Cat Behavior

Introducing a Cat to a Dog

Based on a handout written for the Denver Dumb Friends League by Suzanne Hetts, PhD., Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist

Dogs usually want to chase and play with cats, and cats are usually afraid and defensive. You can use any of the techniques described on this sheet to begin the introduction. If conflicts between animals continue or worsen, contact a certified animal behaviorist for help. In addition:

Another helpful command to teach your dog is “leave it.” It works well if you drop a forbidden piece of food on the floor or the dog has that “get the cat” look in his eyes.

When the dog is the newcomer into a home with cats it is important to keep the dog under control at all times. Dragging a light lead will be helpful if the dog should decide to chase the cat. Remember the dog hasn’t learned to respect his new owner’s commands. It is important to be patient with your new dog until he responds to your commands and respects your leadership. If you are bringing a cat into a home where there already is a dog, having the dog drag a light lead can still be useful in helping with introductions

If you are a dog owner bringing in a cat it is very important to give the cat time to adjust to a new home and the dog. See “Welcome Home” handout for ideas on the best way to introduce a cat to a new environment.

By keeping the cat safely in his own room you can start introductions by feeding the dog on the opposite side of the cat room door. Start a distance from the door to allow the cat to be comfortable when the dog is outside its room. Feeding on opposite sides of the door lets both pets see good things happen when they are close to each other.

After a few days, when the dog is outside, allow the cat to investigate the dogs living area for a short time under your supervision. Put the cat back into a different room and allow the dog to go into the cat’s room and investigate the cat’s living area without confronting and possibly scaring the cat.

1. If your dog does not already know the commands "sit", "down", "come" and "stay" you should begin working on them. Little tidbits of food increase your dog's motivation to perform, which will be necessary in the presence of such a strong distraction as a new cat! Even if your dog already knows the commands, work with obeying commands in return for a tidbit.

2. After the animals have become comfortable eating on either side of the door, and have been exposed to each other's scents, you can attempt a face to face introduction in a controlled manner. Put your dog's leash on, and command him to either "sit" or "down" and "stay", using food tidbits. Have another family member enter the room and quietly sit down with the cat on his/her lap. The cat should also be offered some special tidbits. At first, the cat and dog should be on OPPOSITE sides of the room. Repeat this step several times until both the cat and dog are tolerating each other without fear, aggression, or other uncontrollable behavior.

3. Next, move the animals a little closer together, with the dog still on a leash and the cat gently held in a lap. If the cat does not like to be held, you can use a wire crate or carrier instead. If the dog gets up from his "stay" position, he should be firmly repositioned, and praised and rewarded for obeying the "stay" command.If the cat becomes frightened, increase the distance between the animals and progress more slowly. Eventually, the animals should be brought close enough together to allow them to investigate each other.

4. Although you dog must be taught that chasing or being rough with the cat is unacceptable behavior, your dog must also be taught how to behave appropriately, and be rewarded for doing so (e.g., sitting, coming when called, lying down in return for a tidbit). If your dog is always punished whenever the cat is around, and never has "good things" happen in the cat's presence, your dog may redirect aggression toward the cat.

5. You may want to keep your dog on leash and with you when the cat is free in the house during the introduction process. Be sure that your cat has an escape route, and a place to hide. Keep the dog and cat separated when you aren't home until you are certain the cat will be safe.

Precautions: Dogs like to eat cat food because it is very high in protein, and therefore very tasty. You should keep the cat food out of the dog's reach. Why dogs like to "raid the litterbox" is not well understood, but eating cat feces is a relatively common behavior. Although there are no health hazards to the dog from this habit, it is usually distasteful to owners. Unfortunately, attempts to keep the dog out of the litterbox by "booby trapping" it will also keep the cat away as well. Punishment after the fact will NOT change the dog's behavior. Probably the best solution is to place the litterbox where the dog cannot access it - such as behind a baby gate, or in a closet with the door anchored open (from both sides) just wide enough for the cat.

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