Just like bringing a new baby into your home requires some advance preparation, so does bringing home a new companion animal. Below are some tips to help ease your companion animal’s transition into your family and make your first days with your new furry friend the beginning of many years of happy companionship.
The first step is making sure your house is safe for your companion animal. Just as with
baby-proofing, you’ll need to make sure your companion animal can’t get to any toxic materials like antifreeze, household cleaners, or rat poison. You’ll also need to watch out for heavy objects that are high up or unstable, like an iron perched on an ironing board. Unlike babies, companion animals have teeth, so they can do a lot of damage to electrical cords, furniture, and woodwork, particularly smaller companion animals like rabbits. Do not leave anything on the floor that you don’t want to be used as a chew toy. While it may be cute for your puppy to chew on your old shoe, he can’t tell the difference between an old one and a new pair, and will think all shoes are fair game if you do not discourage him early on. House plants also can be a problem and some, like philodendrons, peace lilies, and poinsettias, are poisonous or will make a companion animal sick if ingested.
Whether you’re bringing home a puppy or kitten or a full-grown adult animal, your companion animal is going to need a little time to adjust to his/her new surroundings. Try to ease him into his new situation as gently as possible. Be encouraging and make sure to reward positive behavior. Don’t have a crowd of noisy, excited people meet your new companion animal at the front door. This can traumatize an already nervous animal. Instead, take him to a part of the house that will be his retreat and give him a little time there alone. Show a dog his crate or bed, but don’t make him get into it or lock the door. You should put a cat in a quiet room and rabbits can be placed in their cage and left alone. The alone time will give your companion animal a chance to explore his new surroundings and become more secure in his new home.
As tempting as it might be, don’t pull your companion animal out of his retreat for playtime just yet. Look in on your new friend every once in a while and let him come out to meet you when he is ready. With most animals this won’t take more than a few hours. This will be particularly hard if you have any kids in the house, because they’ll find it nearly impossible to resist the cute, furry thing that’s just in the other room. Talk to your children before you bring your new companion animal home. Explain that he may be a little scared for a while and that they’ll have to be very quiet and gentle with him at first. You’ll also want to supervise children in their first few interactions with your new companion animal to make sure they know how to treat animals and vice versa.
If your new companion animal is joining other animals in your household, you’ll need to supervise the animals’ interaction for a while. Let your companion animals start off by sniffing each other through a closed door. Once they get used to the strange smells, open the door a crack and let them see each other. Gradually allow them more contact, and eventually let them meet face-to-face. Expect some hissing and growling at first. As your animal family continues to adjust to each other, you can ward off aggression by making sure each of your companion animals has their own food bowl and toys.
If your new companion animal is a youngster, he may never have been alone overnight before, so his first few nights with you may be scary for him. Try leaving on a nightlight and a radio, turned down low – the background noise may reassure him. A hot water bottle filled with warm water and an old-fashioned, ticking clock wrapped in cloth also may soothe him by reminding him of sleeping near his mother. (As tempting as it is, don’t bring your new furry friend into bed with you, even if you think it’s just for one night. You’ll be creating a bad habit that will be a challenge to break in the long run.)
One way to make your companion animal feel more secure is to teach him that he can rely
on a regular routine. Dogs in particular are creatures of habit. Start feeding and exercising your companion animal at the same time every day and establish a regular “bed time.” As your companion animal learns to anticipate the activities of his daily life, he’ll come to feel confident in his new home.
Now that your newest family member is feeling calm and secure, you can concentrate on strengthening the bond between you. Take plenty of time for positive play, where your companion animal’s energy is focused on chasing, attacking, and batting around toys (rather than you). Set aside some time for gentler pursuits like petting and ear scratching and pleasant grooming. Let your companion animal get used to the voices and hands of everyone in your family. When he seems nervous or gets tired of all the attention, let him retreat to the safe haven you gave him on his first day home.
If you adopted your new companion animal from a shelter or rescue organization, your may have a little extra work to do as you try to bond. Your companion animal may have been mistreated by his former guardians, or he may have been ignored and neglected. On the other end of the spectrum, he may have been spoiled rotten and learned that he need only to start whining or barking to get whatever he wants. If he’s been in one of these situations, he’ll need some time to unlearn his bad habits. If your new companion animal is aggressive toward you, or if his behavior doesn’t improve over time, ask your veterinarian or the shelter for recommendation for trainers or behaviorists.