The first three years of my life were joyful ones. I had loving parents who took me all over to show me off to my grandparents, various aunts and uncles and other relatives who took turns deciding if I had “Dad’s eyes” or “Mom’s nose” and generally spoiled me the way any kid wants. Then one day, a little brother appeared, and my life was never the same again.

Instead of being the center of my parents’ universe, now I had to share a room and travel around and listen to these same relatives making a fuss over this new little kid. It took some getting used to. Over the years, I learned to accept the little kid around and, occasionally, even enjoyed having a little brother, but don’t let him know that, so he doesn’t get a big head.

Bringing home a new dog or cat to a household that already has one can be just as upsetting to your existing pets if you don’t do your homework first. Many people, for example, think they can just bring a new dog home and let the dogs work things out themselves. For the lucky ones, this works out OK, but more often than not, people find themselves in the middle of a dog fight and wonder what went wrong. 

Animals that live in packs, like dogs, establish a social structure within the group called a dominance hierarchy. This dominance hierarchy serves to maintain order, reduce conflict and promote cooperation among pack members. Dogs also establish territories, which they may defend against intruders or rivals. This social and territorial nature affects their behavior when a new dog is introduced to their household. 

One way to overcome problems is to introduce the dogs on “neutral territory.” We encourage someone looking to adopt from the SPCA to go home, bring back their other dog(s) and let them all meet in the fenced area once they find the new dog they want to adopt. The dogs will be supervised by the SPCA staff to help make sure the adoption is a good fit for everyone.

Using positive reinforcement is important, too. If you expect good things to happen and stay calm while the dogs sniff each other and get acquainted, the odds are better it will work. Sometimes, the owner is so nervous that they get their dog nervous, and no new dog will be accepted because the dog is so stressed out that the meeting probably won’t go well.

If you are looking to add a cat to your family, introductions should be done at a quiet time when the household is calm and will remain calm for a few weeks. Avoid busy times such as parties or visits from relatives or friends. Ideally, give the new cat his own room to begin with. He needs to settle in to this “safe room” before meeting other pets. The room must be made escape-proof and quiet.

If possible, use a screen door on the newcomer’s room so that the cats can see and sniff each other but not touch. The cats can be allowed to meet through the screen or mesh after about a week. If not, the first meeting should be carefully supervised with the cats being distracted with food treats so they associate the meeting with rewards. 

Whether you add a dog or a cat to your family, it is important to have patience and give everyone enough love and attention while they find their place in your family’s hierarchy. Remember, the new dog or cat doesn’t know everything about your home and lifestyle yet, and it takes a little time to get adjusted. You should plan on sleeping a few hours less than normal the first few days while you sort it all out.

It even worked for me. Eventually, my little brother got his own bedroom, and he learned to stay away from my toys and my favorite boxes of cereal. At the SPCA, we can’t help you find a little brother; but if you want to add a great dog or cat to your family, call 648-6863 or visit 199 Willow Run Road in Aiken.