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Dating Advice for Pet Parents

Pets Best

Do dogs really make you look more attractive to a potential mate? According to one study, absolutely yes.

This Cesar's Way article cites an American Kennel Club survey that confirms this notion. It found that "46 percent of women said they'd stop and talk to anyone with a cute puppy," and "58 percent of men said a puppy was a foolproof babe magnet."

Sexist language aside, just because a pet helps you to attract a mate, it doesn't mean that your dog or cat will actually like the mate once you start dating. In fact, as a pet parent, you're going to have an added layer to deal with in the "getting to know you" phase of dating someone new. Things can get even more complicated if your relationship progresses to the point where you think about moving in together. And if the other person is also bringing a pet to the new household? Well, there will be more work to do.

Don't worry, though. In time for Valentine's Day, I've rounded up advice from a handful of pet experts, animal behaviorists and veterinarians on the best way to handle dating, new relationships and more when you're a pet parent.

Dating with pets

If you're using dating apps to find a mate, pet behavior expert Andrea Arden suggests "including your pet in your online dating profile so prospects know upfront that your pet is a priority." You can use the same logic when searching for others to connect with. Dog or cat in a profile pic? Swipe right!

Let's say you get to the point in dating that you want to introduce him or her to your dog, cat or other pet. How do you handle that?

Introducing your dog or cat

For starters, even if you're a nervous wreck, try to stay calm. Your body language may be signaling to your dog or cat that you might need "help," and they may look to "protect" you in the presence of a stranger, especially if you're on their home turf.

That's why every expert I spoke to said your first pet meet-and-greet should be on neutral ground. It could be at a dog park, or maybe you've arranged it so that you accidentally on purpose "bump" into your date while out walking your pup.

If meeting someplace neutral isn't doable—maybe the weather isn't cooperating—here's what pet expert and CEO at Healthy Paws Pet InsuranceRob Jackson suggests: "You can walk your dog out to meet the visitor, and then walk back inside your home or apartment together."

Making the first move

During this first meeting—and for many after—having treats on hand can help to bribe your pet to approach your date. Letting the dog or cat make this first move is critical.

"You don’t want to pull your dog over and force them to say hello. Let them come over as they are comfortable," advises Nicole Ellis, a celebrity dog trainer and lifestyle pet expert on the Rover Dog People Panel. "If they are nervous, have your date calmly call their name. Your dog may be interested that this new person knows who they are. By creating a positive experience through speaking calmly, calling the dog over, and presenting treats or toys, your dog and your date will be bonding in no time."

When it comes to cats, ignoring your feline is a good strategy. That is, when your date comes over, keep your cat confined in a separate room. Then once everything has settled down, says Jackson, "let your cat wander at their leisure."

Like with dogs, let the cat approach your date and sniff them on their own terms. Don't run and make any moves towards the cat, or you'll just scare it away.

Give them space

Even pet birds need consideration when it comes to getting to know a new person you may be dating.

"The key is to have the new person completely ignore the bird at first and allow the bird time to scope out the newcomer from afar," says Ashley Salamanca, who owns a Tuki, a Black-Headed Caique with husband Nelson (below). "Birds need to see their owner or loved one interacting with strangers from afar, in order to learn and understand [this new person is] not a threat."

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To continue building a good rapport, adds Jackson, "have your new date leave behind an article of clothing (a sock, a t-shirt, even a handkerchief), and treat your pup or cat every time they sniff it. Positive association with scent goes a long way."

Check out this adorable video from Pets Best about how one woman's dog practically jumped into her (now) boyfriend's arms the first time they met.

The most important rule for all involved: be very patient and don’t force it. You may need to repeat the meeting-you process three or four times before full acceptance.

Introducing mutual pets

Perhaps the biggest hump to get over is if you're both bringing a pet to the relationship. Just like when your pet first met your date, you should plan to make the kitty or doggy meet and greet on neutral territory.

"Allow them to approach each other gradually," says Arden. "If one or the other seems put off, create some distance, and allow them to hang out nearby before trying again."

Another option would be taking your dogs for a walk together. They may ignore each other the whole walk, or you may be pleasantly surprised to find them interacting in a friendly manner.

What to do if you decide to move in together

Two of the biggest issues that arise when you combine pet households include making sure everyone is on the same pet parenting page (behavior, feeding schedule, etc.) and ensuring the animals get along. Ideally, moving day isn't the first time all the animals have met each other.

"Going for walks is a great way for the pups to bond and discourage territorial behavior," says Ellis who also encourages rewarding good behavior. A lot. "When the dogs are relaxing or enjoying time together, be sure to reward them with treats and physical pats and scratches. Additionally, if you are working on training with one dog and one is watching patiently, reward that pup as well for being patient and calm. This reinforces good behavior together."

Combining pet households

When one pet is moving into another pet’s house, try to manage the dynamic so that, at least for the first few weeks, the pet who lived there first gets the majority of the space, advises veterinarian Andrea Sanchez, DVM, from Banfield Pet Hospital. Don't move their toys, food or water bowls, or bedding until the adjustment period has passed. "I always suggest that clients make sure they continue to get plenty of alone time with their primary pet."

If possible, create a space that is for each pet. Maybe it's a dog crate or cat tower, or a room in the house. This way the animal knows it has its own space. Also, says Sanchez, "Even if they’re getting along great, I also recommend that, at least during the adjustment period, the pets be kept apart whenever owners aren’t there to keep an eye on them."

If you're both coming to the relationship with cats, Sanchez says you can expect to keep the cats separated for longer than you might with dogs. There is no magic number for days or week, however.

Even if you do everything right, there could be conflict—just like with human siblings. Ellis suggests you be on the lookout for warning signs that the dogs are on the verge of not getting along. Things to look for include tail lowering, lip licking, head-turning away and cowering. If you see a fight brewing with cats, break it up before it breaks out. "It's best to separate the [animals]," she adds, "and give them a break before a situation boils over."

Splitting the pet parenting

As far as who will be taking care of which dog or cat, you should decide upfront how you'll be handling feedings, walks and trips to the vet. Especially with feeding you need to be on the same schedule.

"It sounds basic but eager dogs everywhere (or at the very least, my own) will happily trick their human into thinking they didn’t eat," says Jake Trainor, pet expert and senior brand manager at Freshpet, "when they were already fed by another member of the family. Beware the guilty puppy eyes that may be used to lure you in to dropping another bowl full of irresistible goodness." Fall for this trick enough and suddenly you may have an animal with a weight problem.

"I’ve seen firsthand some combined households struggle when a new partner moves in and now takes the spot in the bed where the pup used to sleep," he continues. A great compromise, he says, "is giving the pup a spot under the covers at the end of the bed, plus purchasing a nice comfy bed for their dog that they place beside the bed."

Bottom line: New relationships are hard and can be stressful and having these relationships as a pet parent even more so. Give yourself, each other and the pets enough time to get used to their new situation and, if you've moved into together, their new space. Hopefully, soon enough, you'll all be snuggling on the couch together watching TV.

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