Introducing Dogs

Many dogs and cats can live harmoniously together if introduced properly and supervised appropriately. Whether you’re adding a new cat or a new dog to your household, the top priority is always safety. A cat or dog might be able to live safely and happily with some dogs or cats but not others so even if your cat or dog has lived with dogs and cats before you must use caution and proceed slowly when introducing your cat to a new dog. Always remember that a dog can seriously hurt a cat very quickly, and your cat can also inflict a serious injury to the dog.

When introducing a cat and dog it is important to follow some steps.

  • Introduce the cat to only one dog at a time.

  • Have at least two people present. One to handle the dog’s leash and the other to tend to the cat.

  • Make sure that the two animals first clearly see and become aware of the presence of each other. If one of the animals hasn’t seen the other before the other gets too near fear and panic may result.

  • Carefully observe the canine and feline body language

Observing  body language

Ideally the body language of both pets will be loose and relaxed.

  • Watch how they look at each other. The dog should look at the cat and look away. If he cannot this may indicate that he is too excited or aroused.

  • Observe wether the cat seems relaxed. A relaxed cat will move about calmly and confidently. They will not glare at the dog and will not try to flee from the dog. If the cat is growling, hissing, attempting to scratch or has its ears pinned back or tail is swishing back and forth this is a good indicator that he is displeased.

  • Observe the dog’s head and face.  If the dog appears excessively focused on the cat try calling him or snapping your fingers. If you can distract him relatively easily his behaviour suggests he doesn’t have an unhealthy degree of interest in the cat. If he takes no notice of you he is too fixated on the cat.

  • If your dog has a strong prey drive he might become very focused on the cat. (A prey drive is the inclination to seek out, chase and potentially capture animals seen as prey).  He will stiffen, stare, glare, and may start barking or whining. If you see these signs do not let the cat and dog get close to one another.  It is okay if the dog pays attention to the cat but you do not want to see him fixated on her.

  • A new interaction may not succeed in the first few minutes or even days. During the introductory period you must always supervise and be ready to separate the animals if any conflicts arise.

  • In addition a cat’s interaction with a dog can change depending on the environment.  Your cat might be fine with the dog when they are inside the house but outside in the yard the cat may feel more exposed and therefore show more fear. The dog might fixate on the cat and start chasing her when they are outside together. Be aware of their body language around each other in each new situation.

The introduction.

There are many different ways to introduce a dog to a cat, and you can use the option you feel more comfortable with. Even if the dog has had experience with cats and the cat has lived with a dog before proceed cautiously during the introduction.

These are the first steps when introducing a dog and a cat.

  • Before starting the introduction let the new family member settle in by confining him or her to an enclosed area of the house for a few days.

  • Start exposure through a closed solid door. The dog and cat will not be able to see each other but they will be able to hear and smell each other. Start with very short exposure (less than a minute) and gradually prolong the duration of the sessions.

  • Next let them see each other at a distance through a barrier like a strong gate or a screen door. Do not use glass doors as some dogs get anxious when they can see but cannot smell or hear the other animal. Other dogs if highly agitated could smash through the door.

  •  If the dog is large or especially excited have him leashed as an extra precaution. Start with short sessions of letting them see each other and gradually lengthen the sessions.

  • Watch the body language of both pets to get clues about how they are feeling. If you notice any signs of stress stop and allow them to calm down. Try again later with shorter sessions and more distance between them.

As the dog and cat become more at ease you will then be able to begin introducing without the barrier. Always keep the dog securely leashed and if your dog is still fixating on the cat in any way you may wish to use a muzzle also.  

Introduction 1 - Slow and steady desensitisation

If your dog is too fixated on the cat you can try desensitisation. The goal of this is to reduce your dog’s reaction to the cat by gradually increasing their exposure.  In some instances the dog will lose interest in a matter of hours, others may take months and in some circumstances it may seem you will have to keep your dog and cat separate. If this is the case you will need to bring in a professional dog trainer, and even this may not bring your dog to accept the cat.

  • Put the cat in a room with a tall baby gate across the door. Choose a room the dog does not access or need to access. Do not use a room where the dog regularly spends time or sleeps in. The idea is to separate them and only allow them to view each other during specific times.

