Cats and dogs can make excellent friends, your cat can provide company and a play mate for your dog while you are away, but without the responsibility of owning and training two dogs. There was no doubt that when Lloyd passed away, Spencer (our Burmese) was grieving, he howled for months and nearly drove us crazy (he has a very, very loud cry). Now that we have Ben, Spencer is happy again. Cats and dogs can get along but the initial stages can be tricky.
If you have a very young puppy the process of socialising your puppy to the cat can be easy. A few nights before introducing the cat and puppy make sure you trim your cats’ claws, just in case they make contact with your puppy. Bring your puppy inside to where your cat is and allow your puppy to approach your cat. Your cat will probably hiss and swipe, particularly if your puppy is a little too confident, this warning will be enough to shock your puppy in to taking it slow with your cat. This will be a valuable lesson in self control for your puppy.
Your puppy may start to bark at your cat in a playful way, if this is causing serious stress to your cat simply re-direct your puppys’ attention back to you for a game or some training. Your cat will be under some stress during this time, the idea is not to push your cat too far. Expose your cat to the puppy regularly and your cat should (over a couple of months) start coming around to the idea of having a puppy in the house. The more your puppy and cat are together the quicker they will get used to one another, minimising excitable confrontations.
This method of introduction must be done with a young puppy only, as at this age, they are very malleable, that even the cat can train them. It also means that your puppy will not be too big and confident for the cat, reducing the likelihood of a serious fight occurring.
So what if you are too late, and already have an older puppy or adult dog? Then the process needs to be monitored a little more carefully. Bring your dog inside on a lead to where the cat is, allow your dog to see your cat and as soon as he does, say ‘good dog’, and feed your dog. Each time your dog sees the cat reinforce your dog with food. Leave the initial session at that, take your dog away and have a good play with him.
From these little ‘experiments’ you can gather some information on how your dog reacts to a cat. If, after a few sessions, your dog remains calm and can focus on you after seeing the cat, you can progress to having the cat loose around the house and training your dog to remain calm with the cat wandering around. From there you can have your cat and dog make some contact, if the cat swipes at your dog and your dog backs off that’s wonderful. A dog that responds calmly around a cat and backs off when hissed or swiped at, will generally be quite trustworthy around the cat.
Dogs who get very excited around a cat will require more work. Usually allowing the meeting to happen between a see through brarrier can help. Although dogs like this, will tend to get very frustrated at not being able to interact with the cat, so practicing a calm sit and reinforcing calm behaviour around the cat, may be the only option for several months. If your dogs’ reaction is not improving, or is concerning you, it may be time to call an animal behaviourist to work with you and the animals.
Spend time playing with your dog while the cat is around, this will help with training your dog to ignor the cat while it is wandering the house. You can also choose a moment when your dog is sound asleep and bring your cat over for a sniff. If your cat loves a stratch under the chin, do this while your dog is sleeping near by. This may encourage the cat to remain on your lap while being in close proximity to your dog.
Your cat should also always have a place to escape your dog. You may find that once it is in that safe place your cat may feel more confident to play with your dog. Spencer will often hide from Ben under our cupboard and once under there, will often stick a paw out to play with Ben.
It is vital that during the puppy and adult dog introductions that your cat has a safe place to do cat stuff (groom, eat, sleep, sharpen claws and toilet). Try to avoid allowing your puppy/dog to chase your cat initially. Only once the cat and dog are comfortable with one another you will find that both of them will probably enjoy playing a game of chase.
Hopefully you will have been confining your new dog/puppy to a crate or larger confinement area where they will have the opportuinity to see your cat. Your cat will also gain confidence from this because they will feel safe that the dog is not going to attack them. This will also go a long way to helping them get used to one another.
Your dog is probably going to love eating your cats’ food and even their poo. This is normal. Cats’ food is saltier than dog food, so dogs are naturally drawn to it. Place your cats’ food on top of the washing machine or some other high place your dog cannot reach. With regards to the cat poo, invest in a litter tray with a lid and cat flap, you may also need to face the flap towards a wall, or in a corner, so that the dog cannot access the inside of the litter tray. Alternatively, you can have a room, that your dog cannot access, set up for your cats’ food and kitty litter.
Good luck, and enjoy the great friendship that is likely to develop between your cat and your dog.