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Love among pets, partners means harmony at home

Wednesday - 2/5/2014, 1:00pm  ET

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SUE MANNING
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- 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 comes with 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 living 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 to different personalities, changed schedules and new ways of doing things, experts offer tips for a seamless transition, including establishing consistent habits as soon as possible and using treats to help bond.

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 taking time to adjust to a pet. 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 avoid adopting.

Two years ago, despite Kohlberg's continued worries, 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.

Despite the potty training issues and early objections, 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.

Sometimes it's a more difficult transition than the New York couple faced. 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 its other investigating of 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."

After 18 months, he started spending more time at the house, and Gonzalez knew there would have to be little compromises:

-- He didn't want Peaches in the bed, so the dog learned to sleep on the floor.

-- He thought she spent too much time brushing Peaches, so she got the dog's hair cut short.

-- He said it was the dog's fault they couldn't go out on weekends, so she hired a pet-sitter.

-- He said Peaches barked too much and suggested a shock collar. Or maybe, he said, Peaches would be happier somewhere else.

That wasn't an option for Gonzalez. Now, Peaches is back in bed, the dog's hair is growing out and the boyfriend is history.

___

Online:

-- www.aspca.org/pet-care/virtual-pet-behaviorist


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