The first week in May is National Pet Week…So can your dog and cat get along?? In many situations, dogs and cats can coexist peacefully. In other situations, not so much. The good news…chances are, you can restore harmony to your household if they are having problems getting along.
The prey drive, in some dogs, can be very strong. If something moves, the dog can be reactive; but there is an even stronger drive, the drive to please the pack leader, you. If dogs, in the wild, don’t follow the rules, they don’t remain part of the pack. Dogs know they need a pack in order to survive, so they follow the rules. They know they are part of your pack. In order to ensure your cat stays safe, you must get your dog to look to you as his leader so that his desire to please you overcomes his desire to chase the cat. Work with your dog on some training (come/sit/stay, walking to heel) to calm him down (mentally). This will also calm him down and improve his focus and respect for you.
It’s not always that quick or easy to institute changes. Some situations really do take a lot of time. You may have to monitor the situation for a while and make sure your cat has an escape path to safety.
When introducing a dog and cat, take things slowly, calmly and cautiously. If you can, bring home an item with the new pet’s scent on it so the existing pet can learn about the new pet through its smell first. Plan to place the cat’s things somewhere the dog can’t reach (such as up high) and be sure there is always an escape route so the cat can get away from the dog and feel safe.
While holding the dog on a loose leash, at first allow the dog and cat to see each other. If you fear the dog may get away from you quickly and hurt the cat, use a muzzle if necessary.
With the dog in a down-stay, let the cat wander and come to the dog, if she chooses, for a sniff. Then call the dog away to get him to redirect his attention from the cat, and then allow them to greet again.
Remember, you also need to keep the cat from getting afraid and then running away, which will only trigger the dog’s desire to chase. If the dog begins to fixate on the cat or lunges to get at it, quickly give him a command or just lead him away from the area for a few minutes. Never leave the animals alone and unsupervised.
Your goal is to help the animals learn to trust each other, as you yourself work on building a relationship of trust and leadership with the new dog. In the meantime, don’t allow your dog to chase any cat, but do let him chase a ball or other appropriate toys.
If your dog begins to chase the cat, do not run after the dog. Instead, try to get his attention with a loud hand clap or command (“Leave it!”), or even a shake of his dog food bin. Redirect his behavior so you can leash him and allow the cat to get to a safe place.
Finally, the key to successful cat-dog introductions is to expose them to one another gradually under controlled conditions. You want to avoid creating situations where your cat runs away and your dog’s prey/chase instinct is activated. If you have an adult dog that has never been socialized to cats, the introduction should be a very gradual process lasting 30-60 days.
Vicki and Richard Horowitz, of Woodbridge, are dog behavioral therapists and trainers with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company. For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit www.dog-training-new-haven-ct.com.