With over 30% of dog owners also having at least one cat and 45% of cat owners having at least one dog, it’s clear that dogs and cats can get along pretty well. However, it is important when introducing dogs and cats that it is done slowly and steadily.
When introducing dogs and cats that will be expected to live together happily (or at least safely!), the introductions must be slow and they need to be given time to get used to each other before being left alone together.
Under no circumstances should you let them work out things on their own. It’s far too stressful and dangerous, especially for the cat.
Obedience train your dog first
Some dogs may see the cat as prey, and even the most easy going and friendly dog may just react instinctively to a feline on the run.
That’s why one of the first things you should do is ensure you work on your dog’s obedience before introducing dogs and cats.
You should be able to have keep them under control with a firm stop, sit, drop or recall and also have them able to sit calmly whilst on a lead.
Keep them confined
For the cat’s comfort, he or she should be confined to a separate room during the early stages of introductions with their food, water and kitty litter so they have time to get used to the dog’s sounds and smells.
You could place the dog’s blanket in the room with them so they get used to the smell and vice versa with leaving something that smells like the cat around for the dog to get used to.
After a couple of days, you can slowly begin introductions.
A slow introduction and a lot of praise for desired behaviour
It’s a good idea to put the dog on the lead and allow them to see each other. This is where the sit or drop training is important so your dog is kept calm and still.
Remember, always reinforce the desired behaviour with a treat or praise when your dog is calmly sitting or looking at the cat. We want to create a positive association for both of them.
Never force the cat to interact with the dog. If the cat just wants to watch for a while hidden in a corner that is fine, just keep rewarding them both with praise and treats for calm behaviour.
Slowly increase the interactions and time together, always offering praise or treats for the right response.
If you have multiple dogs in the house, always introduce one at a time in the same way.
If you tend to have one dog that is more of the alpha dog, then introduce the other one first so that the one that is likely to be more accepting sets the tone and doesn’t get worked up as a response to the Alpha dog otherwise you could have double trouble.
Slowly build up the time they spend together
Keep the dog on leash for a couple of weeks in the cat’s presence.
You should always make sure the cat has a way to escape from the dog — baby gates are good.
Build up the time the animals spend together, and continue to make the introductions rewarding with more treats and praise.
Only take the lead off when you are sure the dog is not interested in bothering the cat and the cat is totally at ease around the dog.
Keep them separated when no one is at home for at least a month, though you may always want to keep them separated by a baby door or in another room if you just can’t be sure.
Some dogs may never be left alone with a cat
No two animals are the same, and there is no hard and fast rule for how long this might take, so it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
It is worth remembering that there are just some dogs that may never be okay to be left alone with cats, especially they are much bigger or have a high prey drive.
A big dog even just trying to play with the cat could cause injury.
If you’re unsure and need some help then you might want to consider the services of a qualified and experienced dog trainer to help.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog walking, dog minding and dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.