It’s got to be more than puppy love to move in with your partner. But that’s just what you’ll need for household harmony if that partner has a pet.
If you just walked down the aisle or took your relationship to the next level, both people and pets will need time to adjust to a new situation. Maybe Fido is getting kicked out of his favorite spot on the couch, or Whiskers has never been around a pooch. Pets need to get comfortable with new animals and with a new person giving orders. As the household adjusts, experts suggest, establish consistent habits as soon as possible.
Pets thrive on consistency, so if you have to change the rules, do it during the move-in — teach pets what’s expected of them and stick to it, said Dr. Katherine Miller, a certified applied animal behaviorist for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York. Pets need to know their boundaries: Can they sleep on the bed, sit on the sofa, play ball in the house? Where are the litter boxes, is there a doggy door, are there walks, where’s the water?
Every pet-person relationship is different, but each is a two-way street, Miller said.
"When it comes to introductions, gradual is better and patience is a must. It can take weeks, months or a year," she said.
Rebecca Hjorten and Gavriel Kohlberg know all about this. The New York City couple started dating in medical school seven years ago, and Hjorten wanted a dog from the get-go but Kohlberg always came up with a reason to wait.
Two years ago, despite Kohlberg’s continued misgivings, they went to a shelter and got a year-old Siberian husky mix they named Maya.
There were problems: Someone had taught Maya to use the shower as a bathroom. The couple hired a behavior expert and trainer, and they still work on it.
Still, Kohlberg easily fell in love with Maya. "It was one of the best things we ever did," Hjorten said of adopting the dog.
Recently, Kohlberg took Hjorten and Maya for a walk in Central Park and proposed to both.
Transition can be more difficult. If there is friction between a pet and a partner, the whole household has to work it out.
"Ask your partner to be the bearer of all good things for your pet each day," Miller said.
Don’t be afraid to use a pet’s stomach to reach its heart. If a man just moved into his girlfriend’s dog-friendly house, he should feed the animal and provide treats and rewards. And she should reward her dog for sniffing, approaching or otherwise investigating the boyfriend.
"Encouraging this social behavior will grease the wheels of affection," Miller said.
Don’t punish a pet for failing to bond instantly, Miller said. Tension is always highest at the first meeting, so it helps if you can make the introductions on neutral territory, like a park.
"It’s hard to expect everybody to just get along, so it’s good to have a couple of low-key dates," Miller said.
Don’t force interaction, she warned, and never lock animals in a room.
People have to take relationships with their pets seriously, looking ahead to how their lifestyle will change and talking with their partner about it, Miller said.
Sometimes the transition doesn’t work out, as Angela Gonzalez knows. The 56-year-old from Carrollton, Texas, and her 9-pound Pomeranian named Peaches have been together for 12 years. When Gonzalez brought her new boyfriend home two years ago, he seemed to like Peaches.
"I love my animals like they are my children," Gonzalez said. "He knew going in how I felt about Peaches."
She made some compromises, such as keeping Peaches out of the bed, but when he suggested Peaches would be happier somewhere else, that wasn’t an option. Now Peaches is back in bed, and the boyfriend is history.
Sue Manning, Associated Press