I remember when my then-boyfriend and I decided we wanted to adopt a companion for my girl Elliot. At the time, we lived separately and in different cities, so we knew for a while, the two animals wouldn’t see each other very much. We decided the next family member would stay with Matty most of time since I kept Elliot with me during the week.
We spent some time at the local shelter looking at cats. Our original game plan was for Matty to adopt a cat because he was away from home so often. But once Matty’s eyes met Piper’s, it was game over. Sitting there in the first kennel, on her first day of availability, Piper’s big ears and happy heart won us over and she became ours.
Now, the point of this story is walking readers through how to help pet siblings get along. As I don’t have a degree in pet behavior, I’m going to simply share how I tackled each situation successfully as I found problems.
1. Food aggression
Dogs are territorial, and food is definitely not an exception. Especially when they’re new to each other, dogs will become possessive and aggressive when it comes to their meal times.
When we became a family of two dogs, we knew we’d need to nip any aggression in the bud. We quickly found that both dogs would occasionally be food aggressive. For them, this meant whenever the other would go near any dog bowl, they’d bite at each other.
The solution was simple: keep their bowls apart. At my house, we kept Piper’s bowl in the kitchen, and Elliot’s just outside the kitchen. I would sit in between them and wait for them to both finish. This allowed me to act as a buffer in case someone got snippy. Sitting between them also allowed them to keep an eye on each other from a distance, and over time come to the realization that their bowls were theirs alone.
Eventually, we worked our way to them sharing the same standing dish for food and their water bowls are in the kitchen. If you’re hoping to get to this point, you need to be patient and consistent during meal times. Sit with them and show them that their food is theirs; don’t let them eat out of the other’s bowl period; and don’t let aggression get out of control.
Elliot and Piper have nipped at each other, and that is just how dogs learn. They have to assert dominance and simply tell each other what’s acceptable and what’s not. However, if meal times don’t improve and you can’t get them to eat together – no biggie. Just feed them separately!
Another important idea is to not free feed. Not only doing free feeding lead to obesity, but it’s not helpful when pets are food aggressive. Even if they aren’t showing signs of food aggression at the beginning when they share, they could develop aggression over time. Like I said earlier, nip it in the bud!
Elliot had always been possessive of me. Thankfully she’s never been aggressive about it, but I have distinct memories of how she used to more definitively protect me. Whenever Matty would come home on the weekends and hug me, she used to jump up between us and push him away. Whenever a dog at the dog park would come near me, she would rush over to growl or snap at them.
How To Fix Possession With Other People
- Don’t make initial eye contact with your dog. I found that whenever I watched her when he hugged me, the more easily worked up she would get
- Tell her, “It’s okay!” each time the person touches or hugs you
- When your dog doesn’t do a bad behavior like jumping, snapping, etc., thank her and give her a treat
Over time, they will realize you are okay, this person is welcome because they heard the words “It’s okay” or “Thank you” and got a treat. I followed these steps in hopes that if one day a stranger comes in and is not welcome, Elliot will know that they’re not friendly and attack.
How To Fix Possession At Dog Park
Now, I have been working with pets ever since my first job. I worked at PetsMart, a grooming salon, and now a veterinary hospital. My dogs are now accustomed to me coming home smelling like other dogs, but once upon a time, Elliot was the roughest dog when I came in contact with another dog.
Shortly after her adoption, I tried taking Elliot to dog parks. Immediately I recognized her dog aggression was triggered by me. I was sad to see that I was the reason for it; she is just so protective of me and only wanted to do good.
Fixing this issue takes a lot of time and patience, and I will admit that at times I didn’t have patience. We went a few months without a visit to the dog park because I couldn’t handle her. But here is how I tackled that aggression:
- Make sure that there aren’t other dominant or potentially aggressive dogs in the park. Even now, if there is another alpha dog in the park, I can’t take her in because she tried to one-up them. And she’s a little dog, only 32lbs. Most of the other dominant dogs in our park are at least 60lbs, and I don’t want her to get hurt. Which she totally would. So communicate with other dog owners before you go in the park to avoid an incident.
- Walk your dog on a leash in the park and don’t interact with other dogs yet. Walk the exterior of the park, let her smell the smells and learn the terrain. When the other dogs get over the fact that there’s a new dog in the park, they’ll calm down and so will your dog. Make sure before you take the leash off that your dog is comfortable. If that point doesn’t happen within five minutes, go home. It’s okay if it doesn’t happen quickly, it may take some time. Don’t lose faith! It’ll happen eventually, but you both need to be comfortable.
- Let them off the leash and keep your distance. Dogs will be dogs, right? That’s a saying for a reason. They need to get to know another dog on their own terms and learn boundaries either the easy way or the hard way. For Elliot, her trigger was me being around other dogs. So I backed away from her, walked the fence like I did when I had her on a leash. I kept my arms crossed and I didn’t pet other dogs. She would run around smelling dog to dog, behaving well, then would run back over to me to check on me. When Elliot came to me, I’d bend down and pet her and tell her she did a good job. Then she’d go bounding off to explore something new. We repeated that routine every time until she resolved her issue.
- Repeat the routine! Every time you go into a dog park, walk on a leash then release. Every time until you feel confident in your dog.
Eventually, I was able to start petting other pets and talking to other owners. Elliot is very relaxed now, and hardly ever gets into it with other dogs. Like I said, occasionally there’s another dominant dog and I have to leave. But it’s worth it to keep her safe.
3. Cats And Dogs
Many people have asked me how I get my cats and dogs to get along. I want to first tell you that I have strange cats. Although everyone says that, because all cats are strange, mine are truly special. Hermione, my female cat, does not run away. From anything. Even if the dogs are chasing her or if I am trying to discipline her: she just stares at you blankly. So, with her personality, the introduction of her to my dogs was a breeze.
My other cat, Neville, was a different story. He is deaf in one ear, so he’s already at a disadvantage. Hermione was 8 months old when we adopted her and Neville was 8 weeks. Since we held him most of the time, we let the dogs sniff him in our hands. Eventually, we’d let Neville roam the floors while we held the dogs back. Letting your cats get comfortable with their new space is important, but so is establishing rules pretty early on. I set boundaries for both species: for the dogs, it was pretty much don’t ever attack the kitties (or be punished) and don’t get in the litter box. The cats have always been allowed to defend themselves, so they were allowed to swat, but they don’t have a need to now. Because they all have their own space in the house, they coexist very well.
2 years and a different home later, they still get along. But, like I said, my cats are weird and my dogs are docile. Hermione is stubborn and fearless, and Neville now mostly keeps to himself; the girls like their alone time as well.
Truth To Making It Work
Have your animals meet, when possible, before the adoption is finalized. Some cats and dogs are meant to be the only pets of the household. Some pets are happy and content to be among many other pets. I think for now we have reached our pet capacity, though sometimes I feel like Neville could use another male in the bunch.
The most important thing is that your babies are well-cared for and listened to. If they’re showing signs of aggression or irritation, listen to them and correct whatever is bothering them. They have feelings, too, and deserve to be heard. If you’re thinking of adopting pets that aren’t going to get along, don’t. If you have pets that don’t coexist yet, keep them separated until you put in the patience and time to make it work! Forcing the situation will never yield good results.