COMMON BEHAVIORAL ISSUES
Ripley and I had been best friends for years. She was sweet to everyone, but there was no mistaking she was "my dog". She wanted to be around me as much as she could and if I liked something or someone, she would also like them. So, when I got married, she eagerly adopted my wife as much as my wife adopted her. This also meant Ripley (and I) had to adopt my wife's two cats, Trinity and Oliver. (OK, to be fair, my sister-in-law unloaded Oliver on my wife right before we got married, knowing we'd take good care of him.)
Sadly, about a year into our marriage, Trinity passed away. Trinity was as much my wife's cat as Ripley was my dog. My wife was heartbroken, but she decided very quickly that a new kitten would help her cope. Of course, this was to be "her kitten". A few short days later we had adopted a new kitten we named Tori. My wife was excited to let Tori be her new companion, since Oliver seemed to show no favoritism.
We went through the appropriate medical quarantine with Tori in our house before introducing her to Oliver. But, a little before it was over, we did decide to let her and Ripley interact since she was already shown to be negative for anything she could give to Ripley. We wondered just how well they would get along since Ripley had never been around a kitten. Approximately ten minutes later, Ripley was asleep next to me on the bed in the guest room where we kept Tori, and Tori was asleep... on top of Ripley. Since that moment, much to wife's chagrin, Tori was purely devoted to only two beings: Ripley and I.
Sadly, not all introductions go that smoothly. We are commonly asked about integrating new pets into a household with existing pets. My first concern is always medical, and we addressed that last column. But, when it comes to behavior, the most important thing is time and options. Quite simply, make sure that you are willing to give them time to adjust (they are on their own timeline, not yours) and that each animal always has the option to end an interaction on their own, anytime they want. You must also accept that while most pets will eventually form social bonds, sometimes they will just agree to share the same space.
During the quarantine period that we discussed last column, there are a few things you can do to start helping them adjust to each other even if they aren't in the same room yet. First, routinely trade out blankets, pillows and other objects so that they begin to get used to each other's scent (with both cats and dogs, scent is the most important way to get to know another animal.) Another good trick is to begin feeding them at the same time, gradually moving their bowls closer and closer to the door between them so that, within a week or so, they are eating on opposite sides of the door. This allows them to associate something positive (food) with the scent of the other animal, increasing the odds that they will have positive association with the new addition.
When they do finally interact, do not ever force them to interact beyond what they would like. And, make sure those interactions are all supervised at the start, only intervening if real violence is occurring or is about to. They need to feel safe in order to start to bond, and the option to flee if distressed is critical to safety. Since this really taps into the "fight or flight" concept, if you limit their "flight" option, then often negative interactions and aggression is the only option they will feel they have left.
Without a doubt, house soiling is the most common issue that I discuss with new pet owners. First and foremost, we must eliminate any potential medical reasons for this. So, it is a good idea to discuss them with your veterinarian. If these are eliminated, then we must consider each species differently.
Cats tend to display this more after a change in environment. Providing multiple litter boxes (at least one more than the total number of cats in the household) is the first step. Make sure each box is in a quiet, private place. Avoid placing these boxes in the room with their food or near any equipment or machinery that could startle them when they are in it (think laundry rooms, utility rooms and furnaces, etc.) There are some plug-in pheromone diffusers that have an appeasing pheromone as their main ingredient, which can often help in that transitional period. Your veterinarian can help you decide what changes are needed, and if pheromone diffusers are a good option for your household.
Dogs need to go through housebreaking training, regardless of age. There are many facets to this, but there are a few vital things to keep in mind. First, you should go out with your dog every time that they go outside. Anytime they eliminate, you should lavish them with praise and rewards (treats). It should always be a wonderful, positive experience. If you find areas where they have eliminated in the house, simply clean them up and move on. Punishing them does no good. If you catch them in the act, simply take them outside and - should they finish eliminating outside - praise them as if they had done that in the first place. If you punish your dog for eliminating in the house, the only thing that you will teach them is to be afraid to eliminate near you. This means they will eventually begin to sneak around in the house to do it other places (i.e. you will make the problem worse).
Keep your dog near you at all times during these first few weeks of house training. This may even require you keeping them on a leash tethered to you. But, this is vital, as regular attention on your part is the major requirement for success when teaching proper elimination habits. Accidents in the house, provided there are no medical issues, are a failure of the diligence of the owner, not the fault of the pet. Understanding that will help you better focus on attending to their needs during that training period.
Also, understand that most dogs will eliminate shortly after eating (approximately 30 minutes later). So, time their meals such that you can be available to take them outside shortly afterwards.
I hope the New Year is a fun and pleasant one for you and all the members of your household, whether two-legged or four, and I wish you all the best.
Dr. Brandon Stapleton
Managing Doctor/Medical Director