Helping cats and dogs to get along

by | Cat Care Dog Care Pet Planning |

While some people identify themselves as a cat or dog person – many of us can be both! Still, some of us may be delaying a multi-species family, concerned by the familiar phrase “fighting like cats and dogs.” The good news is that with sensible adoption decisions, positive and rewarding introductions, good management and a little training, many cats and dogs can live together peacefully. 

Playing matchmaker: Key ingredients to a successful relationship 

If you have a cat and are planning to adopt a dog, try to find an animal with a known history of being accepting of other small animal species. While adopting a puppy and raising her to know only appropriate behaviour around other animals is an option, adopting a dog who has lived with cats previously is usually safest (as with all animals, be prepared for a period of introduction).  

Do breed research before selecting a dog. Many dogs traditionally associated with high prey drives – such as herding dogs, terriers, sighthounds and huskies –  can get along with cats, but be prepared to  keep an open mind and work together with adoption staff to find the right match. 

If you have a dog and are planning to adopt a cat, help teach your dog to behave appropriately around cats before you bring a new animal home. Work on improving your dog’s response to sit, down, stay, come and leave it, so she can respond reliably with distractions. If you need help, join a positive reinforcement training class. 

Read our blog Adoption Tips: Cat-to-Dog introductions 

Setting the mood: Good management is essential 

Create a positive association with the environment before introducing the animals to each other.  

To help your cat feel safe while adapting to the sounds and smells of your dog, for the first couple of weeks, keep your dog on leash in the cat’s presence. When your dog is ready to be let off leash, it is essential to give your cat dog-free zones he can retreat to for safety if needed (use baby gates or other barriers that limit your dog’s freedom). 

Cats are generally safe around puppies, as a well socialized cat can handle a puppy; however, shyer cats may not be so bold and need to be separated until the puppy is older and learns self-control. Kittens, because of their small size, should not be left unsupervised around dogs. 

Taking it slow: Creating positive experiences 

Throughout the introduction process, ensure your dog is leashed, supervised, and treated for good behaviour (you can help your dog respond reliably to requests by using treats to lure her into a sit or down etc.). Slowly build up the time the animals spend together and keep it positive. If you are constantly stressed or punishing your dog when your cat is nearby, such as keeping the leash taunt, pulling the leash or yelling at her – your dog may come to associate these negative experiences with your cat and redirect aggression towards him. 

Help your furry friends become accustomed to each other’s scents by rubbing a towel on your cat and putting it under the food dish of your dog (and vice versa) and switching beds or sleeping blankets between your animals. 

In addition, you can start feeding their meals on either side of the door to your cat’s temporary room. At first, their dishes should be placed at least a few feet apart on each side of the closed door. If they remain calm, gradually move the dishes closer until they can eat comfortably standing directly on either side of the door. If either animal becomes stressed, move the dishes further apart and repeat the process at a slower pace.

Giving love a second chance: Cat – chase = treats 

While it can be challenging to change your dog’s inappropriate behaviours around cats, it is possible in many cases. The key is understanding that it’s the association between the cat, and the dog’s experience that cats often run away, that make cats such high-arousal chase objects. By following the steps below, you can help your dog replace the cat = chase association with cat = yummy treat from mom and dad association. 

  1. Find a comfortable spot to sit and relax with your dog on leash. Allow your cat to enter the room, this could take some time as the cat may be a bit unsure of the dog’s presence. As soon as the cat appears immediately feed high value tasty treats to your dog. 
  2. 2. Continue to ask your dog to “sit” or “focus” on you and not the cat, rewarding calm behaviour.  When the cat chooses to leave, stop feeding treats to your dog. 
  3. Repeat step one and two until your dog looks to you for a treat every time the cat appears. At this point you can reduce the distance slightly and repeat steps one and two. Repeat, repeat, repeat! Go slowly and increase the distance at any point your dog becomes agitated. End each session on a successful note.
True love or rocky road? 

When your cat is comfortable enough around your dog to come out from her safety zone and mingle with family, and your dog is reliably calm around your cat, you can take off your dog’s leash and allow them to start sharing their home together.  

Remember to supervise closely until you are confident they are safe together. How long it will take to get to this step will depend on the animals involved. 

If introductions go poorly, early intervention and advice from a professional (such as a dog trainer or animal behaviourist) is recommended to increase the likelihood that the conflict can be resolved and to reduce the risk of injury from an animal fight. Do not attempt to punish any of your animals as this can easily make the situation worse and make the animal more aggressive or fearful. Fortunately, with professional guidance, most furry friends can learn to live together peaceably in happy harmony. It’s not uncommon for dogs and cats to develop a friendship that lasts a lifetime!