Safely Introducing Your Pet to New People

The holidays are just around the corner, which means some of us may have visitors coming and going from our home more often than usual. Some pets are completely fine when people outside of their normal day-to-day life come to visit, while others may not possess the same social graces and may need some socialization lessons beforehand. 

Remember that all pets are created differently! Some pets may run scared into another room when company comes over, while others naturally look forward to greeting new people with a wagging tail. Regardless, properly socializing your pet is a crucial part of caring for them. 

While this process may seem very involved and extensive, it’s worth the time and effort for a properly socialized animal. 

There are many dangers of not socializing your pet, such as:

  • Discomfort around other animals and humans
  • Improper coping skills to stressful scenarios
  • Fear of anything unfamiliar or new
  • Sound sensitivity
  • Behavioral issues

Whether with other animals or humans, you want your pet to behave appropriately. Help your pet make a good first impression by maintaining control, staying calm, and reading their body language.  

Introducing Your Dog To New People

Just like humans, every dog has their own unique personality and handles strangers in a different way. Some are outgoing and social butterflies and some prefer to observe strangers from a distance. It is important to learn and understand your dog’s preference before introducing them to a new person. 

If the meeting will occur at your home, your pup will likely either act protective of you or excitedly greet your guest with a jump and a kiss. Both of these behaviors are normal, but in order to properly introduce your dog, they need to be calm, relaxed, and gentle. 

Stay in Control

Remember that you are in control. If you know that somebody is about to come over, put your dog on a leash. Once the doorbell rings, your dog will likely bark or try to charge at the door. Correct this behavior in a calm but firm manner and do not walk to the door until they are relaxed. 

Have your guest come into an open room, such as the living room. Meeting in tight spaces can cause tension for your pup. Once the stranger is inside, make sure they know to greet you first. 

After you have greeted your guest, let your dog gently sniff them. This allows them time to grow more comfortable with the unfamiliar situation. 

Once your dog appears comfortable with the new person, you can let them off the leash. However, be mindful of their stress level and instruct your guests on how to interact with them. If you notice that your dog is having a hard time staying calm, place them in another room with a toy or treat to keep them distracted.

This doesn’t mean that your dog must be put away during the entire visit! The time apart is meant to help calm them down and allow them to return to the situation with a different energy level. 

Stay Calm

Many of the bad behaviors that occur when your dog meets a stranger is due to them being overly excited. The best way to prevent this is by staying in control of the situation. Your dog will feed off the energy in the room, including the energy that you and your guest are displaying.

If you are both speaking in loud voices and using fast movements, this will encourage a higher level of excitement in your dog. Keep yourselves calm, speak in lower volumes, and use slower movements.

Make sure you are rewarding calm behavior with treats and praise. You can even allow the stranger to give your dog the treat. Eventually, your dog will learn that calm behavior leads to yummy treats. 

Strangers Petting Your Dog

If your guest wants to pet your dog, make sure you wait until your dog is sitting and calm. Ask your friend to approach them slowly, avoid eye contact, and get on their level. Don’t give them too much attention at first as it might lead to excitement, which ultimately leads to behavioral issues. 

Keep your dog on a leash and make sure to stay as relaxed as possible. Your dog will read your body language to determine if the stranger is a friend.

Make sure your guest knows to use a calm low voice and take things slowly. Once contact is made, make sure your guest gives a gentle pet on the side and avoids looming over your dog or getting in their face.

Once your dog is comfortable, your guest can work their way up to petting them from the back to the shoulders and neck and eventually their head. 

strangers petting dog
Ask new people to take it slow when introducing themselves to your dog!

Introducing Multiple Dogs to New People 

If you have more than one dog, you should introduce them to visitors one at a time. Dogs feed off of each other’s energy, so when multiple dogs are in one location, they can get overly excited very easily. This abundance of energy could lead to conflict among the dogs and a frightened guest.

How to Handle a Jumping Dog

If your dog is an avid jumper, have the new person completely ignore your dog and actively turn away from them while you stay in place holding the leash. They should not yell or push your dog to the ground, as both actions can seem rewarding to your dog. 

Your dog is looking for attention, so being ignored is a much bigger “punishment” than being scolded or shoved. Once your dog keeps all four paws on the floor, you or your guest should reward them with attention, petting, and even a treat. This teaches your dog that jumping doesn’t get them the attention they want. 

Once your jumping dog has calmed itself down, begin the introduction process that we outlined above. 

Reading a Dog’s Body Language

Your dog’s body language can tell you a lot about how they are truly feeling. This is an important part of being a dog parent, as their body language tells you what they can’t. Even if your dog’s tail is wagging, you need to be aware of what the rest of their body is saying.

Dog communication clues can be found in their eyes, mouth, joints, and posture. For example, Paula Nowak, a behavior consultant for Canine Country Academy points out that a dog who is unsure of the greeting may display a low or very high posture. Any extreme changes in their posture are an indicator that they are not ready for an interaction.

If your dog’s ears are forward with a relaxed body posture and wagging tail, your dog is comfortable and probably ready to meet new visitors. But, if their ears are back with a tense body posture and a straight or tucked tail, your dog is likely feeling anxious and not ready for an introduction.

Dogs also tell you they’re not up for a meeting in other ways. Some dogs might try to hide behind you or between your legs, look away, lie on the ground, or pull on the leash.

You should also be aware of shy and stressed signals, two signs that your dog is apprehensive to meeting a stranger. 

