How to Train Your Dog to Leave the Cat Alone
Your dog just won't give your cat a moment of peace. Here's how to train your dog to leave your cat alone.
Dogs and cats living peacefully under the same roof aren’t that unusual. And it’s not unreasonable to assume that if you introduce them gradually and raise them together, they will become lifelong buddies in time. So, what do you do when that new pooch is running poor Fifi ragged and you find yourself constantly playing referee in a furry game of war?
Let’s start by not assuming things will eventually settle down on their own. It’s not fair to your cat and nobody wants a dog that continually chases down and harasses smaller animals, right?
Whether your dog is new to the household, or your cat is the recent addition, it’s important they become familiar with each other’s scent and presence in a gradual, methodical manner. Separating them for the first few days allows each to get used to hearing and sensing another animal in the house - without having to come nose to nose with them.
So, who gets locked away and who gets to roam the house? According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), whoever is being newly introduced to the home should be permitted to wander and become comfortable with the new environment. During this time, you could even share blankets and toys to allow them to pick up a more personal scent from their soon-to-be roommate.
After the first day, consider placing their food bowls on opposite sides of a closed door. Feeding is a positive time in a pet’s day and allowing them to smell one another’s food and hear one another eating can help nudge the inevitable face-to-face, into becoming a more positive and less stressful experience.
When it’s time for them to meet, never assume it will be as easy as simply opening the door and walking away. You’ll need to consider the personalities of both pets before you move forward with that all-important introduction. And if your cat tends to be territorial, she may come out fighting. A stressed-out feline can deliver dangerous, painful scratches that take those hard-won intros right back to square one - and possibly, you to the vet with your pup.
Additionally, if your new dog is a breed that tends to have a high-prey drive - including terriers, hounds and herding breeds – plan to be heavily hands-on during this important stage.
You know your pets best, so based on their known personalities, energy levels, breed characteristics, and territorial tendencies, we’re sharing a few different approaches to successfully introducing a new pet to the mix.
1) If your dog or cat is already established in the home and you know them to be confident and likely territorial you may want to introduce a crate or carrier to the meet-and-greet process. After an initial two-day separation phase, bring them out and set them up in their carrier for 20 to 30 minutes. Include a few favorite treats and let the new pet wander around. This will give each of them that all-important first visual of the new addition without the opportunity to attack or chase. Again, just short sessions, several times a day with your already-established pet being moved back to their separate space in between intros. Eventually open the carrier door to allow them to exit if they so choose - and particularly for cats, only if she’s no longer showing signs of aggression.
For skittish cats that hide around strangers, an out-in-the-open introduction isn't going to be the right approach. Read on, for other options.
2) For dogs that have mastered the basic commands, you may want to consider using a “sit”, “stay”, “lay down”, or “leave it” approach that allows both animals to roam freely, but ensures your dog will instantly halt if the cat becomes wary or stressed. This less-structured method will also require your feline to have a readily accessible “escape space” such as under a bed, on top of a counter or high up on a shelf, where she can feel safe if necessary. This is an ideal method for felines who tend to be cautious but curious. Again, it would be used following the initial two-day separation period and will require you to be present throughout, to carefully monitor the situation and reward your pooch with treats when he obeys and/or ignores the cat.
If your dog is still working on his commands and you’re not convinced he’ll readily obey, consider leashing him while you work through this method of introduction.
3) When dealing with a young, boisterous pup who could possibly harm a smaller or older feline even after the initial separation process, you may want to take a more proactive approach. Consider an interim step by using an open-air, basket-style muzzle while you train the benefits of leaving the cat alone. The muzzle is only to be used when training a more respectful behavior – not throughout the day as a safeguard for when you’re not around. Over time and as his command training completes, you shouldn’t need the muzzle at all.
And to prevent your dog from associating the muzzle with punishment, always insert a tasty treat or two for him to discover and enjoy.
4) If you’ve never tried clicker training, it’s a highly effective way to get the attention of a distracted dog and get him to respond to commands. While typically used for the five basic commands of sit, stay, lay down, heel and leave it, a clicker can also direct your dog to leave the cat alone. As with all other introductory methods, you should allow a two or three-day period of separation with gradual sensory awareness that ensures the appearance of this new pet, doesn’t come as a surprise and result in a negative face-to-face. Once this has been completed and your pets are moving around within the same space, use clicker training to reward your dog each time you observe him notice the cat but leave her alone. This rewards-based training requires that you click and offer a treat, whenever your dog indicates that he’s noticed the cat.
Whether he’s excited and whining or totally non-plussed, the goal is for your dog to associate the cat, with a treat. As a result, his inclination will change from chasing to looking toward you so he can get that reward he just earned for not chasing. Be consistent and expect to spend a week or more working on this method of introduction.
5) The success of this last method will depend entirely on how much your dog covets his toys. Some dogs live and breathe for a squeaky toy, frisbee or ball. For others (like mine), not so much. The goal of this style of introduction is to create a positive distraction that will have your pooch ignoring the cat and redirecting his focus toward his fun new toy. Following that important separation period and gradual introduction, interact with your dog and his new toy by playing a game with the cat nearby but not in the line of fire. Toss a ball, hide a plush toy behind your back – whatever it takes to engage his attention. If he notices the cat or becomes distracted by her, re-engage him with the toy (squeaky toys are great for grabbing his attention) and give him a treat for looking your way.
Your pooch is now learning that having a fun time with you that includes a new toy and tasty treats is so much more interesting than pursuing the cat. Eventually, the novelty of chasing the cat will wear off.
Calm, amiable introductions can be quick and painless or a drawn-out, seemingly never-ending work in progress. To successfully integrate your family of pets, you need to respect their triggers, watch for potential conflicts and anticipate spending days and weeks creating a stable, non-threatening environment for both. Remember, you’re not striving for world peace, just peace in your world.
More by Mary Simpson