Trainer Tips: Introducing your new dog to the cat

24November 2015

I have recently had several clients with new puppies ask advice about how to get the cat and dog to get along.  Here are my thoughts on the subject.

Cats are a Prey animal:

Dogs are a predatory animal, whereas cats and other common pets (rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, gerbils, and farm animals such as horses, goats, sheep, etc.) are prey animals.  For a prey animal to truly become comfortable around a predator, they must feel safe.  In order for the animal to feel safe, you must be in control of the predator, or your dog.  

It’s all about Energy:
Animals read other animals by their energy.  Your energy can send signals of intent.  For example, a cat can feel the energy behind a dog’s want to chase him.  But if the dog has calm energy of his own and has no intent to chase or harm the cat, the cat can sense he is safe. 
In training your energy is very important.  Ever tried to train your dog when you were angry or frustrated?  Yeah didn’t really get anywhere did you?  All animals, including our dogs read us by our energy.  That is why it is so important to remain CALM. 
I often use my calm energy as a barrier to a dog.  This is how you can “claim” something…anything from the cat, to a friend, or the front door.  Your energy, used correctly, can do wonders for you and your pets.

How to be in control of your dog:

Your dog needs training.  I obviously suggest seeking the help of a qualified dog trainer, but many people do train their dogs just fine on their own.  I do recommend at least a Basic Manners class to really get important basic commands down with your dog, and to help socialize them.  Most dog trainers know more than you think.  And a good trainer can offer several solutions to help curb any bad behavior problems.  Remember to seek out a trainer who uses positive reinforcement training methods.  Ask for references and to observe during a class or lesson to see what kind of vibe you get from that person, and how they interact with dogs and their owners.   

To be able to control your dog, you must have a good relationship.  That means giving your dog plenty of physical (walking) and mental (training) exercise.  Once you have established a good bond, here are a few methods to try to get your pets together.

Introducing the Cat to the Dog:

Create a Barrier:

Training the cat to be comfortable with the dog is really just showing the cat that you control the dog, and that you will not allow the dog to harm the cat in any way.

The best time to introduce your new dog to the cat is after the dog or puppy has had plenty of exercise and is in a calm state.  Generally, when a dog first sees a cat (or other household pet), they will be very curious and want to investigate.  This is a good thing.  But we must control HOW they do so.  I recommend creating an invisible barrier around yourself.  I like to use a wall of my own nice calm energy.  The dog is not allowed past this barrier.  The dog must learn to give you space when you ask for it.  If you are uncomfortable or nervous creating your own barrier, use a baby gate.
—–I also recommend practicing setting up barriers with your dog around the house.  Such as the dog is not allowed in the kitchen when preparing or eating food.  Practice your circle barrier (used here) with a toy in your lap before practicing with the cat (or other small prey animal).—–

Place the cat in your lap and hold the cat with one hand.  Make sure you are calm.  Try and stroke the cat calmly in your lap and get the cat to settle.  The other hand will be used to block the dog.  Since you have already started basic training with your dog, your dog should know an “uh-uh” command, meaning “I do not like this current behavior.”  This is what you will say when the dog gets to close/ crosses your boundary line.  The more in control of your dog you are and the more calm you are, the easier this will be.  Remember to not stress your cat out too much.  If the cat has reached his point, let him go where he can easily escape away from the dog.  Remember it is YOUR job to protect the cat and make the cat feel that you will keep him SAFE!  Do this only a few minutes (2-10) the first couple times.  Allow your cat to come out and explore is he wants to, and encourage him to do so.  Treats are always nice.

If you are consistent in basic training with your dog, and remain calm during this exercise, eventually your dog will start showing signals of calming down.  Mark these things with your, “Good!”  These signals will include:  backing away, looking to the human more, siting or laying down outside the boundary.  Any time your dog shows these signals, mark that good behavior and reward (toss them a treat).

Impulse Control Approach:
Place your dog on a leash and have several small treats ready.  Have another human hold the cat (or lead of the farm animal) in a calm and comfortable way on the floor or couch.  Basically what we are training here is the dog’s impulse to want to go after the cat.  Approach the cat with the dog on the leash.  You want to take a step or two, then stop.  If the dog does not react, praise.  If the dog looks at the cat then looks back to human, praise and treat.  Remain calm.  Calmly move 1-2 steps closer.  If the dog offers good behavior again, praise and treat.  If the dog lunges, barks, or tries to go after the cat, mark the bad behavior with your “eh-eh” or “uh-oh” and immediately move away from the cat a few steps until the dog calms down.  Once the dog and cat are calm, start over.  
The person holding the cat in this exercise should remember to also remain calm and make the cat feel that he is safe and protected.  The person holding the cat should ignore the dog.  If you are doing this exercise with a larger farm-type animal, I recommend the person holding the lead stand in between the animal and the dog, but still ignore the dog.

In the End:
Depending on the age of your pets when they are first introduced, they may never become the best of friends.  But they can certainly learn to tolerate each other and co-exist peacefully.  (The best way to guarantee they will become friends is to adopt them both at a young age and near the same time).