Can’t We All Just Get Along? An Article on Introducing Dogs and Cats - By Debbie Kendrick, ABCDT and VP of ABC

Wednesday, December 03, 2008 : 4:38:16 PM
Having a dog and cat that do not get along can be very dangerous. Some cats can get fed up with the harassment and decide to leave home, or worse, they can be chased, mauled and even killed. Some dogs, large and small alike, can be seriously injured by a cat scratch. In addition, the household can be damaged as they chase each other around, the owners can be injured in their attempt to intervene, and the threat of re-homing one or both of them is greatly increased as a result of this unsafe relationship.

That being said, I have written this article specifically targeting dogs that do not already chase cats as a result of prey aggression, and for cats that are not already fearful of or dislike dogs in general. If you are working with a dog that already chases cats or a cat that is already uncomfortable around dogs, your Treatment Plan must also include exercises that address these very specific problems. I will be addressing these topics in greater detail in an upcoming issue of Paw Prints…so stay tuned. 

Background Information
The biggest mistake people make when they introduce a dog to a cat or a cat to a dog is to attempt to let them "work it out." In my opinion, leaving it to chance is too risky. Yes, there are dogs and cats who do "work it out;” however, a little management and training when they first get together can go a long way toward ensuring a happy relationship in the future. The first few introductions should be well-managed no matter where or when the meetings take place.

Introducing a Dog or Puppy to an Existing Cat
Have you ever heard the saying, “you only get one chance to make a good first impression?” This is especially true in this situation. The outcome of the initial meeting greatly impacts all future interactions between the dog or puppy and the cat. If it is well managed, an appropriate relationship is more likely to be formed in a shorter amount of time.

Don't let the dog or puppy get excited over the cat. It may be cute now, but this can get out of hand quickly, especially as the puppy grows. For this reason, it is critical to create a situation where the dog or puppy can become desensitized to seeing the cat. They may eventually become “friends,” but it is important to control the excitement now.

a) Start by placing the cat in a position where he will be stationary during the exercise. Usually feeding the cat will keep him in one spot for a while. Some cats may need to wear a harness or sit in a wire cage. You want to avoid having the cat move since movement has a tendency to excite dogs and puppies. Put the dog or puppy on a leash and move only close enough for him to be aware of the cat, but not excited. Stop and have the dog or puppy "Sit." Feed the dog to keep him from focusing on the cat. This should also keep him near you so you can avoid leash restraint that may telegraph your tension about the situation to the puppy. The food should be placed so the puppy has to make a choice. Look at the cat, or turn away from the cat to get the treat. Gradually bring them closer until they can both stay calm at close distance. Be patient, this process can take weeks. Once this is mastered, you can add a moving exercise.

b) While keeping the cat stationary, lead the dog past the cat with a food lure at a distance where the dog can easily ignore the cat for the food treat. Once again, he has a choice. Stare at the cat, or look at you for the food treat. When both pets are okay with that, begin practicing having the cat move.

c) While keeping the dog still by having him focus on you, and with the cat at a distance, make the cat move a bit. If you have gone slowly enough the past few weeks, this should not be overly exciting for the puppy or dog.

d) Do not advance too quickly. If the cat gets frightened, or the puppy gets excited, stop and make the exercise easier. Until they can both stay calm in each other’s presence, it is critical that they are not around one another except for when you are doing these exercises! All it takes is one event where the puppy gets batted on the nose or the cat gets startled and runs - starting a chase - and it can become very difficult, if not impossible, for them to live calmly together. If you have a new puppy, you should have a high level of management anyway. Learning to be calm around the cat is just another household rule he is learning with all the others. Cats have a very good barometer of the dog or puppy’s intentions. If the cat senses that the puppy will stay calm and not chase, it adds to the cat’s confidence and the cat will be less likely to run, which will in turn lessen the likelihood of the puppy chasing the cat since it is staying put.

e) Physical leash corrections may be considered if the dog or puppy “explodes” with excitement, provided a strong foundation of positive interaction has been established. Before considering a leash correction, make sure the dog or puppy is just overly excited and not acting aggressively toward the cat. One effective leash correction given to an “excited” dog or puppy can immediately help him regain his self-control with a good attitude. Any correction that frightens the dog or makes him more aggressive or excited must be discontinued immediately. It is important to understand that an inappropriate leash correction can be detrimental to the training and overall relationship between the pets. A mild to medium correction that does not distinguish the playful barking immediately can "charge up" the dog and make him more excited about getting the cat. A severe correction or multiple corrections, especially if they are not balanced with other positive associations, can change a dog from barking playfully at a cat to a dog that is now barking aggressively at a cat. In addition, leash restraint where the dog or puppy is constantly leaning and pulling on the leash to get to the cat, can cause a negative association toward the cat. Bottom line, leash corrections can be dangerous, but if you decide the situation warrants one, make it effective and be sure to balance it with at least ten positive experiences in order to avoid having the dog make any negative associations. Remember, redirecting the dog or puppy’s attention away from the cat with food or a toy, followed by making the exercises easier is the ideal way to handle this situation.

f) The dog or puppy must also be taught the “Off" or “Leave It” cue during this time. This will allow you to give the puppy the “Off” cue as he moves toward the cat when you start allowing him a bit of freedom around the cat. No freedom should be given until the dog or puppy has remained calm around the cat in all situations for a week or so.

g) If you have been doing the exercises consistently and properly, the puppy or dog should automatically turn to you each time he sees the cat in anticipation of getting a treat from you. This will of course redirect his attention away from the cat. Continue the hand feeding whenever he is around the cat for several months. The "Off" cue will help if you notice any of the following things.

• The puppy or dog is not moving away from the cat in anticipation of a treat
• The puppy or dog is becoming excited and/or barking in the presence of the cat
• The puppy or dog is staring at the cat

Introducing a New Kitten to an Existing Dog or Puppy
Proper management is even more critical when introducing a tiny kitten to an existing dog or puppy because even a playful act on the part of a much larger dog or puppy could be fatal to a kitten. It is imperative that absolute control be maintained over every interaction. Initially, the dog or puppy must be kept on a leash at all times at a distance that allows the dog or puppy to remain calm. Do the same exercises outlined above in “Introducing a Dog or Puppy to an Existing Cat” and be very careful not to rush things.

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