Introducing Cats and Dogs
Inspired by a recent consultation I thought I would put together some pointers on successfully introducing cats and dogs. A multi-species household can be a joy and a torment, but these tips should help if your cat is nervous of your dog, or if your cat is over confident and playing rough with the dog!
Planning can make a huge difference to how successful introductions are. Avoid bringing a new animal in when your existing animal is stressed or facing challenges such as recent or upcoming holidays, upheavals in your family or changes in circumstances. You need to be able to set aside a reasonable length of time for the relationship to strengthen, so trying to introduce a new cat or dog two weeks before you need them to get along, for example, over Christmas, is going to force you to rush the introduction and set both cat and dog up to fail. Although some introductions are relatively plain sailing, some can be tough and can take months of additional work, so be prepared incase your plans falter.
Getting introductions right
Cats first! The chance of successful introductions is greatly increased if your cat is confident and cats are most confident when in familiar surroundings or on their own territory. So getting the cat first and letting it settle in can help your cat feel more secure, particularly if your cat is nervous or unused to dogs. If introducing a new cat to a doggy household, setting aside a dog free area to settle your cat in first will help them establish themselves before any face to face introductions.
Scent meetings. The first time your dog and cat “meet” it should be only via smell, this is important communication for both cats and dogs. Exchanging blankets, or bringing home an item smelling of your new pet allows your existing pet to get used to the smell of your new addition before they meet face to face. When you have both animals at home keep the dog and cat completely separate for several days, or longer if your need to, until the cat is happy with the smells and sounds of the new dog. Allow each to access the others areas alone to get used to the smell of each other without actually meeting, take your time and keep them separate until you are happy the cat is confident and is acting normally.
First impressions count. The first real meeting of your cat and dog will set the tone for the rest of the introduction process so it is worth getting it right. This is going to be all about positive experiences as it can be difficult to put a relationship back on track later — particularly if your cat feels threatened. So rule number one is not to let the dog chase the cat, don’t let your dog scare the cat at all if possible. There are several ways you can do this and how you do it depends on what works best for you and your cat and dog.
Here are some ideas, pick the best option for your animals:
- You can have your cat free and your dog on lead. This is the most relaxed way to introduce, but make sure your cat has an escape route and somewhere high and dog-inaccessible to jump to, or somewhere to hide out of sight. Ideally give your cat some of their favourite food up high so they are happy, relaxed and out of the way of the dog. Bring the dog in on lead keeping them calm and happy, that might mean a kong, a relaxed settle on their bed, some training with you, or whatever your dog responds well too. You can give each of them calm praise and reward to encourage calm behaviours.
- Same scenario but your dog hangs out in their crate. If your dog is comfortable in a crate you can try this — but be aware that this can build frustration in your dog and if you notice this happening you should end the session. This can work well however, for cats that are combative and will approach an on-lead dog. If you are struggling you may need to consult a behaviourist to assess what to do next.
- Controlling the cat. OK so ‘controlling your cat’ is an impossible task for most cats, but you can confine your cat to a safe area if your cat is happy to be in a pen / crate or carrier. This can allow you to let the dog off lead and so can be better for allowing natural canine behaviours — but it is vital that the cat is able to hide if they want to, so if they are in a carrier it is up high out of reach of the dog. Again adding a tasty bowl of tuna can go a long way to helping your cat feel comfortable, but this should not be attempted if your cat is at all wary in a confined space, or wary of the dog. Some people advise that you hold the cat — but to me trying to hold on to a potentially scared cat is asking for at least a few scratches or worse!
Get ready for nose to nose meetings. Once the dog and cat are comfortable with each other when separated, a next step is for face to face meetings without barriers. Be very sure that you are ready for this stage, it is OK to spend a lot of time getting things right before you move on.
When planning your training sessions, try to set both your cat and dog up for success. This may mean training when your dog is tired out, or if your cat is more boisterous, then training when your cat is tired out! It helps to keep the training sessions short — always stop before things go awry, and try to have multiple shorter sessions rather than one long one.
When getting ready for your first meeting, set up escape routes and high places for your cat. These are essential in case they need to escape and hide, and should ideally provide a safe route back to the cat’s safe area.
If possible end on a good note!Ending on a positive note will help set the animals up for the right start to the next session.
The first date. These sessions should be very similar to the previous ones. If your dog and cat are up to it allow short interactions, reward the interactions you want, like sniffing, ignoring or calm behaviours. If the cat or dog become too playful, separate them immediately and distract them onto another activity. Things can go wrong very quickly so make sure you are ready to intervene with tasty treats to stop things escalating at this early stage. You ned to watch the body language of both your cat and dog very carefully and intervene if you notice worrying behaviours.
Mix it up. Try different things, and see what works best for your cat and dog. A mix of time spent with your dog enjoying a kong or chew toy, doing trying, playing the Look at that Game (LAT), or both the dog and cat playing with a toy if both are playful. A mix of quiet time and playtime can build both the positive association and teach your dog to settle and be calm around the cat, or for the cat to settle around the dog.
Your cat may need more attention than the dog! Both cats and dogs can torment each other. Cats are known to sit just out of reach swishing their tails as a dog goes crazy to get to them, equally some dogs find the drive to chase cats irresistible. Suitable mental enrichment for both the dog and cat can help them find an outlet for this energy!
It’s OK to interupt play. If your dog and cat are happy and play together but your dog is too rough, it is sensible to intervene. A dog can serious injure or even kill a cat, and a cat can cause a dog to loose an eye, so don’t trust that your cat and dog will stop when play becomes too rough. Giving young animals guidance on where the boundaries of play should be and not letting the games become too stimulating or exciting for the cat or dog will help their relationship in the long run.
In the long run, making a dog free or cat free zone can be helpful for maintaining harmony. Spending time with each pet individually can be rewarding for everyone, remember that each pet needs attention and although you love them both they may not love each other!
It may take time for your animals to be happy with each other, take your time, be patient and go slow for the best results but don’t be worried about seeking professional help if you have problems. It is always good to have someone else to check your training is on track.