Your dog and cat can co-exist, but it is vital to go about it the right way for everyone’s safety. Here are some great tips to help make the introduction run smoothly.
Nine years had passed since Karyn’s old dog died, and she really wanted another. But she and her husband already had two cats who didn’t like dogs and were rather set in their ways. “We were afraid that bringing a dog into the house would just upset them too much,” says Karyn.
Dogs and cats may not seem the most compatible of species, although you probably know of at least one animal-loving household with both. Cases involving relationship problems between family animals are often presented to behavior consultants, and it’s likely that far more exist. In my experience, too many people put up with their cats hiding in the basement or some other area of the house because they’re scared of the new dog. This is not a good quality of life for any animal. Chronic stress caused by harassment from another animal can even lead to illness.
Many of these problems could be prevented with just two steps:
- A thoughtful assessment of the animals’ personalities
- Careful initial introductions
Assess your animal
Has your resident cat or dog ever been around the other species? How did he react? A good relationship with a previous dog or cat is a good sign, but this doesn’t guarantee the same results with a new one. Your new animal will behave differently than the previous one did.
How about the dog or cat you are thinking of acquiring? Is he known to be friendly to the other species? You should err on the side of caution and assume your dog may want to injure your cat, even if you’ve been told or know the dog was friendly with other cats in the past. This is even more important if the dog’s history with cats is not known. Regardless of which species you are adding to your household, each will be unfamiliar with the other and neither may respond the same way they did to previous animals they were well acquainted with
Most cats will be afraid of dogs. There are rare exceptions. I remember a very poorly socialized and neglected Chow who refused to re-enter his new home after the resident cat hissed and swatted at him.
A dog’s reactions usually fall into several categories. Some immediately view cats as prey and will chase them with intent to hurt them. Many will be intensely curious about the cat. That curiosity can turn into playful, friendly behavior, or aggression, depending in part on the cat’s response. The dog may start out just wanting to play, but the cat feels threatened and behaves aggressively. This may in turn provoke an aggressive response from the dog. A few dogs will immediately love the cat and be calm and relaxed in her presence. And, like the Chow, a few will be afraid of the cat.
Hint: When dogs and cats don’t get along, it usually has nothing to do with territory. More likely, one is afraid of the other, resulting in defensive aggression, or the dog sees the cat as prey.
In some cases, it can be difficult to determine at first what the dog’s intentions are. If you aren’t sure, you should seek assistance from a certified applied animal behaviorist or another consultant knowledgeable in both dog and cat behavior.
An introduction protocol
Your goal during the introduction is to help your animals become familiar with each other in small doses. Familiarity is what breeds friendship.
The initial introduction should be a positive experience for all the animals. At all times, your over-riding concern must be for their safety, especially the cats’. When your animals can’t be supervised, they should be housed separately.
- Allow them to hear and smell each other, but not see each other. Confine the resident animal to one part of your house when you first bring your new dog or cat home. Allow the newcomer to explore his new digs while your resident animal is safely confined.
- During this time, take an old towel, rub it on your new dog or cat, and put it in the room where you’ve confined your resident animal. This is the first step in getting them accustomed to one another.
- After an hour or two, reverse the arrangements, including the scented towel. Repeat this process throughout the first day, and during the entire time your animals are housed separately during the acclimation period.
- Feed the animals on either side of a closed door (one they can’t see through) so they will learn to associate pleasant experiences with one another. Your goal is to have the animals calmly eat with the bowls very close to the door. This may require several days or longer to achieve.
- Continue keeping them separated until their interest in each other’s scent and presence at the door wanes. Next, arrange an episode where they can see but not touch one another. This might be through a glass or screen door, or on either side of a baby gate, or with your animals on leashes or in crates.
- Encourage the animals to lie or sit quietly, using treats, toys and/or petting. If anyone seems uncomfortable or overly excited, either increase the distance between them, or calmly end the session and try again later.
- Once they are all relaxed, allow a bit more interaction. Attach your dog’s leash to a couch or chair, for example, and allow the cat to approach him at their own pace. Interrupt over-exuberant or aggressive behavior with a squirt of water. You must prevent your dog from developing the habit of chasing, harassing or threatening your cat. In turn, the cat must learn to trust that the dog isn’t going to harm her.
Cats and dogs vary as to how quickly they move through this introduction phase. Some may accept one another within just a few days, while others may take weeks or months to tolerate one another.
Micro-managing these introductions and moving at a snail’s pace are key. Moving too quickly and allowing any of your animals to become fearful or aggressive can put them back weeks.
Karyn and her husband decided to take the plunge and give these tips a try when they fell in love with a homeless cocker spaniel. “Things were awkward at first, but we took things slowly and since they’ve all got used to each other, it’s been fine,” Karyn says. “All three of them were even sleeping in the same patch of sun yesterday morning!”