Introducing dogs and cats can be a tricky process. The dog rushes to investigate the cat, the cat runs from the dog, the dog becomes even more excited by the chase. The solution is to teach both how to be calm in each other’s presence, by creating a controlled introduction. Here’s how:
Safe, Controlled Training Set Ups
During training sessions, it’s best to have the cat in a closed carrier, since the cat’s natural inclination to run can intensify the dog’s natural inclination to chase. Position the carrier to one side of a large room. Bring the dog into the room, on-leash, and lead him/her to a dog bed or training mat on the opposite side of the room. Scatter high value treats generously on the bed or mat. Position your body in between your dog and cat in order to promote calmer behavior from your dog. Do this for 5 minutes, once a day, for 1-2 weeks. Keep a behavior log, and write down any changes that you notice during this time. Many dogs will be very grabby for food when they are hyper-excited, you might notice that your dog begins to take the food more gently as your training progresses, or that your dog becomes less excited when your cat “meows.” These are the subtle changes that will tell you that your training is moving in the right direction.
The goal is to desensitize the dog to the cat, and vice versa. Once you notice more relaxed body language and behavior from both your cat and your dog you can start to advance your sessions. Have a helper open the carrier door while you continue to reinforce the dog for standing or sitting calmly on his bed. Your dog should still be on leash during these sessions. Think of the leash as a safety net or seat belt. I will keep a dog on a harness and leash in the presence of a cat until I am 110% confident that the dog is capable of relaxing in the cat’s presence, regardless of whether the cat is resting, walking, jumping or “meowing.” The goal here is to see if your dog can remain engaged in these 5 minute training sessions, looking at the cat, but effortlessly checking back in with you for food.
Do not attempt to walk your dog up to your cat to sniff as this will most likely intensify your cat’s fear, and your dog’s excitement.
“When do I know my dog is ready to be off leash around the cat?”
You will know your dog is ready when your cat is able to move around freely without generating hyper-excited behavior in your dog. I am generally looking for 2-3 weeks of consistently calm behavior in a variety of circumstances. The best results will come by being slow, and methodical in this process. You do not need to “test” their interactions by having them come nose to nose, or nose to butt. In fact, I strongly discourage this as it can lead to serious backslides in your training, and could be potentially dangerous for your cat (if your dog goes after the cat) and dangerous for your dog (if your cat swipes at your dog’s face).
Create a solid management plan whenever you are not training, with the use of extra tall baby gates. In fact, I usually encourage clients to use double barriers between the dog and cat. For example, a baby gate + a closed door. The desensitization process will take substantially longer if the cat spends its days hiding from the dog, and the dog spends its days searching frantically for the cat. This unsupervised interaction is also dangerous for both animals. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. Book a consultation at www.legendsdogtraining.com for more assistance in this training process.