My dog Harper thinks cats are to chase. She’s the first of our dogs that didn’t grow up with a cat in the household. I introduced her to our neighbor’s cat when she was a young puppy, but unfortunately, I didn’t have easy access to other cats so she never learned to live compatibly with them.
That’s a problem when we visit friends and family with cats. Harper growls and barks when she sees them, and she wants nothing more than to chase them away. I keep warning her that one of these days we will have a cat again ourselves, so she’d better prepare herself for the idea.
The idea that cats and dogs don’t get along is a commonly held belief, but it’s not necessarily true. According to a survey by the American Pet Products Association, 46 percent of households with pets have multiple types of animals. Cats and dogs are the most common combination, found in 32 percent of pet-owning households.
There is always the potential for conflict between two species that have differing habits and communication styles, but pets living together can become good friends. In homes where the humans are away all day, a dog and cat can keep each other company and often play and sleep together, groom each other and team up to get in trouble.
If you’re introducing a pet of a different species into your family, the following tips can help the meeting go smoothly and, ideally, help a friendship to develop.
Introduce them first by scent, not sight. Isolate a new cat in a small room for a few days with everything he needs: food, water, litter box, toys. His scent will drift out to your dog, and the cat can get used to your dog’s scent, as well. After two or three days, let the cat explore the house while the dog is in the yard or on a walk with someone else.
Maintain control. It’s never a good idea to just turn animals loose and hope for the best. That’s a recipe for fear, anxiety and stress for all involved. Have your dog on a leash, and make sure your cat has an escape route. “Having ample getaway spaces for cats, such as tall cat trees or gates with a cutout that the cat fits through but not the dog, is essential,” says Mikkel Becker, lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets and co-author of “From Fearful to Fear Free.”
A dragline attached to a harness can help to prevent bolt-and-chase sequences during the settling-in period, Becker says. Until you’re sure pets are getting along, supervise interactions and separate them when you’re not around.
Hand out treats liberally to both parties. This worked well with Harper when we were visiting relatives with cats. She was rewarded every time she looked away from the cat and when she didn’t growl or bark at it. You want both pets to think that being in the presence of the other is a good thing. Dog trainer Liz Palika has fostered many litters of kittens, with the aid of her English shepherds. Her best piece of advice in one word? Patience. “A friendship between a dog and a cat cannot be forced,” she says. “Let them gradually get to know each other and provide safe places where they can get away from each other.”