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Introducing your dog to your cat

 

Do not rush the introduction!

You may want to find out right away if your cat and dog will get along, but forcing them to interact too soon will set both up for failure. Cats and dogs need time to get used to each other, especially when they have never lived with another cat/dog. Both the cat and the dog need to learn that the other does not pose a threat to them, and that you will keep them safe. Your dog and cat should not be alone together unsupervised for at least 3-4 weeks. Even if your cat has lived with dogs before, or your new dog has lived with cats before, or both, they will still need to learn how to interact with this particular dog or cat. A slow introduction will help to insure that they can live in harmony. 

Cats are especially sensitive to change, and tend to adhere closely to a dominance hierarchy based on who is established and who is new. Your cat will likely be afraid of your new dog, and/or want to reinforce his position at the top of the pet hierarchy.

Your cat may do one or all of the following:

Run away from or avoid the dog

Hiss, yowl, or swat at the dog

Stand their ground and defend themselves when the dog approaches

Act aggressively towards the dog to try to establish dominance and put the dog in its place

“Blame” the dog when something startling happens

 

 Your dog may do one or all of the following:

Bark at the cat

 Chase the cat when it runs

 Approach the cat, but not chase if the cat runs away

 Ignore/avoid the cat

 Be submissive to the cat when the cat acts dominant

 Growl or react defensively when the cat acts dominant

 It’s relatively normal for these things to happen a few times as your dog and cat figure each other out, so they should not be a major cause for concern as long as they are not persistent. However, they are a sign that you need to keep taking things slowly. You should be concerned if the dog chases the cat aggressively (as if hunting small prey), if the dog is constantly lunging or growling at the cat, or if the cat is regularly stalking, scratching (rather than just swatting at) or biting the dog when defending itself or acting dominant. This is why only limited and supervised interaction at first is important – you need to learn about how your animals react to each other as much as they do!

 

General tips

 

Make sure that neither animal has access to the other’s food. Separate water bowls are also a good idea, at least at first.

Make sure the dog cannot get to the cat’s litter box. Most dogs find cat poop irresistible. It’s not only gross for dogs to snack from the litter box – your cat may also feel threatened by the dog approaching its litter box, especially while the cat is using it.

Give the cat a safe space in the house where the dog cannot reach him, even after they have gotten used to each other. This could be the room where you keep the litter box, or just a perch that the dog cannot reach.

Crate training your dog and using a gate to separate the animals will help greatly in this process. 

 

 

 

First Day

Before you bring your new dog into the house, put your cat in a room by itself (with food, water, and a litter box) to give the dog a chance to explore his new home without seeing or interacting with the cat for at least a few hours. Try to keep the dog away from the room where the cat is.

The following timeline is an estimate; the process may take more or less time depending on your dog and cat, but it will probably take at least a month for both animals to become comfortable with each other.

 

 Week 1

 Do not let the dog and cat interact with each other directly. Every day, alternate time periods when one animal has free roam of the house, while the other animal is contained to a smaller area of the house. This will allow your dog and cat to observe each other from a safe distance and get used to the each other’s smell. Ideally, the dog would have an area sectioned off with a gate (rather than behind a closed door) in a part of the house where you spend a lot of time (such as the kitchen or living room), so that he is not totally isolated. Whenever the cat has free roam of the house, put the dog in his crate within the gated area so that he can get used to the cat’s presence, and see that the cat is a member of the family and not an animal to hunt or chase. This also allows the cat to get used to the dog’s presence without feeling physically threatened. Putting up a gate in addition to the crate will ensure that the cat cannot come up to the crate and harass the dog in his safe space, especially when you are out of the house. You may want to give the dog more ‘free time’ at first than the cat, as your dog needs to get used to his new home. If you are crating your dog while you’re out of the house or at night, that is a good time to let the cat have his ‘free time’. 

 Week 2-3

 Once the dog and the cat are acting calm while the other animal is roaming the house, start letting the dog out of its crate when the cat is out, but continue to keep him behind the gate. The first few times, sit with the dog in the gated area, preferably with the dog on leash. If the dog barks or acts very excited by the cat, redirect his attention away from the cat, and reward with a treat when he ignores the cat. If that goes well, you can take the leash off, but continue to sit with the dog behind the gate. (This is a great time to do some training with your dog!) Next you can leave the dog alone (out of the crate) behind the gate while the cat is out, but only while you are nearby to supervise.

 Once the dog can remain calm behind the gate on his own, you can start letting the cat and dog interact. Have the dog on leash while the cat is out, and keep hold of the leash. You can let them approach each other. Reward the dog for ignoring or staying calm around the cat. If the cat acts aggressively towards the dog, squirt him with water from a spray bottle. If the dog barks at or tries to chase the cat, correct him by redirecting his attention (e.g. to you, to a toy, to his bed) and reward him when he stays calm. You can also train the dog on the command “leave it” to teach him when to leave things, including the cat, alone. 

Once your dog consistently acts calm around the cat while you are holding his leash, you can let him around the cat with the leash on without you holding it. You want to keep the leash on so that you can easily grab the dog should anything go wrong. If that goes well, you can start letting the dog off leash around the cat, but only while you are there to supervise. Do not let the dog and the cat be together unsupervised yet! 

 Continue to correct any aggression on the cat’s part with a squirt from a spray bottle. Correct and redirect the dog whenever he engages in behavior that is upsetting the cat.

  

Week 4

 If the dog and cat are doing well with each other while supervised, you can start letting them be around each other unsupervised, but only while you are at home, so that you can intercede should any scuffles arise.

  

After the first month

 If the dog and cat continue to do well together unsupervised while you’re at home for another month or so, you are probably safe to let them interact freely from now on – just make sure your cat always has his safe space!