by Bailey Coldwell
As a dog trainer, I obviously am passionate about dogs. A fun fact about me is that I am just as much of a “cat person”. I have four indoor cats and have had many puppies and dogs around my home. Dogs and cats, however, have a long history of not always getting along. Through training and management, my cats love to cuddle with dogs, rub against them, and play with them. I am not promising that every cat is going to love every dog. But I am here to offer my best tips and tricks to help cats and dogs learn how to co-exist together.
We’ve all heard about the dog that starts to chase and pounce towards the cat. The cat then runs away, hisses, and swats at the dog. This becomes a fun game for the dog and a scary experience for the cat. Keep reading to learn how we can help their relationship.
Be aware of dog body language AND cat body language. Cats and dogs tend to struggle to know when and how to interact with one another. Their body languages are often very different from each other. A dog wagging their tail often means they are enjoying the interaction. When a cat is wagging their tail, they usually are getting stressed and upset. If a dog is running around, they likely want to be chased, as a game. If a cat is running around, they are likely scared and needing space. Therefore, make sure to step in if they need help to learn what the other is saying. You can step in by calling your dog back to you, making kissy noises, physically going over to them, and using a leash to stop the contact.
Prevent the chasing. This is one of my biggest recommendations. Some behaviors are extremely rewarding for dogs if they are able to do it. What gets rewarded, will get repeated. Chasing cats is rewarding for the dog. When you first bring a new pet into your home with another animal, it is helpful to keep the dog on a leash if they are not in the crate or the pen. This way, the dog is learning that chasing is simply not an option. Don’t feel bad if this means the dog has a tad less freedom than you would like while they adjust. Regardless of the age that a dog comes into my home, they do not have unlimited freedom of the home until they know the guidelines of the home.
Safe spots for the cats are important. Cats are predators, but cats are also prey. This means that they are constantly on the lookout for threats and are seeking safety. A big reason why my cats feel comfortable in a home with dogs is because they always have the option to move away. In every room of my home, I have high platforms that only the cats can access. I have cat trees and structures for the cats attached to my walls. I also have been mindful about where I place furniture in my home, such as bar stools and dressers, to give my cats more safe spots. My cats don’t feel that they need to hide under beds or in closets all the time, because they have comfortable options in my main living areas. Here is an example of platforms that I have in my home to help my cats be able to be at a higher level than the dogs:
Give everybody time and space. We know that bringing a new pet into the home is an exciting experience. But we often take exposure a bit too fast when trying to get everyone adjusted. This is a huge change for the cat, the dog, and for you. Work on having positive sessions near one another, but don’t feel bad or defeated if it takes longer and if it takes more space than we had anticipated. In life, we know it is best to not force relationships and friendships with other people. We often hear “take things slow”. This is the same concept for animals in our homes.
Reward the animals for good behaviors (yes we can and should reward cats as well). When the animals are around one another and acting appropriately, let them know. Talk to them in calm and happy voices. Give the cat catnip. Give them both pets and treats. Use toys for both of them. It is always easier to notice unwanted behaviors (chasing, pouncing, hissing, and swatting) than it is to notice good behaviors (relaxing in the same room together). If we notice and acknowledge the good behaviors, they will start offering these behaviors more. If we prevent and interrupt the unwanted behaviors, they will start offering these behaviors less.
Not declawing your cat is helpful for the animals to interact. There are some experiences in life where dogs learn through natural consequences. For example, a dog pesters a bee and the bee stings the dog. The dog will be less likely to pester another bee. If a dog does get a chance to chase a cat, it can be helpful (for all involved) if the cat is able to use a warning swat with their claws. It will help prevent the cat from being injured and it will help the dog learn that chasing and pestering the cat has consequences. When there are two dogs interacting and one dog growls, the other dog is normally able to understand this and step away. If a cat is able to swat at the dog, it helps the dog understand to step away. It is a way to help communication. We still want to always interrupt if the dog doesn’t step away. Choosing to keep your cat’s claws will be helpful in the dog and the cat learning how to interact appropriately.
We often see dogs trying to constantly get to the cat’s food (my orange cat will also try to eat my dog’s food, if given the chance). This can also hinder their relationship. I feed my cats in areas that my dogs simply can not get to. I feed my dog locked in her crate. This helps ensure there isn’t competition for food and will simply keep everyone happier.
Don’t be scared to allow them to interact. If we act nervous and anxious when the dog and cat are together, it can lead to the animals feeling this way as well. It is okay for your dog to initiate contact with the cat and it is okay for the cat to initiate contact with the dog. You just want to be there (at first) to help them out if need be by encouraging breaks.
Regardless of if you are bringing a cat or a dog into the household, we want to help make the transition as easy as we can. I hope that my own experiences with this can give you reassurance and guidance for your own home.