to facilitate an introduction that allows for a minimum of stress and predisposes the animals to recognize the other as family, thus setting the stage for a healthy relationship between the sweet beasts of your heart and home.


Some cats and emotional support dogs/service dogs are more naturally disposed to be friends and need very little in the way of assistance to move through the tense acquaintance phase, becoming quick friends on their own. Others may not reach that place so quickly – if at all. It’s all a matter of personality, age, prior experience, temperament, and inclination. All factors in the relationship equation.

Take prior experience, for example: Has the dog or cat ever been emotionally close to an animal of the other species before, or is this their first opportunity? A cat that is familiar with dogs will likely have an easier time adjusting to this new dog, while a cat with no prior experience will take longer to “break in.”

Age is another factor. An old cat may be cranky and less inclined to become buddies with a young and energetic emotional support dog. The cat may even attack the hound, or at best, ignore it, with an occasional hiss and swipe to put the dog in its place. However, an old cat and an old service dog may match one another’s energy perfectly.

The main thing is to be sensitive to both animals’ personalities and needs. Consider how their energy levels match-a hyper cat and a rowdy dog may have great fun expending energy together, while a shy, quiet cat, may be overwhelmed by a boisterous emotional support dog.

While it’s normal to have tension, along with some growling, hissing, and over-excitement in the beginning, is this something that seems likely to go away in time, and with training? You’ll have to be the judge.

Step by Step:

As always, the key to easing a service dog, emotional support dog, or any animal through a transition is to do it slowly and one step at a time. Here’s a list of the steps to help introduce a new dog to the resident kitty. Use all the steps, or pick and choose, based on the personality of the animals involved, and how you observe them respond to each other.

1. Create Individual Clearly Defined Spaces.

It’s a good idea to begin by making sure both your service dog/emotional support dog and your cat have their own, separate safe zones. If possible, keep the cat’s space, along with all the kitty stuff (kitty litter, toys, food, and water, etc.) remains in its current location, unless the new dog will necessitate a change. Any space changes should be performed before your dog arrives. This enables your cat to get used to things. You can, of course, block off a portion of the house where the dog will initially be restricted to. The important thing is to limit and protect the cat’s private space.

Allowing the dog to sniff and investigate the cat’s space while the cat is in another room or outside (and vice versa) will remove some of the dog’s drive to explore. Let’s face it: The cat’s gonna do what the cat wants to do – when the cat wants to do it!

2. Smell Exchange

If possible, it’s ideal to introduce the animals to one another’s smell, even before bringing your new support dog home. Both cats and dogs have incredible noses with acute senses of smell and if given the chance to become familiar with a particular odor, the less offensive and threatening it will be for the cat, or exciting and stimulating, for the service dog. This, in turn, will create a greater openness to knowing one another upon initial meeting.

You can let them get a whiff of each other by “swapping smells,” or giving each animal a towel or old t-shirt to sleep with and then switching the now odor-drenched textiles so doggie is sleeping with meow-meow’s scent and vice versa.

If it is not possible to introduce smells ahead of the move-in date, no worries. You can implement the same technique once your new dog is in the house, but still segregated in a different room or area than the cat. You can even just swap their bedding.

3. Opposite Side of the Door Feedings

An old trick: feed the kitty and your emotional support dog at the same time, but on opposite sides of a door. They will be able to smell, hear and sense one another, but without the threat or overstimulation of actually seeing one another. Additionally, the food will help them come to associate the smell and sound of the other with something wonderful and delicious!

4. Observe Each Other Through a Gate

Now it’s time to “lift the curtain”, so to speak. Let your dog see the cat through a pet gate. You may want to keep the dog on a leash during this phase, even though they are separated, for training purposes.

Allow them to observe each other, and as they do, observe your emotional support dog. How is he behaving? If he remains obsessively fixated on the cat, lunging, and barking, digging at the barrier and staring at her intently for more than a few days, you may have an aggressive dog on your hands. If so, that require a few other precautions (see below).

