If you have a dog, or have thought about getting one, you likely know that it’s a toss-up as to whether or not a cat may get along with one. But what if you have other types of small pets that roam the house? Birds, rabbits, free-roaming turtles, hamsters in wheels, large iguanas that hang out in the windowsill – no matter what type of exotic pet you may have, there are some things that you need to consider before adding a dog to the mix, or vice versa.
I’m not saying that dogs can’t live with other types of animals. I know of many, many dogs that are best buddies with their owner’s pet bird or pet hamster. I also know of many dogs that simply ignore or tolerate the presence of other types of pets. I have only heard of a very few cases in which an owner had to figure out which pet to rehome because they couldn’t get along. But no matter if you think your dog will get along with another animal or not, there are some things you should do to keep the relationship positive.
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1. Give the prey animal a safe place that your dog cannot get to[easyazon_image align=”right” cart=”n” cloak=”y” height=”208″ identifier=”B06XKHT349″ locale=”US” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51r0CohLbdL.jpg” tag=”natur0da-20″ width=”250″]
We have a habit of “humanizing” our pets. We give them names, we try to learn what they like and dislike, we create schedules for them, we care about their health, we may even dress them in [easyazon_link identifier=”B06XKHT349″ locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”natur0da-20″ cart=”n” cloak=”y” localize=”y” popups=”n”]clothes[/easyazon_link] and buy them toys. We tend to do this with any living companion we adopt, including other kinds of animals, and even plants.
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However, it’s important to remember when it comes to two animals interacting with each other, they are animals. They have animalistic instincts and an animalistic understanding of each other.[easyazon_image align=”right” cart=”n” cloak=”y” height=”250″ identifier=”B000JJDI0G” locale=”US” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51T-LRNfEYL.jpg” tag=”natur0da-20″ width=”204″] This does not mean that your dog’s first instinct is to eat a hamster – it just means that animals do understand each other in terms of placement on the food chain. So, yes, dogs are going to understand things like hamsters, rabbits, and birds as “prey” – even if they don’t have the desire to attack that prey.
That means that on the flip side, the prey animal will understand your dog as a predator. And that could make them very fearful. So, one way to give both animals the security they need is to make sure the prey animal has a safe place where they can hide from your dog. This could be a cage that is placed up high, or a room that is [easyazon_link identifier=”B000JJDI0G” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”natur0da-20″ cart=”n” cloak=”y” localize=”y” popups=”n”]blocked off[/easyazon_link] that your dog can’t get to. This will keep tension low because the animal most likely to feel a lot of anxiety will have a place to go to feel safer.
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2. Introduce animals in the right way[easyazon_image align=”right” cart=”n” cloak=”y” height=”130″ identifier=”B075BRVWVW” locale=”US” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/41fXhPtbT3L.jpg” tag=”natur0da-20″ width=”250″]
Introducing two animals, no matter the species, should always be done carefully and in a specific way.
First, know that you need to start slow. Just allow the animals to see each other, but not be in the same room. Then just allow the animals to smell each other before you separate them. Then just allow the animals to be in the same room while the dog is on the [easyazon_link identifier=”B075BRVWVW” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”natur0da-20″ cart=”n” cloak=”y” localize=”y” popups=”n”]leash[/easyazon_link], and the other animal is put away in a cage or somehow restrained. And so on. This slow process is the best way to allow the animals to acclimate to each other.
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Be sure that the introduction happens in a neutral area. Dogs are territorial creatures, so if they think that a small “prey” animal has just invaded their space, they won’t be happy about it. And for[easyazon_image align=”right” cart=”n” cloak=”y” height=”250″ identifier=”B01KZECQRK” locale=”US” localize=”y” nw=”y” nf=”y” src=”https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51%2BIHW-U%2B8L.jpg” tag=”natur0da-20″ width=”225″] the prey animal, having a “predator” come into their safe place won’t make them feel safe. So, try something that gets them both out of their territories and makes them feel more like equals.
Be sure to reward both of them for good behavior. If your dog behaves like a total sweetheart, give them a [easyazon_link identifier=”B01KZECQRK” locale=”US” nw=”y” nf=”y” tag=”natur0da-20″ cart=”n” cloak=”y” localize=”y” popups=”n”]treat[/easyazon_link]. Birds are also highly food motivated. Rabbits, hamsters, or other types of pets may be less so, but as their owner, you probably have a good idea of what they like for rewards. Be sure to continue the slow and steady process of introduction until your animals are so used to each other’s presence that they ignore each other completely. If your dog is just interested in you, and your other pet is just interested in looking out the window, and neither cares about each other – you’ve done a good job introducing them.
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3. Know the signs of “too much” interest from your dog
It’s important that you know your dog’s body language before you introduce them to a small pet. You need to be able to tell when they are interested because they are curious and friendly – or when they are a little “too interested”, and are fixating on your exotic pet as a potential snack or chase toy. Good, acceptable behavior will include body language such as:
- Loose, easy body posture, where their body moves easily and wriggles if they are excited.
