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How to introduce your puppy to your rabbit, guinea pig or other small furry animal

Top tips for keeping your small furry friend safe around your new pup

Written by Dr. Steph Wenban

May 28, 2019

The idea of your small furry and new puppy becoming best pals is a dreamy idea. But sadly, *crying face emoji*, that’s never going to happen. And nor should you expect it to.

Your puppy’s instincts are wired to make them want to chase after and play with your small furry. An adorable gesture, yes. But one that’s likely to result in your small furry getting injured, terribly frightened or a devastating combo of the two.

For this reason, training your pup not to pursue your small furry should be your one, single goal when it comes to your pets’ cohabitation. Sure, reaching this sweet spot won’t come easy. Even for us humans the sight of a buck-toothed bunny or gerbil can sometimes be too much to resist.

But with a little help from my tips below, you should be able to persuade your pup that their miniature housemate is nothing to lose their marbles over.

Phase 1: Prepping for the first meet n’ greet

Thinking about a spontaneous pet-on-pet playdate? Think again. Before letting your puppy loose near your small furry’s hutch or cage, there are a few important steps you’ll need to take first.

  • Move your small furry’s hutch or cage to a safe area

Coming face to face with a potential predator multiple times a day is no way to live. So do your small furry a big favour and move their hutch to an area where your puppy won’t be able to reach it on its own. Just be sure to let your pup see where the hutch is located as this will help temper their curiosity.

  • Introduce your puppy to the scent of your furry friend

Before bringing your puppy and small furry together, start getting your pup used to the smell of their fellow pet. Do this by feeding your puppy several metres from your furries hutch or cage, and gradually move their food closer and closer with each meal. And if you want to go the extra mile, try getting in the habit of petting your small furry right before playing with your puppy.

  • Praise your puppy’s calm behaviour

When whiffing in the scent of your small furry, your puppy’s bound to display the same excited behaviour they’ll have when meeting them. Try to use these opportunities to set your puppy up for success by rewarding their calm behaviour whenever they’re being exposed to the smell of your small furry. By teaching them what positive interest looks like now, they’ll be more likely to demonstrate it further down the track.

Phase 2: Bringing your puppy and small furry animal face to face

When your puppy has proven that they can take their meals next to your small furry’s hutch or cage in a cool, composed manner, you’ll know it’s time to move onto the next step: the first meeting!

  • Keep your puppy on a lead at all times

It’s important that your puppy’s first meeting with your small furry be tightly controlled. For this reason, keep your puppy on a lead at all times.

  • Enlist a helper

Ask a friend or family member to be there for the first few times your puppy and small furry meet. This way, you can have one person holding onto your small furry, and the other person holding onto your puppy’s lead.

Quick tip: If your small furry happens to be highly skilled in the art of escape, you should skip this step entirely and leave them inside their hutch or cage for all interactions with your puppy.

  • Keep the first meeting brief

In the interest of not scaring your small furry, keep their first few meetings with your puppy brief - preferably no longer than 2 minutes. Over time, as your puppy gets used to your small furry’s company, you can begin extending these get-togethers by a few minutes each time.

  • Always have a few distractions on hand

There’s a good chance your pup will become a little overenthusiastic when meeting their furry housemate for the first time. To help manage their excitement, keep a few treats or toys within arms reach so you can quickly redirect their attention away from your small furry if need be.

  • Avoid shouting at or punishing your puppy

Puppies don’t learn by being punished. They learn through positive reinforcement. So anytime your pawed pal slips up around your small furry, spare them the lecture. Instead, lavish them with praise for every display of good behaviour.

Phase 3: Following on from the first encounter

If your puppy manages to reach a point where they can be around your small furry without batting an eyelid, you may then begin to loosen the reins just a little. (Emphasis on little).

  • Let your small furry go free range

Allow your small furry out of their hutch to roam freely around your home or garden. As always, keep your puppy on a lead and always have an adult around to keep an eye on both pets.

  • Create tunnels or dens for your small furry to hide

Small furries scare easily. So it’s a good idea to provide small hideouts in your house or garden where they can hide whenever they get spooked during their free-range play sessions with your pup.

When to intervene

Never!

The fact is, you shouldn’t ever have to intervene in your puppy and small furry’s interactions. That’s because these sessions should be tightly managed with your puppy on a lead and an adult onsight to supervise. And if there are no humans around to keep a laser-sharp focus on things, then your pup and small furry shouldn’t be together at all. Your small furry should be enclosed in their hutch or cage with your puppy kept at a safe distance.

The takeaway

The best way to approach the relationship between your puppy and small furry is with a healthy dose of realism. As I mentioned at the beginning, your goal shouldn’t be to make your two pets best friends. It should simply be harmonious cohabitation. By managing your expectations and pre-empting any problems before they occur, you should be able to reach a happy balance - for you, your puppy and your small furry friend.

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