Before moving on to the next step, it’s a good idea to see if the emotional support dog and cat are relatively at ease in each other’s presence. They should be able to ignore the other and show relaxed body language.

5. Leashed Face-to-Face

Now that the animals have become pretty familiar with one another and are showing more comfort, remove the gate. Let both animals inhabit the same space, but keep your new dog on a leash, to be safe. Again, stay at this step until both animals seem calm around one another.

6. Grand Finale! Off-leash Hang Time

It’s finally time to let the animals be in a room together with total freedom. They should be adjusted to one another at this point, but you’ll still want to chaperone the first few off-leash meetings or until you feel comfortable. Just use your best judgment and observe body language. You should notice any agitation or aggression.

If the cat is an outdoor cat, it’s a good idea to test the animals together outside as well. Sometimes a different environment, like being out of doors, can alter the behavior of an dog who has become used to the rules inside the house, but isn’t so sure what the rules are in the “wild” where a cat might otherwise be fair game. Better to chaperone out there too, and make sure all is well between the animal kingdoms before letting them run loose together.

Aggressive Dogs

Hopefully, your emotional support/service dog will easily habituate to the cat. Some dogs, however, have very strong predatory instincts, and if this is the case with your pooch, you’ll have to do some extra training to facilitate a respectful relationship between your pooch and your kitty.

Strong predator instinct can be recognized by specific body language and behavior: if the dog displays excessive growling, barking, or maintains a fixed stare at the cat, he is treating her more like prey, than as a member of his family. He might repeatedly jump at the cat or be generally obsessed with this other critter.

Specific training techniques to guide an aggressive dog include refocusing their attention. If your dog is fixated on the cat, pull his attention away by saying his name and getting him to look at you. Once he does look at you, offer him a treat. Repeat until the dog learns there is more reward in not being overly obsessed with the cat.

If you are having difficulty finding success, and your emotional support dog is absorbed by your cat in an aggressive way, it may be time to seek professional help.

Occasionally, a dog just is not suited to a cat (or vice versa). If you’ve given it time and patience, but the dog continues to act aggressively to the cat, it may not be a good fit. You’ll need to decide what your options are at that point.

Kittens and Your New Dog

Kittens are especially vulnerable, and even an emotional support dog who has previous cat buddies and is decidedly not a cat chaser, may see a sweet little kitten as a toy. The dog may play too rough and wind up injuring the kitten. If the kitten is a bit older and quite playful, its erratic moves can encourage a dog to play too roughly.

To avoid this sort of trauma, it’s a good idea to chaperone the meetings between these creatures. A kitten will not be territorial and may not even have developed an appropriate fear of dogs. So, in this case, it is really important to protect the little thing.

When you aren’t on patrol but want the animals to be around one another, you can keep the kitten in a big crate, so the emotional support dog can see, but not touch.


Hopefully, by now your cat and dog are well on the way to becoming friends. Just remember to make sure you give both your dog and your cat a lot of love and attention. It can be easy in the excitement of having a new emotional support dog to give less attention to your resident feline. Cats need a lot of reassurance, however, and your cat will benefit to understand he/she still has an important place in your heart. Giving her plenty of attention will help minimize jealousy and ill will toward her new dog friend.

Also, the more the emotional support dog sees you being affectionate with the cat, the more he’ll understand the cat is a special friend – and vice versa. Let them witness the other as family through your behavior.

And, as always, exercise patience. Sometimes, it takes a little time for a new dog and cat to become totally at ease in each other’s’ company, let alone build a familial relationship. Give it time; it will be worth it! Before long, you’ll be enjoying being at the head of a cohesive, multi-species pack!

Good Luck!