- Putting their front feet on the ground with their head bowed low, but keeping their rear end in the air. This is a “play bow” and it means dogs want to play.
- Ignoring the other animal, or acting totally uninterested. Yes, this is still a good behavior and should be rewarded.
Behavior that could mean that your dog is just a bit too interested could include:
- Tracking the animal’s every movement with their eyes. If your dog suddenly develops a staring problem, this could be a sign that they are “tracking their prey”.
- Tense body language, going very still, stiffening the tail, perking up the ears, or growling.
- Being “poised” to take off after the other pet.
- Chasing the other pet. If a dog wants to play chase, they will usually just take off running, or will run towards an animal and then away, over and over. Directly chasing an animal in an attempt to get to the animal, is not a safe behavior.
- Trying to look bigger by spreading the feet, raising the tail, fluffing out the fur, pushing out the chest.
- Hiding from the other pet, or displaying hiding body language like tucking the tail, lowering the head, and bunching up the back.
- Barking in a way that isn’t a fun, short bark for play.
Any of these signs show that your dog is not reacting well to the other animal, and should be removed from the situation.
4. Never leave two animals unsupervised
It is extremely important that no matter how well your two pets know each other, you never leave them alone together in a way where they can get to each other. For example, if you have a hamster and a dog, the hamster should be in a cage on a high shelf where your dog cannot see them at all. Don’t leave the hamster in the ball on the ground while your dog is roaming the house. Any time your two pets have the ability to interact, you need to be there supervising.
This is for the protection of the smaller pet. No matter how well behaved your dog is, they are still an animal. There is still a chance that their prey instinct could be triggered, and they could potentially try to make a meal out of your other pet.
This is also for your dog’s safety. Some animals may be able to fight back and hurt your dog. For example, a bird could use their talons to scratch a dog. A large lizard may be able to bite. It’s important that you keep the animals separated unless you are there.
5. Don’t expect too much – this isn’t a Disney movie
My final tip for letting two different types of pets live together? Don’t expect them to become best buddies. I know you’ve probably seen YouTube videos where a dog and a cat were just the best of friends, or a dog let some birds ride around on his back, or whatever. But these things go viral for a reason – because they are unusual. As much as many of us wish that life was like the movies, it’s just not. Most of the time, the best you can hope for is that a dog and another animal ignore each other, or at least tolerate each other. Don’t try to force your animals to be best buddies – if they leave each other alone, count yourself lucky and move on.
That doesn’t mean don’t socialize them. You do still want to make sure they are desensitized to each other’s presence. Just don’t force any closeness that isn’t there. As long as your dog doesn’t try to attack your other animal, and as long as your other animal isn’t living in fear every day when your dog walks by, you are doing a great job. That’s all anyone can ask of two animals.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Dog If You Have a Small Pet
If you already have a small pet of some sort and you want a dog, there are some things to consider.
First, consider the breed of the dog you pick. Is it a breed with a strong prey drive that will have a hard time ignoring the fact that there’s a rodent rolling around your house in a ball? Terriers, and any dog that was originally bred to hunt down small game, may have an issue with this. Consider herding dogs instead, because they may have a lower prey drive due to the reason they were bred.
Also consider giving preference to the animal that was in the house first, at least in the first few introductions. Not out of any sense of right or wrong, but for a practical reason. A new dog doesn’t yet feel that the house is his territory, so he isn’t likely to feel hurt if you don’t give him preference in an introduction. The original pet, however, may feel as though they have a territory, and by reassuring them that they are still favored by you, you help ease their anxieties.
Never introduce animals that are hungry or bored. If it is just before or at mealtime, keep your animals separated. The best time for an introduction is after a meal. If your dog is bored, they may get too wound up when meeting a new animal, and scare a small pet. So consider waiting until they are full and a bit worn out – or at least in a calm mood.
Consider watching a dog’s behavior around other animals before you adopt. Does this dog sit outside and bark his head off at birds and squirrels? Does he seem to not even care when a cat walks by his food bowl? These two extremes show two very different types of dogs, and the first one may not be suited to living in a home with pet birds, for example. The second one may be perfect for introducing to a home with something like a rabbit, since they seem to not react to “prey” animals with aggression.
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The Final Word
Introducing a dog to a small pet, and maintaining a happy household, is totally doable. I personally would probably plan on keeping the pets separated as much as I could. Consider giving a caged pet a specific room where they can come out of the cage to play – and make this room a dog-free zone. Or consider making part of your house the dog-friendly zone, and keep your dog out of the rest of the house.
If you keep these five tips in mind, and are careful about what type of dog you adopt, there is no reason your animals won’t, at the least, tolerate each other’s existence. Remember, as with all things, the key is time. Give your pets time to get to know each other, and to grow used to sharing their space.