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Tips for Successfully Introducing Cats and Dogs to Roommates

By Cheryl Lock

While there’s undoubtedly a lot to love about your pet, if you’ll be taking on a roommate in the near future, it’s important to do some research on the best ways of introducing cats and dogs to a new person. Alternatively, if you already have a roommate and you’d like to get a brand-new pet, there’s an appropriate way to broach that subject, as well.

“Neither pets nor people like to have someone or something forced on them,” says Dr. Mary R. Burch, certified applied animal behaviorist with the American Kennel Club. Dr. Burch suggests taking on either scenario very slowly and following a few simple steps to ensure everyone walks away happy—after the introduction, and for the length of the relationship afterwards.

Picking Out a Prospective Roommate

If you’re a pet owner who has decided to take on a roommate, the first thing you’ll want to do is meet with any prospective roommate options and discuss living arrangements. You should talk about expectations on both ends and logistics, but a key part of this conversation should also include information about your pet. Be sure to ask if potential roommates have allergies right off the bat, says Dr. Burch. “If they do, your two cats and furry dog may be a deal breaker,” she says.

Once you’ve established that you are both animal lovers, the next step in a smooth roommate/pet interaction is to discuss responsibilities. While you should never expect your roommate to care entirely for your pet, if you’d like her to at least fill the cat bowl with water if it’s empty or let the dog out a couple times a day, it’s best to address those expectations up front. Additionally, as the advocate for your animals, don’t be shy about telling the roommate how to interact with your pets, says Dr. Burch.

Introducing Cats and Dogs to a New Roommate

When it comes to the actual introduction between your pet and potential new roommate, remember that animals are great judges of character. “If you invite a prospective roommate to come and meet the animals at your initial interview, you can directly observe the interactions to determine if this is a person you want around your pets when you aren’t home,” says Dr. Burch. If you have exuberant dogs, though, Dr. Burch suggests that you introduce dogs to your new roommate outside while they are on a leash before going into the house.

When you introduce dogs or cats to a new roommate, it’s a good idea to set up the first meeting between your prospective roommate and your pet as normally as possible. Dr. Carolyn Lincoln, corresponding secretary with the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, suggests having the person enter the door that most friends and family use. “The dog will hear and smell this person and understand that they are a friend,” she says. Dr. Lincoln also suggests having your potential new roommate sit at a table while you let your dog out, then having him provide the dog with a treat when he comes back in. “This may all not be necessary, but it is the best way to introduce a dog to new people and have the best outcome,” she says. “There’s no need to force anything, and accept that it may take time for them to adjust to each other.”

Getting a New Cat or Dog When You Already Have a Roommate

The only difference between getting a pet when you already have a roommate and introducing your pet to a potential new roommate is that when you already have a roommate, they should be allowed more say in whether or not you get a pet in the first place and what type of pet that is. All of the other conversations should remain the same.

Keep in mind that if your current roommate isn’t excited about taking on the responsibility of a new cat or dog, it might not be the best time to actually get one, or it could be time to consider new living arrangements.

Setting Boundaries

Even if your roommate loves your pet just as much as you do, at the end of the day, this is really your pet and therefore your responsibility. Besides bringing up anything you might want your roommate to help out with (like the water in the bowl, for example), if you’d expect your roommate to watch your pet while you’re out of town, be sure to talk about that ahead of time, as well. “Asking all of this in advance, before the person moves in, can help you make a choice about a roommate that is a good fit for both you and your pets,” says Dr. Burch.

Consider your roommate’s needs in this conversation, as well, and let him know what you’re willing to do to make him feel comfortable. For example, you can discuss whether or not your pet will be allowed in your roommate’s room, talk about sleep schedules so that you can ensure your animals are quiet at certain times, and talk about who will be in charge of picking up after the pet in the yard, as well as taking care of any shedding in the house.

“I think it is good manners and a smart owner that takes responsibility for their own pet,” says Dr. Lincoln. “Over time that may change, but you don’t want resentment between you and your roommate because your dog damaged their belongings or because they don’t appreciate the extra work. Plus, you want to be sure that the roommate won’t mistreat your dog, intentionally or not. Training philosophies differ, and this can be a problem.”

Additionally, if you’re in a position where you will likely be changing roommates frequently—like in college—then it might be best to wait to get a dog until things are more stable, suggests Dr. Lincoln. “But with the right dog, and if you handle it well, a dog can be a wonderful addition to your home,” she adds.

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