Butterflies dance in your stomach as you walk with your new boyfriend to your door, as your heart beats three times faster than normal. It isn't, however, in anticipation of the first kiss – it's how you fear your dog or cat will react to Mr. Wonderful.
For many women, introducing a beloved pet to a significant other is more stressful than taking him to meet the parents. (Some may even get some twisted pleasure out of mom's disapproval.) But if your pet hates this latest guy, well … the pet was with you before he was, so bye-bye to another promising romance.
Getting a pet to like a new romantic interest can be challenging, but here are some tips that may swing things your way. These suggestions, by the way, also work for guys as well.
The first lesson is patience. Getting a pet accustomed to a new person takes time, and you shouldn't try to force a friendship between man and animal. You can make things easier on yourself by picking a pet lover, maybe even a pet owner. (Of course, if things really do work out, the next crucial step is introducing pets to each other. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.)
Although you may interpret your pet's actions as signs of jealousy, they are probably more related to disruption in their routine. So the first lesson is to maintain their routine as much as possible. This means keeping to your schedule of feedings, play time, walks, etc. You and your boyfriend can share in these happy chores as well; your pet may see the guy as an extension of yourself.
Meeting the Dog
In the case of a dog, the first meeting may go better on neutral territory. This avoids any dominance issues that may arise on the dog's home turf. Don't underestimate the power of bribery, either. Favorite treats are an excellent icebreaker, and your dog will associate your guy with the good things in life.
Allow your dog to approach the boyfriend on his own, so he can grow comfortable. Your guy should be calm and relaxed – dogs are expert at reading body language and any tenseness will tell your dog there's something to fear.
In the home, let your boyfriend feed the dog his meal and the three of you should go for walks. If the two become comfortable with each other, he may strengthen the growing bond by taking the dog for a walk on his own. Again, the goal is get your dog to associate the boyfriend with pleasurable activities. However, he should avoid rough play or games of chase. They can get out of hand all too easily.
A fearful or territorial dog may bark at your boyfriend nonstop in the home. One strategy is to tire the dog out by making him go through a repertoire of commands – sit, down, come – every time he begins to bark. Praise the dog when he's quiet, but if he starts up again, go through the routine again. (For more information on controlling this behavior, see the story Barking.)
One concern dog owners have is whether a dog will act aggressively if the owner and significant other touch affectionately. Some aggressive dogs may react to "protect the pack member" or even their own perceived place in it. If your dog is aggressive, it is very important to have him thoroughly trained and in control.
Meeting the Cat
In some ways, getting to know a cat is not as complicated. They seem to either take to people or not. A thumbs-down (or claws-down) from a cat usually spells doom to a relationship. There are, however, ways to stack the deck in your favor.
Firstly, finding a guy who likes cats (and we mean genuinely likes them, not just willing to make an effort) is usually a shoo-in. Cats are good at spotting feline sympathizers. As with dogs, bribery works wonders. Treats and mealtimes will warm the cockles of your cat's heart.
However, be careful about overdoing it. If your boyfriend showers attention on the cat, she may think he's a sap and want to avoid him. Let the cat approach him on her terms to get treats or to be petted and scratched. He may want to leave something with his scent so the cat gets used to him more quickly.
Again, keeping to her routine is important. She shouldn't associate the boyfriend with being ignored or neglected. One final tip: You may want to keep his things someplace where the cat can't reach. During the adjustment period, your cat may decide to "mark" the unfamiliar scent with her own – not exactly the most romantic and endearing beginning to a relationship.