Posted on

How to Welcome Your New Dog to the Family

There’s usually much anticipation and excitement when you’re about to introduce a new furry friend home and into the family: Cuddles to look forward to, playful silliness to indulge in, and perhaps, a good excuse to take more walks to the park. Just watching canine behavior, which is so different from our own, yet still so relatable, can provide hours of entertainment. For many, the absolute best part about bringing a service dog (in training) or emotional support dog into the home, however, is the easy companionship they provide. It’s like getting a new friend, or maybe something even more far-reaching: when you welcome a dog into the home, it can be nothing short of welcoming a new family member.

When you consider the significance of such a pivotal moment, it’s also normal to feel a little bit apprehensive about the new addition. How will life change? If it’s a puppy, especially, you may be concerned about the training process, anticipating chewed up shoes and cleaning up urine drenched rugs. Will the pup adjust alright? Will you?

It’s in everyone’s best interest (people and pooches included) to ease the transition with as much care as possible. Dogs are sensitive creatures and feel changes in their environment acutely. You want your new furry family member to move into their new home with as little stress and as much comfort as you can provide.

Preparing the way with smart planning and executing the inauguratory welcome, will not only make your service dog or emotional support dog’s life easier, it will make your life easier, setting the stage for a grand, companionable relationship.

This article will guide you through the process of bringing a new dog into the family with an aim towards minimizing stress for all parties involved, so you can focus on the fun stuff and build a happy, healthful relationship with your new dog.

1. Gather the Tools

First things first: Gather the tools. Naturally, you want to have all the accessories and necessities at the house before your new dog arrives, to prevent hectic scrambling to find a leash when you need to take the dog out to pee, etc. This scenario can create the kind of frenetic energy that is stress-inducing to human and dog alike.

Luckily, it can be fun to shop for your new doggie-friend! You get to pick out colors, styles, and functionality of an amazing array of accessories and toys available online and at the local pet store!

Here’s a short list of the main tools you’ll should have before Woof-Woof gets to town:

A Crate

For many dogs, a crate provides them with a sense of security. Having a place to go to that is both contained and just their own is a great source of comfort to dogs. Additionally, a crate helps with obedience training for the wee-ones.

Dog Bed

Dogs, like people, adore a cozy bed to curl up in. Like the crate, a dog bed can provide them with a comfortable slice of home that is their own alone.

Collar and Tags

Particularly in a new place, you’ll want to safeguard against your dog getting loose, lost, and without tags (heaven forbid)! If yours is a service dog or emotional support dog, collars and ID tags from National Service Animal Registry legitimize the look of your dog, while identifying him/her.


A leash is sort of self-explanatory, but especially in the beginning, keeping dogs on a leash will make them (and you) feel safe. The first time you introduce them to their new home, you’ll want to bring them in with a leash (more on that below). NSAR offers high quality service dog and emotional support dog leashes at very reasonable prices.

Dog Food!!

Shop around, do some research (maybe ask your vet), or check back on this blog for the best dog food that fits your budget and provides proper nutrition (there are a lot of junk-food dog brands on the market).


An important part of your service dog’s health and nutrition, you’ll need to know a little about vitamins and other supplements to help keep your dog in peak physical condition. Do a little research, have a chat with your veterinarian, or check this blog (we’ve done the homework for you) will help you select the most important items. Remember: different ages and different breeds will require different nutrient additions.

Dog Treats and Chew Bones

These can be invaluable for dog training, teeth maintenance, and are an easy way to make your dog feel special!

Food and Water Dishes

It’s important to maintain a water bowl in a designated area of the home which is kept full and fresh, so your dog can monitor his own hydration.


For puppies, toys will provide hours of play (a helpful adjustment tool since they wont be with their siblings for possibly the first time in their young lives), and additionally gives them something to chew on as they teethe. But even an old dog likes a happy toy or two to chew on 😉

Old Towels and Lots of Rags

You’ll likely need these for mopping up messes, accidents, and cleaning the dog’s feet after a play in a muddy yard, etc.====2. Primp and Preen the Den:====

Now that you have collected the tools and accessories, it’s time to primp and preen the den for maximum comfort for the four-legged. Designate a corner for the crate and/or dog bed. Dogs like having a safe haven, a space just for them.