Shy Signals

When introducing your dog to a new person, make sure to keep an eye out for these body signals:

  • Lip licking
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Tail tucking
  • Frequent yawning

These signals may indicate that your dog is shy. So, it is important that new people kneel down and face sideways to allow your dog the opportunity to approach them first. This will keep them from feeling overwhelmed and anxious.

Stressed Signals

A stressed dog uses calming signals to self-soothe. According to Nowak, “Dogs will use these signals to say they mean no harm; they are trying to calm themselves or trying to calm someone else.” These calming tactics are a sign that your pup is distressed or uncomfortable, which means you should stop the introduction to avoid further stressing your dog.

Watch out for these self-soothing body signals:

  • Yawning
  • Lip licking
  • Turning head away
  • Shaking entire body as if wet

Socializing your dog leads to a happier and healthier life. However, if your pet continues to struggle when meeting new people, it may be time to contact a professional trainer or pet behaviorist. 

Introducing Your Cat

Cats are complex creatures. This means that introducing a new person to your cat requires patience and a great understanding of your kitty’s body language. 

Similar to dogs, introduce your cat in an open room. This is much less confrontational and your cat will appreciate having an escape route or somewhere to hide if they get scared. 

Next, have your guest get to your cat’s level, which will probably be on the floor. They are immediately less threatening when making themselves smaller. Also tell your guest to avoid eye contact with your cat.  

When your kitty wanders over to see who the new person is, your friend can offer your cat their finger to sniff. Hopefully your cat will then encourage your guest to rub their chin!

If the visitors are noisy, your cat is likely to bolt. Make sure they stay quiet and speak in a calm, soothing voice to help your cat feel safe. Finally, don’t let your guest pick up your cat right away. Cats generally don’t like to be picked up unless they’re being held by someone familiar.

One of the best ways to encourage your kitty is to have your guest play with them. Make sure you teach your guest how your cat likes to play, as anything drastically unfamiliar can cause your cat to feel uneasy and bolt. Through successful play sessions, your cat will begin to relax and form a positive association.

If you want to encourage your cat to be more sociable, take things slowly. By forcing your cat to come out of hiding, you are more likely to make them shy and less likely to enjoy meeting new people.

introducing your cat to new people
Your cat will most likely want to meet new people on their own terms.

Reading a Cat’s Tail

To understand what your cat is feeling, their tail is a wonderful tool for understanding what they may be communicating to you. It’s a great way to understand their emotions when meeting somebody new or in an unfamiliar situation.

cat tail communication and signals
Reference this chart to understand what your cat may be communicating through their tail!
  • When your cat’s tail is straight up, it generally means that they are happy and confident. If your cat’s tail is straight up with a crook at the end, like a question mark, your cat is undecided about their feelings. It can also mean they want to play! 
  • A straight up tail with a twitch at the tip can mean your cat is feeling happy and playful. A bristled, straight tail indicates that your cat is agitated, angry, or afraid. It is your cat’s attempt to look bigger and more powerful. 
  • A cat with a tail down position is signaling defensiveness or submission. A tail that is carried all the way down indicates defensiveness and you should keep an eye out for aggressive behavior. 
  • A tail that sways back and forth rapidly indicates both fear and aggression. Consider it a warning to stay away. A tail that sways slowly from side to side usually means your cat is focused on an object. 
  • Finally, a tail wrapped around another cat conveys friendship. It is similar to you putting your arm around another person. 

Knowing the difference between each of these tail signals is a great way to deepen the relationship with your cat and have a better understanding of their mood.

What If My Pet Needs More Help? 

If your pet is still struggling with proper socialization after following all of our tips, don’t worry! There are professional options for you and your pet. 

The first thing that we recommend is to visit your local PetWellClinic to have them fully examined. This ensures that there is nothing physically wrong with your pet that is causing them to misbehave. 

If your pet simply struggles with anxiety in unfamiliar situations, anti-anxiety medicine could be beneficial. Your PetWellClinic veterinarian can write your pet a prescription and will ensure that both you and your pet feel comfortable and fully understand the dosage and any side effects of the medication. We can also refer you to a local pet trainer or behaviorist for further help!

Don’t give up and stay patient. Having a properly socialized animal is worth it for both you and your pet. Reach out to your PetWellClinic veterinarian if you have questions or need guidance. 

Re-Introducing Your Pet to People

Chances are your pet will recognize somebody they’ve met before, even if it takes a little bit of time! According to Nowak, “Dogs will use scent, body language, the person’s voice and how they interact to refresh their memory of the person.” If their initial interactions were positive, it is likely that they will pick up where they left off.

If your pet doesn’t seem to recognize the person, start over with the introduction process. Remember that maintaining control and staying calm is the key to a successful introduction. It’s also important to understand your pet’s body language so that you can react appropriately. 

Teach your dog that jumping on people is not okay and four paws need to stay on the ground. Give your cat space and plenty of patience. If you are weary about the introduction process, talk to one of our vets for advice! 

PetWellClinic is dedicated to being here for pet owners. Our hours of operation extend into the evenings and weekends, and our clinic environment is built with your pet’s comfort in mind. If you have questions or need further guidance on introducing your pet to new people talk to your PetWellClinic veterinarian.

PetWellClinic provides convenient, affordable veterinary care for pet owners. PetWellClinic has locations and services built with convenience in mind. Stop by with your pet any time! No appointment necessary.

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