As a parent, if your children love animals, it’s probably only a matter of time before you’re faced with the decision of having more than one type of pet in the house. One child will want a kitten, one will want a puppy, and one will want a bird. What to do?

Having cats and dogs living in the same house is easier to achieve than most people are led to believe. The key to harmony in the home (as far as pets are concerned) is to be in control of the household, and avoid unwanted behavior. From my own experience, and the stories I’ve been told by other pet owners, it has a lot to do with creating the right environment for your pets.

Having a harmonious, mixed pet household is possible and getting there can be achieved in 3 steps.

1. Introduce The Two Pets Early

As soon as you get your new pet, introduce them to the others in your house. Make sure all are healthy, and have been given their shots, flea treatments, and appropriate medications before coming home.

Make introductions through some type of barrier (a crate or a baby gate) so they can get used to each other’s smell and presence. This time will vary by animal, but you’ll know you can move on once they calm down and aren’t nervous or agitated.

Next, allow them to be together without any barriers to explore and get to know each other. Be sure this time is supervised and check for any signs of aggressive behavior.

2. Behavior Reinforcement, For Both Animals

Once the pets are together, without barriers, start using positive reinforcement. One way to do this is by feeding your pets together at the same time – not right next to each other, but nearby. That way they will learn to associate the positive emotion of eating with being around the other pet.

Reward both pets with treats for good behavior when they are comfortable around each other or play together. Positive reinforcement works best in teaching a pet any new behavior, including the introduction of another animal into the household.

However, if your pets are behaving aggressively towards each other, you may have to resort to negative reinforcement. For cats, I find that a quick spritz in the face will deter bad behavior. For dogs you can put them in their kennel or instill a “time out” away from the family.

3. Establish A Separate Environment For Each Pet

To keep the peace in your household, each pet needs to have a place they can call their own.

For dogs, provide them with a portable crate or kennel they can escape into. For cats, they need to be able to get to a place that is elevated, out of reach from the dog. This could be a shelf in the closet, a bookshelf, or even a cat tower that has several levels.

One final note to keep in mind: Dogs tend to be the aggressor; you have to watch your kitties since they are vulnerable to the preying instinct of a dog. You may to use other methods to help acclimate them to each other, such as a leash in the house, or remote training collars. You never want to leave the animals alone in the house, or unattended if you are away.