by Brad Clarke of Dog Nerdz.
You’ve been mulling it over for a while and really want to adopt a dog, but you’re not sure how your cat will handle it. Dogs and cats don’t always get along, but a smart approach and some effort can get the two animals acquainted with one another’s company, and maybe even become pals!
Here are our tips for making the process go smoothly in your home.
Image: Louis-Philippe Poitras
Isolate the dog at first
Whether you’re bringing home a brand new puppy, adult, or senior dog, it’s a good idea to limit their access to your home at first. One or two puppy-proofed rooms allow them time to adjust to the new scenery and scents without getting overwhelmed.
Changing a dog’s environment is stressful, and we as owners must be sensitive to help them acclimate more smoothly. For puppies, crating is an excellent way to control the situation and soothe them when they’re overstimulated. Crating also helps in housebreaking. Even older dogs come to appreciate the crate, as it provides refuge for a quick break when they need some peace.
While the dog is sequestered, do not allow your cat to visit at first. Although they will not be able to see one another in the beginning, both will be aware of the other through smell and sound.
Give them a chance to adjust to one another in this way before taking the next step.
Image: Priscilla Du Preez
Use a closed door to separate them during mealtimes
An unusual but effective method of building familiarity involves using a closed door between them during mealtimes. They get to enjoy a meal together and create a positive association with one another, even though they’re not completely present with each other.
Talk about a “blind date!”
Gradually move the bowls closer to the door to increase their closeness. Although the two can’t see one another, they will still smell and hear their new family member nearby. Again, the idea here is getting them used to being around each other even though they’re still not technically together.
By the time they get together for real, they’ll recognize the smells and associate their new friend with good times like digging into a nice bowl of food. Bon appetit!
Image: Brianna Tucker
Teach basic obedience
Teaching your new dog basic obedience commands is an excellent idea whether you have other animals in the home or not. Basic obedience commands help manage your pup’s behavior, keep them away from danger, and exercise them mentally.
For the impending introduction, you’ll want to work on a decent recall, “sit,” and “stay.”. If your dog is a quick learner, “leave it” can be helpful too to help manage their rampant curiosity towards a potentially fearful feline.
Don’t forget the “three D’s” of obedience training: distance, duration, and distraction. No dog is truly proficient in any command unless they can exhibit obedience at a distance, for a moderate duration, and in distracting environments. And introducing a cat to them is the epitome of distracting!
Training sessions should be short and sweet in the beginning. It takes a long time to truly master obedience, but a cursory understanding is all that is needed for now. A good foundation will be enough to keep control of the introduction and ensure everything goes without a hitch.
Introduce them in a controlled environment
Now that you’ve spent time laying the groundwork, it’s time for the true test.
We recommend leashing your dog during this interaction, while your cat should have free rein and easy access to an exit in case the dog’s energy is too much for them.
Use a neutral environment as the setting for their first meeting so neither animal has the “home field” advantage. This ensures that neither animal will default to possessive behaviors or guarding.
Be especially mindful of their body language. Pinned ears, stiff tails, and frantic movements are all indicators of trouble. Growls and hisses are especially bad but incredibly useful for alerting you that you should intervene before things get ugly. It sounds counterintuitive, but try not to discourage growls or hisses for this reason. If they think they’re not allowed to growl, they may jump straight to a bite instead.
Ideally, you’ll observe relaxed postures, gently wagging or swaying tails, and neutral ear positioning, which all indicate calmness or curiosity. Your dog and cat likely won’t be quick friends, but a brief, neutral interaction where they check one another out is good enough for a first impression.
Some dogs love to bark at unfamiliar sights or animals. Excessive barking may complicate the interaction by scaring the cat. Try your obedience commands to reinforce quiet from your dog, but you may need to take other measures if they won’t comply. There are various products for dog barking control available to assist in keeping order during these early and crucial interactions.
Treats are also helpful to reinforce good, calm behaviors during the meeting, but be careful when bringing food into the mix. Some animals are possessive around food and might get aggressive towards the other animal, who they perceive as competition in these scenarios.
Image: Anusha Barwa
Rehearse and repeat
The meetings should remain short but frequent. You must consistently place them together on consecutive days to get them acclimated. Gradually increase the duration of their meetings and always reinforce good interactions with praise or treats.
When the cat has had enough, let them go and do not let the dog chase. Dogs are usually more bold from the get-go while cats remain apprehensive. We want to guarantee your cat has some autonomy on how the interaction will proceed and give them assurance that they may end it anytime on their own terms.
Ease off the restrictions
As the dog and cat gain rapport with one another, loosen the restrictions and behavior management but remain watchful at a distance. If or when the body language forecasts trouble or tension, revert back to brief, controlled encounters and encourage more bonding.
During the first few weeks, do not leave them unsupervised without separating them or sequestering one. An easy way to accomplish this is through the use of a dog crate, as this will still generally be useful in managing separation anxiety and destructive behaviors in dogs.
As time passes, it should become safe to leave them together.
Image: Madalyn Cox
Friends at last
Adopting a new dog is a huge commitment, and that commitment is tenfold if you already have a cat or other pet at home. By using a few techniques to ease tension and build comfort, it is definitely doable to have both a cat and dog in the same house.
Through patience and hard work, your pets will not only tolerate one another but may even become friends!