  • Provide the cat all needed supplies (litter tray, toys, food and water) in the room he is in. Cats are good at getting through small gaps and are also good climbers and jumpers, so make sure your cat cannot get past the gate you put up. The gate needs to be a barrier that allows the cat and dog to see one another, but does not allow them to access each other.

  • Let the dog view the cat briefly through the gate, and then get the dog to focus on something else, such as playing with a toy.

  • It helps to keep the dog on leash so that you can move him away from the cat when you try to refocus his attention. Praise and reward the dog for being able to focus elsewhere. Continue to give the dog short viewings of the cat throughout the day.

  • If the dog gets overly excited when he sees the cat, close the door and begin feeding each animal on their sides of the door.  This allows each animal to associate the smells of the other with something good - food. To let both animals get used to their different smells you can swap the bedding and they will get used to each other’s smells without being overstimulated.

Introduction 2 - Face to face introduction

This is a quicker form of introduction than number 1, and best used with dogs who have been regularly associated with cats.

  • One person holds the dog on a loose lead and watches the dog’s body language while someone else watches the cat’s body language.

  • If the cat is not raising his back or hissing he can be allowed to move around freely. A cat is rarely a threat to a dog, but some cats will be on the offensive when meeting dogs.

  • If the dog is calm around the cat, have the dog to sit while the cat moves about freely. The cat will often want to sniff the dog.

  • Praise and reward the dog for ignoring the cat.

  •  If the dog is too fixated on the cat, staring, stiff body language, not focusing attention on you when you speak to him, lunges or snaps and growls at the cat you will need to use Introduction 1 or 3.

Introduction 3 - Reward focusing for the dog

This is a more structured training method where you teach the dog not to fixate on the cat. You will be teaching the dog to look at the cat and then look back at you for a treat. Basically the dog will learn that it is more rewarding to not pay attention to the cat.

  • Work out the dog’s threshold while on leash, that is at what point he notices the cat, but still responds to you when you say his name. Each dog has a different threshold. You will know you have gone past the threshold when the dog starts barking or lunging at the cat. Another sign is the dog moving more slowly, staring and stiffening the body. If you call the dogs name and he does not respond to you, move further away from the cat.

  • Once you have worked out the dog’s threshold get some really delicious pea sized treats that allows you to hold about eleven in your hand. Use your normal training method, (clicker or voice command) to gain the dogs attention.

  • When you see the dog looking at the cat, click or use your verbal marker to make him turn away from the cat and look at you, then give him a treat. The first few times you might have to put the treat right in front of his nose, but fairly soon he should start looking at you for the treat as soon as he hears the command.

  • Before using the maker the 11th time, wait and see if the dog will look at the cat and then look right back at you. If he does that, use the marker when he looks at you and then give a treat. If that doesn’t happen, go back a step. Mark him 10 more times for looking at the cat and then try again. Once he is reliably looking at the cat and then looking back at you, you can slowly start moving closer and closer to the cat. If the dog becomes fixated on the cat when you move closer, you’ve gone past the threshold and need to move back.

  • As you train, the threshold decreases and you will be able to move the dog closer and closer to the cat. Over time continue practicing with your dog until he can be right next to the cat without an issue.

  • How quickly your dog’s threshold decreases will depend on you (how much you practice), your dog (every dog learns at a different pace) and your cat’s comfort level.

 

Introducing kittens and dogs

If you are introducing a kitten to a dog keep in mind that kittens may not have any fear of dogs, so you must watch the dog carefully. Because kittens are small and want to run and play, dogs with a strong prey drive may be very excited by a kitten’s movements. Even if your dog is okay with your adult cats, it is important to watch him closely when he’s with a kitten. If your dog is young and high energy, he could hurt or kill the kitten simply by trying to play. To be safe keep kittens and dogs apart any time you are not watching them.

Introducing adult dogs to puppies

Introducing adult cats to puppies can sometimes be easy. A well socialised adult cat might be fine with a puppy acting like a puppy. If  your  puppy is chasing your cat you will need to intervene.

  • Until the puppy is old enough to have more self control and has had some training you will need to manage their interactions. You do not want your puppy to learn that chasing the cat is fun.

  • Baby gates can be used to keep the animals safely and comfortably apart.

  • To help you keep an eye on your puppy put him on a leash so that if he starts to you will be able to easily direct him away from that behaviour.

Seek professional help

If introductions don’t go well never punish the dog as this will make the situation worse. Under these circumstances you will need to seek help from a professional dog trainer

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