Can Dogs and Small Pets Live Together?

 

Nothing is quite as cute as seeing different species of animals forging friendships. One of my old collies, (despite having very low regard for other dogs), had a nice little friendship going with a rabbit we owned at the same time. The feeling appeared to be mutual, as the rabbit seemed to enjoy the company of the dog and would follow her around. Is it possible for dogs and small pets to be best friends? Read on for tips on keeping dogs and small pets together safely.

Generally speaking, interactions between dogs and smaller pets, should be carefully monitored at all times. It can work – but it very much depends on the character of the dog. A dog’s breed and temperament will be a good indicator as to how well they may accept living with other small pets in the household. With careful preparation and appropriate introductions, many dogs can live harmoniously with other small animals. However, owners should always be vigilant and supervise any interactions.

Are some breeds better than others with small pets?

Sight hounds and terriers are probably the least likely breeds to get along with small furies, because of their high prey drive and chase instinct. Likewise, spaniel and hound breeds may find the temptation of a small quarry living in the house, too much of a temptation.

It is also important to consider your dog’s temperament – if your dog chases squirrels, or the neighbour’s cat – he may find it difficult to adapt to living with such a creature in the same home environment. That said, lots of dogs do live happily with cats in their own home, but will still chase cats (and squirrels!) when off-home turf.

If your dog doesn’t always listen to you it may be worth brushing up on obedience skills before you introduce small pets. Ideally, your dog needs to sit, lie down and come back when called. The ‘leave it’ cue is also very helpful and you can learn how to teach that here.

Canine body language around small pets

If your dog is generally boisterous, determined or disobedient it may be challenging to introduce small pets into the household. It is important to understand the body language of your dog when it comes to introducing him to smaller animals. This will help you to interrupt behaviour which may impact the safety of the small pet. Look out for ;-

 

  • Licking, or curling lips.

  • Freezing and staring.

  • ‘Pointing’, (standing still with one paw off the ground), or crouching – (common in hunting and herding breeds).

More obvious behaviours;-

  • Pawing, scratching, digging – in an attempt to break into the small animal’s enclosure.

  • Slowly creeping towards the small animal. Low body, fixed stare.

Introducing dogs to small pets

Before introducing dogs and small pets, the dog needs to understand various commands, such as sit and stay. This will provide owners with a little more control.  Always make sure there is plenty of distance when introducing dogs to small animals. By keeping your dog on the lead, you can ensure you have full control of the situation.

Small pets, such as hamsters, should be kept well away from the interference of dogs. Even larger-sized, smaller pets – like rabbits – can become very stressed by the presence of dogs and cats. This is particularly so if the dog is constantly trying to get to the small pet.

It would be inappropriate to allow your dog to constantly stare, or sniff at, a rabbit in a hutch, for example. This is not only frustrating for the dog, but very unsettling for the poor creature who has no means of escape.

Always make sure pet enclosures are big enough as this ensures the optimum comfort and welfare of small pets. In addition, larger enclosures are less likely to get knocked over by a dog. However, it is important to place small animal cages somewhere where this cannot happen.

Also, provide small pets with plenty of enrichment to reduce stress. There are numerous toys and treats for small pets to enjoy.

Teach your dog through positive reinforcement to be calm and ignore the enclosure, or cage, of the small pet.

What about free-roaming smaller pets?

All small animals deserve time out of their enclosures and cages. However, it would be advisable to make sure your dog is kept out of the way while smaller pets are roaming free, especially if you are unable to control his chase instinct.

A running rabbit may be too much for many dogs. However, if your dog is calm, you can have your dog on the lead and use positive reinforcement to teach calm behaviour. Small pets too can benefit from positive reinforcement and many can learn tricks, as well as learn how to be comfortable around larger animals.

Conclusion

Dogs and smaller pets can get along, but it should never be taken for granted. Many do – but this isn’t a normal scenario. Dogs are hunters by nature and small animals are often considered to be prey, so caution should always be exercised when it comes to dogs and small pets living together.