The rivalry between cats and dogs is widely spread, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be friends. Calm dogs that don’t enjoy hunting can live harmoniously with cats under one roof. Even mildly aggressive dogs can learn to refrain from their predatory instincts and not hurt the cats that live with them.
Cats have a hard time accepting other cats in the house. This rule applies to dogs as well. A time period ranging between a few weeks to a couple of months needs to pass before the two can trust and accept each other. One thing is certain, though: the younger, they are, the less it will take for them to become friends.
Here’s what you can expect from a dog that has never lived with a cat
A newly-arrived dog will treat the cat like another dog and playfully socialize. If both are very young, it will be very easy for them to become bosom buddies early on. However, sometimes the cat will become defensive when the dog starts poking and playfully biting.
Cats don’t play as aggressively as dogs. If your cat is an adult and your dog is a bigger breed, the two of them playing can be problematic. The interaction between the two must be carefully overlooked, especially in the first days of living together. Playful dogs don’t know how to react to a cat’s subtle signs of wanting to be left alone. This may cause tensions to build up, which will put the cat in danger of being injured. A dog can easily kill a cat by accident, even while playing. Also, a scared or angry cat might also seriously injure the dog.
Unfortunately, dogs innately perceive cats as their prey. They will view cats that are fearful as easier prey, which will increase the chance of attack. Cats that haven’t lived with dogs before will view them as predators and will either avoid contact by running or become aggressive and start a fight.
An older dog might be intimidated by a younger, more playful cat. He will be fearful of getting too close and will avoid contact when possible.
Cats that haven’t lived with dogs will either timidly accept the dog and warm up to him after some time has passed, or become defensive and refuse to socialize.
What does it take to make them get along?
- Cut your cat’s claws to avoid unnecessary escalation when the two are playing
- First impressions are very important and can determine whether the two will get along or not. Make sure that the two meet each other in a comfortable setting. Train your cat to pay attention to you and to disregard what else is happening in the room. That way, when the dog comes by, you can shift the cat’s attention to yourself and that will make her feel relaxed.
- You can use positive reinforcement to train your cat to answer your call. Cats usually like to eat fish and chicken. You can train your cat to respond to your voice by repeatedly calling out her name, letting her come close and rewarding her with her favorite food. Do this several times and your cat will associate name-calling with receiving food, which will make her be more attentive to when you want to distract her from your dog.
- Before getting them together and making them interact, you should make sure that your dog knows and respects common commands like “Sit!” or “Let go!” so that you can control the situation in case the two get in a fight.
- Another way to ease the surprise of the first meeting would be to have the dog placed in a cage or have them interact while being separated by a fence.
- Try to wear out your dog’s energy levels by taking him out for a run outside. Keep his favorite snacks with you, test his reaction to commands and reward him accordingly. Bring him home only when you feel that he’s tired.
- If you notice any signs of aggressive behavior exhibited by your dog, grab a leash and hold him tight.
- Stay in front of the door and call the cat. Command the dog to “sit”, so that he looks less threatening when the cat comes by.
- “Reward” your cat when she comes to you. Stroke her and play with her so that she feels appreciated for being such a good cat. Do the same with the dog if he’s done good so far. Repeat this for a few days so that the two associate warm feelings and delicious rewards with the addition of a new member of the family.
- If your dog reacts aggressively and scares the cat away, quickly distract his attention. Try to avoid using a leash and make him pay attention to your verbal commands. If he listens, reward him with treats. On the other hand, the cat must be left to do whatever she pleases. Cats don’t react well to change and must be left to come back at their own pace. Reward her with treats when you see her getting close to let her know that she’s on the right track.
- Let the cat be the one that shows the first signs of forgiveness. It’s important that you avoid forcing an interaction between them. If you feel that the cat is no longer fearful of the dog and wants to reach out, let her get close, but pay extra attention to the dog and hold him in a leash to avoid any sudden fights. Also, you can bring both in a larger room and leave the doors open so the cat can run if she needs to. You will notice that the cat will lay on her back and stretch her paws lazily towards your canine when she begins to feel comfortable with him. The dog will react by poking the feline in a playful way.
- Keep your dog on a leash during the first weeks of being acquainted. If you notice the dog following the cat, tell him to “stop”. If he responds to the command, offer him a treat.
- If the canine is calm and gentle, there is little need for intervention from your side. All that you have to do is to be affectionate and reward them for good behavior.
- If you see your cat acting aggressive towards your dog, call her name and distract her attention. Again, if she responds, reward her with a treat. Avoid yelling at your dog or other negative actions. You need to use positive methods to encourage friendship between the too. The two must associate their interactions with positive events (like being rewarded with food). You don’t want them to feel that things get tense whenever they are in the presence of each other. Dogs go into “predatory mode” when they feel tense and cats get defensive when faced with stress.
- When you’re not around or can’t be there to look after the them, make sure they stay in separate rooms. Also, your dog shouldn’t be able to reach your cat’s food, so make sure you keep it somewhere high within your house, like on top of a bookcase.
Troy works for PremierPups, a company that specializes in finding small-breed puppies a house and a family. He has an affinity for dog behavior, human psychology and writing.