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Steve Kaufman, shelter expert and PetSmart Charities’ Center of Excellence Manager of Adoptions, gives advice on making the transition easier.
Imagine you’ve landed in a foreign land where you don’t know the customs or the language. That’s what it’s like for a shelter pet entering a new home. “They may have come from a shelter environment, from a breeder environment, but your home is a brand new environment. You can’t say to them, ‘This is your bed, this is your room,” Steve Kaufman explains. In may take a few days or a few months, but here’s how to help shelter cats and dogs make your home their home.
Both felines and canines need food bowls, toys and treats. When you bring a cat home, make sure to have a litter box ready. Dogs need a leash, collar, and crate. And find a vet before you really need one.
Play it safe until you know your pet well. Take a pets-eye view of your home. What looks like a chew toy? What might be knocked over by a wagging tail? “Cats are vertical, unlike dogs, who are horizontal,” says Kaufman, meaning cats can climb and jump while dogs usually remain grounded. Cat owners should clear off tabletops and make sure wires and cleaning supplies are securely put away.
“You want to create a very relaxed atmosphere When you introduce your pet to its new home, Kaufman stresses. “Being calm and consistent is key.” Allow your pets to initiate cuddles, especially cats, adds Kaufman: “The more you force a cat to do something, the more resistant that cat’s going to be.”Let your new cat freely check out their new digs. Show them where their food and water bowls and their litter box are located.
Dogs get their tour on a leash. And whether it’s a yard, neighborhood corner, or indoor training pads; have them relieve themselves before entering your home. “A dog that was previously housetrained might have accidents in a new environment,” Kaufman adds. .
Stick to the pet food used at the shelter. Switching too fast can upset an animal’s gastric system, says Kaufman. “A dog that was previously housetrained might have accidents.” If you want to change your pet’s food, wait until they’ve adjusted to your routine. Do it slowly, bit by bit over time. Dogs should be fully house-trained before fiddling with their diets.
“Both cats and dogs need a safe space where they know they won’t be bothered.” For dogs, a crate acts as a den as well as an effective housetraining tool. Cats seek safety under a bed, in boxes, even bags. Keep closet doors and hampers closed so you don’t accidentally shut your feline in.
“It’s important in the first 30 days to maintain a pattern—now’s not the time to break your routine.” Keep feeding times consistent, as well as dog walks. Staying on schedule reduces anxiety and helps pets settle in.
Physical activity is extremely important for dogs, but their minds also need stimulation. Chewed slippers, shredded toilet paper: what seems like destructive behavior stems from boredom. “Dogs were originally bred to work and need something to do,” Kaufman notes. Toy puzzle boxes and filled Kongs keep canines engaged. A long walk before leaving for work burns off excess energy. Cats can entertain themselves, but toys and a scratching post help.
Always reward pets in the moment. “You have 8-10 seconds to reprimand or praise your dog or cat with a firm “No!” or an enthusiastic “Good boy!!” says Kaufman. Treats reinforce good behaviors and giving them at anxiety-provoking times, like when you leave for the day, turns negative experiences into positive ones.
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