Decide where the feeding area will be: In the kitchen? Garage? Back Porch? Decide on an indoor and outdoor water station so the dog can be sure to have access to water at all times.

If you have a yard with a fence, maybe you’ll want to install a dog door. Have fun! Arranging a space for a new family member can be a sweet and intentional way to connect before they even arrive.

3. Prepare the Pack

As you collect your handy tools and spruce up the den in preparation for this exciting new adventure with your emotional support dog, you’ll naturally begin to prepare mentally for the family dynamic shift as well. It’s a good idea to gather the pack to establish that everyone is on the same page and has similar expectations.

Discuss with your family or household members how you’d like to incorporate this new wagging member of the pack. What are the rules? Is the dog allowed on the furniture? Are there parts of the house that are off limits? Get the basic law of the land down pat, and you can always adjust, as necessary.

Decide on the commands you will use (do you prefer the command Off or Down for jumping?) so you can maintain consistency among all household members and avoid confusing poor Fido. It’s really a good idea to read up on some basic training techniques to better understand the psychology of your dog and to help enact an effective strategy for training.

Also, divvy up roles, so everybody has a good sense of what is expected of them; who is in charge of feeding? Who is going to get up in the night (if it’s a puppy) so she can relieve that tiny puppy bladder?

Review the appropriate, conservative behavior upon initially bringing your new pooch into the home in order to establish what is expected from the get-go, saving you headaches down the road (more on this below!).

And last, but certainly not least, if you already have a resident dog or cat in your unique pack, you’ll want to consider their comfort as well. Educate yourself on the best way to make an introduction. Animals are territorial, and even if they are a particularly social animal at the park or with the other neighborhood cats, a newcomer to the home-den can be stressful and even frightening. Impervious to any of your new dog’s adorable attributes, they will likely feel as though their safe haven, their very own home, has been invaded by a stranger. And indeed, it has.

Luckily, there are ways to minimize the stress in this situation and hopefully, within a few weeks, if you’re pets aren’t best buddies, at least they’ll accept each other and live in relative harmony. Next week’s blog will focus on introducing your new service dog or emotional support dog to the resident cat. Be sure to check back!

4. Find a Veterinarian

Although we’ll be adding an interesting and informative article on finding the right veterinarian for your service dog or emotional support dog in the next few weeks, in the interim, it’s a good idea to ask friends and family for a good recommendation in your locale. Familiarize yourself with where you’ll be taking your dog for routine health check-ups and shots. It’s best to set up an initial visit sometime in the first couple weeks after bringing your pooch home.

A good vet is an invaluable resource for excellent information on both dog care and dog behavior. They are also an important support system to have in place, should there be an emergency.

5. Introduce Your Dog to the New Territory

The day has finally arrived! You’ve prepared everything so thoughtfully, minding every detail, and now it’s time to bring your furry, slobbering sweetness home! Congratulations you’re about to embark on a wonderful new relationship!

However, as territorial beasts, you’ll want to intro your dog to her new home terrain slowly. In fact, if possible, it’s ideal to familiarize her with the neighborhood a few times before actual move-in day. This way the home-zone is not so foreign.

If it isn’t possible to get a head start on territory-familiarization, (it may be impractical under many circumstances, especially with puppies), that’s okay too. You can facilitate a thorough Project Familiarization on Day-Move-In too.

A good rule of thumb for introducing your new dog to the home-place is to start wide, and circle in. That just means, don’t just jump into the deep end without testing the water (or in this case, the center of activity in the house). Instead, before even going into the home-den, begin with a walk around the neighborhood. Let your hound get a sense of the territory at large: the smells, sights, and sounds.

