Contrary to popular belief, dogs and cats are not natural enemies, but they do have several behavioral differences that can sometimes make it hard for them to coexist in the same household. While both dogs and cats make great companions and have been living with humans for centuries, it is a fair bet that these behavioral differences have been causing issues in households for just as long.
Unfortunately for dog lovers, it is almost always our canine friends that are the source of the problem, and if your dog and cat aren’t getting along, it will likely be because of behavioral issues of your dog. Most often, the issue comes down to a dog’s prey drive, an inbuilt need that many breeds have to chase small fluffy animals. This makes it difficult to teach your dog to play nice.
So, below are five things that you can do to help stop your dog from being aggressive toward your cat.
1. Buy your pets at the same time
The best way to avoid aggression toward your cat is to buy your puppy and kitten at the same time. The advantage of this is that while they are young, they will be quite evenly matched in terms of size, speed, and strength, which means that your dog is more likely to see your cat as an equal rather than as a small creature to be chased and toyed with.
Pets that are raised together are far more likely to get along than those who are put together as adults. Your cat will be less threatened by your dog, and after the initial excitement of meeting a new friend, your dog will likely settle down too. Within a couple of months, you will likely find that they will become inseparable friends and will even curl up together for a snooze.
Regardless of their breed, dogs need to be socialized when they are young to ensure that they get along with people and other animals, including cats. Socialization usually starts at puppy school, when dogs first get to start being around other people and animals, and it is also a good idea to ensure that your puppy gets to spend time around cats. The best way to do this if you don’t already own a cat is to take your puppy to visit a friend that has a well-socialized adult cat, as adult cats are usually perfectly fine with excited puppies for a short while. Just be prepared to intervene if the cat runs off and your dog starts to chase it, as the last thing you want is for your puppy to see chasing a cat as a game.
3. Manage their introduction
Of course, it’s not always possible to bring a kitten and a puppy into your family at the same time, and people often decide to get a dog after already owning a cat for a while or vice versa.
In these situations, you must manage the introduction of your pets carefully. To start with, it is advisable to keep your cat and dog separated in different parts of the house — ideally, in separate rooms, as this will allow your dog to smell and hear your cat for a while before they physically meet. Remember, dogs have acute senses of smell and hearing, and your canine friend will be more accepting of your cat if you allow them to get used to the smell of your cat first.
It may take a few days for your dog to settle down and ignore the new smells and sounds of your cat, but when they do, it is time to arrange for their first meeting. There are two ways to do this.
The quick meeting
The best way to do this is to have your dog on a leash and waiting calmly in a room before somebody else carries your cat in. If your cat is reasonably relaxed, they can be placed down on the ground and allowed to walk free.
If your dog is calm, get them to sit and stay and offer a treat or praise for ignoring the cat. However, if your dog becomes fixated on the cat or attempts to lunge at it, you should move them farther away, calm your dog down, and try again. If after several attempts, it is apparent that this method isn’t going to work, you may want to try the slow and controlled method.
The slow and controlled meeting
This method is a continuation of the initial introductory phase, in which you kept your cat and dog in separate rooms, except instead of keeping them separated by a closed door, you should use a childproof gate to ensure your cat’s safety.
With a childproof gate separating them, your dog and cat will be able to see each other and even walk right up to the gate and meet. You might also try feeding both animals near the gate so they interact a little more and get used to each other.
Over time, your dog will settle down, and you will be able to try having your pets in the same room again. However, we highly recommend that at least for a while, you always keep your dog on a leash whenever your cat is in the same room, so you can control their behavior should there be a relapse.
4. Create safe spaces
While safe spaces won’t in themselves stop the aggression, both your cat and dog must have their own safe spaces that are away from each other. In the case of a cat, this might mean that you need high shelves onto which your cat can retreat to get away from your dog. For your dog, you should place a dog bed or blanket in a room that your cat can be locked out of when you are not around.
Even the best-behaved pets need a bit of time away from each other, so having spaces for both your dog and cat to go to is a good idea for maintaining peace and harmony in your house.
Learn more about preventing and controlling dog aggression:
5. Seek help from a professional
Training your dog to leave your cat alone is something that most dog owners can handle on their own. But if your attempts don’t go well, seek help from a professional dog training or behavioral consultant. These people specialize in overcoming problematic behavior, and you owe it to both your pets to get outside help if it is needed.
Featured Image Credit: Peretz Partensky, Flickr