10 tips for bringing pet families together

You met the person of your dreams. You both have dogs. Or he has a cat and you have a dog. You love his pets and he loves yours. The relationship is getting serious. So how do you get the pets to get along? Here are 10 tips on how to help new dog friends get along from Eric Goebelbecker of Dog Spelled Forward:

1. In serious situations, call in an expert: “For dogs, there are a few things you can try but first and foremost,” says Eric, “if there’s been a fight and blood has been drawn, get a professional involved. Bites that break the skin mean someone was very upset. Similarly, if you are really afraid of a serious fight, talk to a local trainer.”

2. Meet on neutral territory: “This way neither dog will feel more vulnerable or more in charge,” says Eric. “Do a lot of parallel walking on leash with lots of treats, but don’t let them greet on leash. This is just a matter of getting accustomed to the other dog being around without being a threat or an annoyance.”

3. Try an off leash meeting: After a few walks where both dogs seem to be relaxed, try an off leash meeting. “Look for comfortable tails, loose body posture, where they are not constantly eyeing the other dog,” says Eric. “Dogs like to sniff and circle each other. If they cannot comfortably do that, a greeting can become very tense. Also some dogs are more aggressive on leash because they feel restrained.”

4. Before you remove the leash: Make sure your meeting place is securely fenced in and free of other dogs, dog toys, and food. Dogs can start fights over toys and food. “Walk the dogs on leash around the area to give them a chance to feel comfortable,” Eric explains. “Then let them off leash. It’s okay if they don’t immediately run up to each other. The goal here is to get them comfortable in each other’s presence, not immediately to be best buds.”

5. Call your dog to come to you: “Call your dog to you periodically, and give him a yummy treat,” says Eric. “Definitely call if things start to look tense. The idea here is for the dogs to spend more time together with nothing bad happening.”

6: Keep these meetings short: An hour is sufficient time for the first few meetings. “Quit these sessions while things are still fun and happy,” says Eric. “Don’t wait too long and risk a squabble. After a few successful sessions, you can try someone’s home or apartment. Before entering the home, do some parallel walking together; bring the dogs in separately, and introduce them off leash in the house.”

7. Bringing cats and dogs together: This is a more complicated relationship because dogs and cats communicate differently and frequently there are predatory issues. Eric suggests if the dog is intent on getting the cat, to keep them in separate rooms, and always make sure the cat has a way to get to higher ground.

8. Teach your dog to pay attention to you: If you can get the dog and cat together without an immediate fight, then teach the dog not to obsess over the cat. On his site, Dog Spelled Forward, Eric posts suggestions on how to get your dog to pay attention to you. When your dog pays attention to you, he is not constantly thinking about the cat or other dog in the room.

9. Best friends: The thing to keep in mind is that the pets don’t need to be best friends. Some dogs (and cats) just don’t play with each other and don’t want to share a sofa or chair. There are a lot of factors that go into their development that are out of our control, and it’s possible that they just don’t want to be best friends.

10: Give peace a chance: “Your primary goal should be peace,” he explains. “It’s possible that over time they will become more interested in each other and even start to play with each other, but this can take weeks or months. It’s also very normal for dogs to have loud and vicious sounding squabbles and then very quickly go back to peace and quiet.”

Dogtime expert Michele C. Hollow writes Pet News and Views, which covers pet care, animal welfare issue, and profiles of people who work with animals and celebrities who help animal nonprofits.