Introducing a new dog or cat into your animal shelter is a vital yet stressful step in the path to successful adoption. Vital, because it’s the only way to gain a better understanding of the animal’s personality, traits, and behaviors. Stressful, because animals’ behavior is unpredictable – especially when their past leads them to be fearful of people and other animals. If you have volunteers new to the animal welfare world or volunteers who struggle in the initial phases of new animal socialization, now is the time to create an animal socialization plan. An animal socialization plan is a guide for volunteers to better understand animal behaviors. It doesn’t address every possible occurrence – it does provide steps volunteers can take during crucial moments.
The Steps

  1. Initial Introduction. Choose experienced volunteers who don’t get nervous in stressful moments for the animal introductions. Cats and dogs have different temperaments and unique methods for successful introductions.

    Cats
    Introduce cats to other cats in an open area with a few hiding spots set up. Make sure the cat you introduce the new cat to is well-behaved. Give the cat time to explore and feel comfortable in the room. Bring the other cat in after the cat is comfortable. Interact and play with this cat to increase your new furry friend’s trust. Cats cannot be rushed to meet and be friends – it takes time and commitment.

    Dogs
    Initial dog-to-dog introductions require both dogs to be on a leash that allows freedom of movement. They need to feel like they can explore at their own pace. Keep dogs 10 feet apart and give them a chance to sniff one another without touching.

    If any of the animals show signs of aggression, remove the animals from the meetings for the day.

  2. Assess body language. Body language speaks volumes when analyzing dogs and cats in different situations. Pay attention to their body language to gain an understanding of how they are handling and reacting to the situation. Aggressive or uncomfortable body language to look for includes:
    •    Hissing or growling
    •    Raised hair
    •    Stiff body
    •    Bare teeth
    •    Get low (getting ready to attack)
    Lunging at one another
    In these moments, separate the animals and try again the following day.
  3.  Group introductions. After the dogs or cats successfully interact with others in a one-on-one situation, move them to group introductions.

    Cats
    Add more cats to the first room. Watch to see how the cat reacts. Do they run and hide? Play? Attack? As long as all of the animals are behaving well, watch them for varied lengths of time. Increase the lengths of time daily until they can be trusted 100% of the time with the other cats.

    Dogs
    Take dogs into group settings on a leash. Give the dog time to sniff around and then drop the leash, letting them roam freely. Pay attention to their initial reactions and responses to the other dogs. Repeat this daily at increased lengths of time until they can be left on their own.

  4. Human interaction. Throughout the entire introduction process, keep track of how the animals respond to human interaction, new volunteers, male versus female volunteers. Make note of any potential human socialization dangers.

Your ultimate goal is to adopt the animals to their forever homes. The best way to accomplish that is to properly introduce and socialize all animals with other animals, volunteers, and your shelter setting.