Cat To Dog Introduction
Most dogs can live just great with cats if they are introduced properly while other dogs cannot live safely with cats and vice versa. Even if your dog has lived with cats in the past, it is vital to remember that each cat and each dog is an individual so every introduction will be different.
You don’t want your dog to be fixated on your cat or to display aggressive body language which can be intimidating. Likewise, you don’t want your cat to be chasing your dogs around or attacking them which can happen. It is fine if your dog pays attention to your cat but I expect them to focus on them for only a short period of time. Do know that some hissing and growling from your cat is normal.
I am going to go over three different methods of introduction for your dog and cat so you can choose the one that will work best for your situation. I have included some tips at the end and a link to my behavior consultation form if you need one on one help. Always socialize one cat to one dog at a time or you risk overwhelming your animals and causing a freak out.
Dog appeasing pheromone and feline appeasing pheromone diffusers can be beneficial if the dog and/or cat have never had experience with each other. They help decrease stress naturally and are best installed one week to two weeks prior to them meeting.
Adaptil works the best for dogs and Feliway works the best for cats. The second option is calming collars for both the dog and cat. The final option in extreme situations where none of my strategies work is medication.
Have The Following On Hand:
- Dog and cat diffusers
- Cat and dog treats
- Dog and cat harness
- Cat and dog toys
- Basic care items
Always pay complete attention to the body language of the dog and cat during the introduction. Extra time should be spent with dogs that have a strong prey drive which is an inclination to seek out and chase smaller prey animals or with cats who are fearful or semi feral. One example of a strong prey driven breed is the Husky. These dogs may stiffen, stare, bark, whine, and chase cats or smaller animals. Instinctual drift can overtake training in some situations so always be on alert.
Keep in mind that the behavior of your dog may change depending on the environment and circumstances. A dog may be great with cats outside but not inside or vice versa. A structured introduction is therefore paramount for success.
Option 3 is the slowest followed by option 1 then option 2. I would go with option 2 for situations where both animals are likely to get along fast and option 1 or 3 for the dog who may have problems with a cat.
Option 1: Desensitization
Desensitization is the second slowest of the three methods for introducing your cat to a dog. This is a good method to use if your dog is too fixated on your cat. The goal of this method is to reduce negative reactions and to increase his exposure to your cat in a gradual and not threatening manner.
Start by placing your cat in a spare room with a large baby gate across the door or between the walls. Choose a room that your dog cannot access and cannot get into so your cat does not feel threatened and is not in any danger.
Give your cat everything he needs to be happy including his litter box, toys, food, water, scratching posts, vertical space, and so on. You should ensure that your cat cannot climb the gate since they are notoriously good climbers. A double stacked baby gate or a screen door can be better alternatives.
Allow your dog to see the cat through the gate but find a way to get your dog focused on something else other than the cat. This can include a good and novel toy like a Kong, puzzle feeder or high value food. Give your cat something to keep them entertained too like a puzzle feeder, canned food, or a new catnip toy. You want your dog and cat to do something pleasing and entertaining in the presence of each other to build a positive experience.
It is not unfathomable that both animals will need to be a good distance away from each other on the two sides of the gate to tolerate each other at first. What you want to do is decrease the distance on both sides everyday. Increase distance until there is no reaction from either animal such as barking or hissing to find the starting point. It is best to have your dog on a lease so you have control over him and can move him away from the cat if needed. Reward the dog with praise and treats every time you can refocus his attention away from your cat. Do this technique several times each day for about two or three weeks.
Seeing a cat at first can be completely overwhelming for some dogs. The solution to this is to close the door and feed each animal on both sides of the closed door about 6 feet apart from the door on both sides. This technique can allow the cat and dog to associate the smells of each other with food which is a big positive association before they are visually introduced.
You can work towards the door being open after they have ate on both sides of the baby gate for about one to two weeks without any growling, hissing, or barking. You can work back up to the baby gate afterwards and move slowly.
It is rare that the dog and cat do not get acclimated to each other through at least one or all of these techniques. Most dogs will lose interest in a couple of days but it can take longer for some dogs and for some cats.
Option 2: Face Introductions
Face to face introductions is the fastest option for dogs and cats who are laid back and are likely to have no problems with each other. One person should have a strong grip on the dog’s lease while watching his body language. The other person will need to have the cat on a harness or behind a gate while watching their body language. The cat can be allowed to move around freely if he is not a danger to the dog or to himself as is the case of a active kitten who might just run up to the dog.
The dog can be asked to sit, lay down, and stay if he knows these cues. Use the sit and stay commands while your cat moves around and investigates. The dog can be rewarded with praise and treats for ignoring the cat and doing the commands on cue. Performing tricks and commands require attention which can draw his attention toward you and away from the cat which is what you want.