There are several important benefits of this initial walk:

  • It serves to tire your dog out even just a little. Arriving at a new home can be VERY exciting for your new friend, and it can easily become a wild and crazy affair! As silly and (sometimes) entertaining as this may be, it’s a good idea to minimize this initial craze (I’ll explain why below). Expending a little energy on a walk will help him or her come home for the first time in a slight calmer, more manageable state, better prepared to relax into a new space.
  • The walk enables the dog to relieve him or herself, minimizing the chances that it will happen on your living room carpet.

5. Coming in for a Landing, We Arrive: The Home-Den

As you circle the neighborhood, you finally narrow your focus into the home-den. When you enter the house, do so in a calm and calculated manner to prevent hyper-excitement. The reason is that this very entrance impacts the tone of the relationship and living space, as your dog understands it.

So, if you immediately take the leash off and let the dog run wild through the house, frolicking in frenzied excitement encouraged by nearly, equally excited family members who shriek, coo, and besiege the mutt with hugs and pets, ruffling his fur in passionate adoration for his adorableness – well, the stage will have been set.

It’s natural for us to welcome a new member with a party and celebration, but for a dog, this first intro to the home sets the tone for the rest of your years of cohabitation. It’s crucial to set up boundaries. If you open the door and let the dog run wild through the house, you are effectively signaling that there are no boundaries. Going back and retraining isn’t always the easiest or most pleasant of tasks. Without boundaries, your dog is led to believe that the entire home is theirs to do with as they please, which means they can beg, jump, and chew on everything, should they feel the inclination.

It’s much more difficult to correct these behavioral problems later than it is to just establish the norm immediately. Structure will actually provide stability and comfort to your dog, who has it in their instincts to function within a hierarchical, organized group, and will appreciate having a good sense of their own place within the group. Better to save the party for later and show the dog a tranquil experience that firmly communicates expectations.

You can do this by following these simple suggestions:

  1. Keep your cool. Dogs are pack animals, and together, you are now a pack. It’s important for you and the other resident humans to be the Alphas in this pack. Establish this rule from the beginning. Present your dog with an air of calm authority and assertiveness. Keep the stimulation to a minimum; this means controlled talking to and touching the dog. In addition to establishing your controlled leadership, this is compassionate to his or her sensitive-doggie-nervous system. Your dog may now be in a loving doggie-resort, and is already plenty stimulated by the new environment.
  2. Keep the dog on the leash, at least initially. This has the dual benefit of providing poochy-pooh with security and establishing dominance. It lets them know this is not their space to run a free-for-all in. This is your space. Show them their special space, but first, make it understood where it is not.
  3. Continue the home exploration, by moving from one room to another, pausing only a few moments in each to acquaint the dog with the quarters.
  4. As you navigate through the various rooms and spaces, always enter ahead of the dog. This is important to establish your dominance. Try not to let the dog enter each room until you’ve given permission. Have them wait, even sit until you give the signal (this is obviously easier with an older, trained dog, but there’s no time like now to begin the training process!).
  5. After finishing the home exploration, acquaint your new pet with the feeding area. Offer a doggie-treat and an opportunity to lap up some water.
  6. Present him or her with her own slice of heaven. Take her to her crate or dog mat and let her know it’s all hers. Remove the leash (finally!). Watch and see what she does. Maybe she’ll lay right down to rest and absorb the moment, confident that she’s found her place. Maybe she’ll want to sniff around some more or come spend time with you. Don’t be afraid to use a small treat to facilitate this.

It’s no problem, either way, but let you emotional support dog decide: if it wants to rest, let it. And maintain the same cool calm as you have been. It’s okay to be friendly and affectionate if he/she wants to spend time with you, but try not to build the energy up in an exaggerated way. You are still setting an example of dominance and expectations particularly during the first few hours.


If you follow these steps, welcoming your new, sweet pooch into your home will be close to seamless. Just remember, it always takes a little while to acclimate completely. Be patient and you’ll have years full of belly rubs and love to look forward to from a devoted and loyal friend. Congratulations!