Dogs & Cats Living Together
I am often asked to help with dog and cat problems. The most common situation is a rescue dog being introduced into a home that already has a cat. Usually I am called after the initial introduction has failed and the cat has already been traumatized by being chased by the dog. Once this has happened it can take 2 to 3 times longer to get things back on the right track.
The biggest mistake owners make is to let the new dog into the house without a leash and proper control and, when the cat appears, there is chaos.
The Key to Introducing Dogs & Cats
The key to having successful cat and dog relations is understanding that dogs are pack animals and can learn to respect any other animal as being part of the family pack. Case in point as a child I had a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a duck, a hamster and a parakeet all at the same time. All of them got along. The parakeet used to ride on my dog’s back traveling around the house and would walk on the floor between the dog, the cat, the duck and the rabbit. Each animal learned that they were not to harm or threaten the other.
In this article I am only going to address introducing a new adult dog to an adult cat who is already in the household. Introducing a puppy to an adult cat or adult dog to a kitten, or puppy to kitten can all be slightly different. But in all cases control and safety are paramount.
The first phase of introduction can take weeks and depending on the cat and dog even longer. The cat should be safely put into a separate room before the dog is brought into the house. The dog should be brought in the house on a leash and under complete control. By having the dog on a leash we set an expectation with the dog that he/she is not allowed to run around the house and act crazy.
During the introduction phase to the house we use a crate and the dog is only allowed in the house on a leash. When the dog is in the crate we can let the cat out to explore. If the dog starts barking at the cat while in the crate we stop the barking by verbally scolding the dog. If the dog does not stop we can try covering the crate with a sheet and if that doesn’t work we can squirt him/her with water from a spray bottle.
The dog should not be allowed out of the crate with the cat loose until he goes at least a week without barking at the cat when it comes into view of the dog. As long as the dog is reactive to the cat then they should continue to be separated when the dog is out of the crate.
If the dog has high prey drive then you might want to consider acclimating him to a muzzle to extra safe.
During this acclimation period you should be training basic obedience so that the dog can sit/stay, down/stay, leave-it and go to place.
When the dog is no longer barking at the cat from the crate you can take the next step of introducing the cat and dog. The dog should be wearing a prong collar, a leash and a muzzle if necessary. If the dog shows even the slightest amount of aggression towards the cat he needs to be corrected firmly so that he understands that this behavior will not be tolerated. With really high prey dogs you might have to use a remote training collar but you should not do this without professional advice and help. The dog, with your strong leadership, will learn that the cat is not prey and is not something to chase and kill and is to be accepted as part of the family pack.
People often ask me how long this will take and I have to tell them that it depends on the owners as well as the cat and the dog. The cat should dictate the pace that you go. It can take any where from several weeks to months. I have some cases that it has taken six months or more because the cat was terrified at the very start. Be patient, take it slowly and go at the pace that the cat and dog are ready to accept. Don’t move at a pace that will put either the dog or cat in an unsafe situation.
Watch for future articles on introducing dogs & cats including puppies and kittens.