Make the first encounter a friendly one with our tips.
woman holding leash with golden retriever
Photography by Bonninstudio/Stocksy
| Credit: Photography by Bonninstudio/Stocksy

Thinking about introducing your significant other to your four-legged best friend? Although you might be super excited, your partner and pet could feel anxious and stressed. To help minimize these feelings and focus on a shared puppy (or kitty) love, consider these tips. 

Scents and sensibility

Give your pet something with your partner's scent on it before introducing the two. This will help your dog or cat feel more familiar with your partner when they meet. Using a pillowcase or towel works well, but skip shoes and socks, as your pet might chew on or take possession of them.

In turn, you can prepare your partner by telling them about your pet's personality in advance. Knowing his needs and desires will help your significant other feel more relaxed for the big meet-up, and that benefits all three of you.

Meet outside your home

Instead of meeting at your home, where your pet can be territorial, pick his favorite spot. "Your dog will associate a place they love with your partner, creating a positive introduction," says Christina Shusterich, dog behavior expert and owner of NY Clever K9 Inc. Shusterich also suggests doing something fun and active. "Think about what you'd like on a first date," she says. "You're likely to choose a fun activity, not something that doesn't suit your interests. And active play reduces a dog's anxiety and encourages bonding."

Pets should make the first move

According to Suze Cullinan, a certified dog behavior consultant and co-owner and president of Instinct Dog Training of New Jersey, it's best for your partner to stand a leash's length away and wait for your pet to go to them.

"Think about how your dog socializes, and don't force actions like petting if that's not something they enjoy," Cullinan says. "Using quality treats (such as diced cheddar cheese) helps ease your pet into the situation and rewards them for interacting with your partner. When you walk together, check if your dog is making eye contact with both of you and has a soft wagging tail. That means they are comfortable and your partner can attempt to take over the leash."

Take your time

You probably didn't ask your partner to move in with you on your first date, so why rush their relationship with your pet? It's best that they get to know one another over a series of encounters. Call them "dates" if you like; we won't judge!

"Be patient, calm, and act like you normally would," says Dr. Kim Crawford, veterinarian and president of Friends with Four Paws in Oklahoma. "This helps prevent your pet from feeling overwhelmed or afraid." It's also important to remember that dogs react situationally. "They may want to sniff or play with your partner one day and be reclusive the next," Crawford says. "Developing a relationship can take a bit of time, but it's important to let your pet have the space they need to adjust."

Cats might also need a few visits to warm up to your partner. "My cats have hidden from my significant other, but curiosity eventually got the best of them," says Alexandra Mace, a longtime cat lover who lives harmoniously with four felines and her husband, Adam. "When your cat does approach, your partner should offer their hand for your cat to smell before attempting to pet them. It's also a good idea to take cues from their behavior and body language, speak in quiet tones, and avoid sudden movements."

Share and adapt

"When your partner starts spending more time in your home, split your pet's daily activities—including walking, feeding, and playing—between the two of you," Shusterich says. "Sharing these activities together is another way to promote bonding."

Although animals are often expected to adapt to humans, Shusterich urges you to examine your own actions. "Pets would benefit if humans changed some of their behaviors," she says. For example, resist joining in when your pet and partner are trying to bond. It disrupts the process. Instead, stand behind and offer quiet praise. Also, be cautious of petting a dog when they bark or growl. Petting is a form of reward, like a treat, and you don't inadvertently want to encourage your fur baby to bark or growl at your partner. 

Don't get discouraged

If your two loved ones don't instantly fall for one another, don't despair. "Slow down, and keep trying," Cullinan says. "If your dog remains uncomfortable, consider working with a positive reinforcement trainer. No matter what you'd like to accomplish, this type of reinforcement can deepen and enhance your relationship with your dog."

When you're the significant other

"I'd like you to meet Ruby," my boyfriend, Michael, said after we'd been together for two months. I was nervous and made a lot of mistakes, like trying to pet her too soon. After a fake, high-pitched "here girl!" escaped my mouth, I wasn't surprised when Ruby wanted nothing to do with me. Despite Michael's best efforts to include me in Ruby's life, she ignored me.

I'd hoped that would change when Michael had to go out of town and asked me to take care of Ruby. I thought feeding, walking, and giving her treats would make us bond for sure.

Yet Ruby refused to walk on her leash and barked a lot. I was ready to give up, but I loved Michael and I wanted to make it work with his dog.

One morning, after Ruby used my shirt as a wee wee pad, I started yelling. She shivered, and I felt awful. At that moment, I realized I was exhibiting mostly negative behavior toward her and suspected that my attitude was a wall in our relationship. I'd expected Ruby to adapt to me, but I hadn't done the same for her. With Michael's help, I tried using positive reinforcement. That wasn't always easy, but it made a huge difference. Ruby started greeting me at the door, letting me pet her, and responding to my commands. Five years later, the three of us are doing so well that we decided to expand our family and adopt a second dog. Now, getting those two to be best friends is another story...