You can play with a wand toy so the cat is distracted or give the cat treats at the same time the dog is given treats. You can even teach your cat to do tricks with a clicker device prior to introductions if you are highly motivated. If the dog or cat is not tolerating this well then you will need to try option 3 or option 1 for proper and safe introductions.
Option 3: LAT Training
If the fast or slow introduction does not work out well for you then you need an even more structured training plan that is extremely slow and well thought out. The LAT or look at that training is the best way for your dog to focus on something else other than your cats and wanting to chase them.
You will be teaching your dog to look at your cat then immediately back to you for a treat. The dog will learn that it is more rewarding to pay attention to you than it is to pay attention to the cat.
The first step for LAT training to work is to find your dog’s leash threshold and at what point he starts to notice the cat but will still respond to verbal commands. The threshold will vary from dog to dog and can be anywhere from 5 feet to 50 feet or beyond for cat aggressive dogs.
You will know once you have exceeded the threshold because the dog will start barking or lunging toward your cat. One more sign that you are too close is that the dog will start moving very slowly, stiffening his body, and staring.
Grab a clicker device and high value treats then work on LAT training once you have your dog’s threshold time and distance written down. A verbal marker like good or yes will work if you do not have a clicker device. Have a bag of 10-20 treats in your hand or in a treat bag for this exercise.
When you see your dog look at your cat, use your clicker or use a verbal marker then follow up with a treat. You might have to put the treat directly in front of the nose at first but eventually he should start looking for the treat following the clicker or verbal command. This is because the clicker or verbal command always will mean a treat is coming to him.
Click or use a verbal command as soon as the dog looks at the cat then give a treat. After 10 treats you will want to change this strategy only a little bit. The 15th time before using the marker you will want to wait and see if the dog will look at the cat and then look back to you right away or not. If the dog does this then click or use a verbal command when he looks at you then give a treat. If this does not occur then go back a step.
Mark 10 more times for successfully looking at the cat then try again with the previous step. Once the dog is consistently looking at the cat then back to you for the treat, slowly start gravitating closer to the cat. If the dog does become fixated on the cat as you inch closer, you have went past the threshold and must move back again.
The threshold should decrease with training which will allow you to move closer to the cat over time. Continue practicing LAT with your dog until the cat can be directly by the dog without an issue. The speed of which the threshold decreases will depend entirely on the dog and owner combination along with the comfort level of the cat.
Additional Tips and Strategies
Always have a safe place for your cat to be when you have dogs. A cat that attacks your dogs is often a cat who does not feel safe enough where he is at. Vertical space will fix this by allowing your cat to visualize and watch his territory from above rather than feeling the need to defend it up front and personal.
A cat should always have vertical space in the form of cat towers or shelving units, cat tunnel units and boxes to hide, plus leave out toys to keep the cat entertained. All resources for your cat must be in a safe place for your cat to feel like his resources is not in danger or he may act out.
I recommend that both the dog and cat are worn out prior to introduction sessions so that it will go much more smooth. A dog will need around 30 minutes of exercise and a cat will need around 15 to 20 minutes.
I do not recommend a pet carrier for the purpose of introductions or a wire cage. If a cage must be used then the only acceptable cage for this purpose is a two to three level cat condo. A cat that is trapped in one small spot without being able to move around is in constant checkmate with fear and the threat of being eaten. The fear of being powerless and unable to move will create negative associations.
Do not take your cat to the shelter to meet the dog or the dog to the shelter to meet the cat you want to adopt. This can prove stressful and traumatic which can be a bridge toward failure. Home visits work best when determining compatibility.
Do not allow the cat and dog to spend time with each other when you are not home to supervise the interactions. If the socialization process is not working then I really think that seeing a behaviorist for dogs or cats could be very beneficial as they can be there physically and help guide you.
Kittens and Puppies
Keep in mind that a kitten may have no fear of your dog so you should watch your dog carefully. Dogs with a strong prey drive may be very excited by a fast and playful kitten. On the flip side, watch your cat and dog carefully if your dog is high energy or is known for playing rough. This can be a problem if you have a hyper dog that is chasing a old or shy cat.
Until the hyper dog or young puppy can better control themselves, keep a good eye on them and supervise their interactions together. Vertical space and baby gates can prove invaluable for this situation.
Seek Help From a Behaviorist
I am a certified cat behaviorist and veterinary technician with a certificate in shelter management. I am available to help with behavior issues and with general training for those who need it. You can fill out the behavior request form by clicking here.