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How to introduce your new partner to your pet

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Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and perhaps you’ve got a special (human) someone you’re ready to bring home to meet your dog? Here’s how to make sure it runs smoothly.

When I first introduced my dog to my now husband, it went something like this: I was holding our Jack Russell, and said to him – “go on, pat him, he likes people.” So he did, and my dog promptly bit him. Not the best start.

As a much more experienced dog owner now, there were several factors at play during that introduction that I could have completely avoided and created a much better outcome. For one,  holding the dog in my arms as my partner reached over him would have made my boyfriend appear threatening. Secondly, my dog did not like males he didn’t know, as he had been kicked by his previous owners neighbour many times before he came to live with us – so I should have taken a much slower approach. And thirdly, my husband stuck his hand straight out to pet him, rather than allowing him to sniff the back of his hand first. And these are just the three most obvious mistakes made.

Considering your partner is potentially going to be in your dog’s life for a long time, it’s important to put some consideration and effort into their first (and subsequent) catch ups. While some dogs will quickly adapt to a new person in your life, others may find it stressful and become agitated.

Here are some simple tips for a smooth introduction:

  • Start by introducing your partner’s smell
    Leave a t-shirt or something that smells of your new partner around the house. This will help your dog recognise them when they arrive in person.
  • Keep the physical affection between you and your partner to a minimum at the start
    Greeting the object of your affection with a hug and kiss might be how you do things sans doggie, but dogs can become territorial or aggressive under these conditions. Stick to getting them comfortable with each other before getting affectionate in front of your furry friend.
  • Build positive associations
    If your pooch has a preferred type of treat (some dogs prefer toys, others will rate a food treat more highly), create positive associations by having your partner bring them a treat when they come over. As they get to know each other, have your partner help with their care; think feeding, letting them out for the toilet and grooming.
  • Take it slow
    When you bring your partner into the house, understand that the first time may not be for a long time; and a sleep over should wait until your dog is comfortable. Some dogs may be completely fine, while others will growl or bark – especially when it comes time for a sleep over and your dog is used to sharing a bed with you. Kicking them out of the room to make way for a new person they barely know is not likely to build a great association!
  • Have fun together
    A new relationship often means a big change in your schedule, which can be stressful if your dog is used to spending a lot of time with you and you’re suddenly abandoning them to hang out with your new beau. Get around this by going on dog friendly dates; reinforcing that time spent with your partner as a positive thing.

Signs your pooch is not coping

Despite the best laid plans, sometimes things will go pear shaped, and it’s important to know when to get help. If your dog is snapping or snarling, pacing, or clearly unhappy, you may need to enlist the help of a dog behaviourist. Signs your dog is not coping can be mild, so look out for any behavioural changes, from lack of appetite, to destructive behaviours or aggression after introductions are made. If the relationship is long term then it’s best to nip any problems in the bud from the start, before bad associations can become ingrained. 

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