Introducing a dog to a cat (or vice-versa)

I did promise some time ago to do something on introducing cats and dogs, and I thought now might be a good time, in case you’ve added a cat or dog to your household this holiday.

How the introduction goes will depend on both the individual pets involved. Very generally, most cats will run from things that can kill them, and most dogs will want to chase. And this can leave you feeling like you’re in a real life “Looney Toons” cartoon.

Remember that behaviour is influenced by nature (genetics), nurture (learned behaviour), and current management. A dog with hunting breed may have more drive to chase cats, but if it was raised from a pup with cats that may be less of an issue. Likewise, there are more confident breeds of cats, and a cat raised from a kitten with dogs may not see them as a threat.

It’s important to start slow, and teach some sound behaviours in advance so you know your pets. The main thing is to keep everyone safe, and consider the welfare of all pets – not put them through undue stress in the name if exposure.

Know your cat:
Are they a “tree” or “bush” dweller? Tree dwellers like to get up high, so this can be used to your advantage by making viewing platforms and high escape routes for kitty to use. Bush dwellers can be tricky as they go to ground, which could make them an easy target for a chasing dog – set up escape routes where the dog cannot follow. Show the cats these routes, platforms and safe zones.

Know your dog:
Do you have some solid and proofed obedience commands, especially ‘stay in place’ and ‘leave it’? Do you have good equipment that you trust will hold your dog in a potentially high arousal situation? Set your groundwork with good training and trustworthy equipment.

Start with scent swap. Swap a blanket your cat sleeps on to your dog’s bed, and vice-versa. Pat your cat’s scent gland areas with a “rubbing rag” and put that near your dog’s bowl while they eat. The more creative you get giving them the opportunity to smell each other, the more they will be used to the scent in their environment.

Move to confined greetings. That’s dog on leash and cat in carrier, and at a distance. Gauge your dog and cat’s reaction at each step of changing the distance. Keeping them both busy in their respective spots will help them get used to the actual presence of each other. Build to cat in carrier, dog loose. Swap to dog in crate, cat loose – the dog needs to see the cat moves around (and this gives kitty an escape route). Build to dog on leash in place with cat loose. If you can do both loose in an area with a screen door in between. Build each of these scenarios at a pace that suits your individual cat and dog.

It could be quick, it could take months, or it could be that they can never coexist without supervision. We have one of each at Pawsonality HQ. Winston, pictured with our previous cat Bert, holds deep respect for cats and their pointy paws, and will not chase. Roxy on the other hand, can never be near cats, and will need management for the rest of her life (we still do work with her every day).

Call me, I can help.

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