Are you a cat person, or are you a dog person?
If you love both, you don’t have to choose. With a good understanding of both species, you can have a peaceful multi-species household full of animal best friends.
It’s true that cats and dogs don’t typically get along. Their body language is different, leading to communication barriers. Their instincts may drive them to chase, flee or fight.
But they’re not so different that they cannot learn to understand one another and become friends.
They have one thing in common. They love humans.
Cats and dogs evolved alongside us. They’re bred to be loving and affectionate. They’re able to adapt to different types of interactions. When they get to know each other, cats rub up against their favorite dogs and purr, and dogs gently play with their kitty friends as they would a smaller dog.
So, break the status quo. Get a cat and a dog. Use these tips to prevent mishaps and set your pets up for a lifetime of friendship.
Choosing Compatible Housemates
Having a peaceful, mixed species household is much easier if you plan before you buy or adopt. Choosing the right breeds and introducing animals at the right age can help you avoid spats from ever occurring in your home.
Cat breeds that enjoy playing with dogs:
- American Shorthair
- Maine Coon
As a general rule of thumb, larger cats are more confident around dogs, and won’t dart, leading the dog on an exciting chase. Cats are safest around nosy dogs when they stand their ground.
Dog breeds that are gentle with cats:
- Golden Retriever
- Basset Hound
Dogs without strong hunting instincts make the best companions for cats. Terriers were bred to chase rabbits and mice, and could mistake a cat for prey. Huskies and greyhounds also tend to chase cats.
Breed is just one indicator of how compatible an animal might be for a mixed household, and there are always exceptions. You can also adopt your pets from shelters or rescues – the staff may perform temperament tests for house adoptable animals in mixed pet foster homes, so they might be able to tell you which of their available animals are comfortable around other species.
Start young for a lifetime of friendship
Animals that grow up together have a great chance of getting along. It’s best for your cat to be a bit older than your new puppy so they will be sturdy enough to tolerate rambunctious puppy behavior. It’s also easier for an older cat to set boundaries with a small puppy.
Baby Gates Are Your Friend
If you have two pets that do not get along, or if you’re just introducing a new animal family member to your household, keep your cat safe with a baby gate. Cats can climb the gate if they feel threatened, but the dog will stay at a safe distance.
In the beginning, keep your animals separate at all times, except for very brief, supervised meetings.
You can also contain your dog using a crate. However, locking up your puppy in a crate without slowly conditioning them will cause your puppy to feel stressed – which will make it even harder for them to adjust and get along with other pets.
What It Means To Stay “Under Threshold”
When an animal is over threshold, they’re too stressed, scared or excited to learn new skills or listen to the known command. Your dog will not be able to sit if he is already fully engaged in chasing your cat – in fact, he might not even hear you.
You cannot skip this step or rush the process. You must do your very best to keep your pets from ever going into full “fight or flight” mode.
It does not make sense to set up your pets for failure, then punish them for their natural reactions. Do not yell at, hit or otherwise punish your dog for chasing your cat, even if it feels natural to do so. Punishment will only create negative associations, causing your dog to feel over-aroused and anxious when your cat is around.
Instead, set your pets up for success.
When introducing your pets for the first time, allow them to be in the same room. That way, they can pick up one another’s scents. The dog must be securely leashed.
If either animal raises their hackles or locks into a stare-down, increase the distance between the animals until they are both calm. Continuously giving each animal food is an excellent way to condition them to associate the scent of their new housemate with good things.
Don’t ask your dog to sit, stay or be calm. Only give them small treats at a quick rate. This keeps the dog focused on you and prevents them from focusing too much on the cat. This exercise is easier if you have someone to help you. One person can play with and feed the cat, while the other can work with the dog.
Taking The Next Step
If your pets can be in the same room without showing signs of stress or arousal, you can start to bring them closer together.
Your dog should always be on a leash and closely supervised until you are sure they will be able to stay calm around the cat. It’s okay for your dog to be interested in the cat as long as they still respond when you call their name. If you have trouble getting your dog’s focus back on you, they’re over threshold and you need to create more distance between the animals.
Do not make the animals interact. At this stage, you want both animals to feel calm and secure. They are not ready to play together or snuggle up on the couch – that might come later if the animals decide to become friends. You can’t forge a bond; a healthy cat-dog relationship is built on trust and security. You just can’t rush it.
When Things Go Sour
No matter how careful you are, your animals might get over the threshold. Nobody’s perfect!
Understand that if your dog chases your cat, he is not a “bad dog.” He is not being a jerk – he’s just submitting to his natural instincts to hunt creatures that move. When this happens, it’s actually a mistake on your part – you should never allow this situation to occur. At the same time, this is a learning process for the animals and for you. So, don’t dwell on these incidents, just separate your pets for a few days so they can recharge, then begin again with a controlled meeting with plenty of distance and distractions like toys and treats.
A dog can be trained to be calm around cats, even if they have had urges to chase. It can take weeks of conditioning, but it can be done.
Reward your dog for small wins – like staying calm when your cat is in the room. Give your dog extra treats for staying calm when your cat makes sudden movements or noises. Timing is everything – reward your dog the moment he looks at the cat, instead of waiting for the inevitable moment when he does start to fixate on the cat.
When To Rehome Pets That Don’t Get Along
If your cat is in danger simply by living in your home, you’ll need to make an incredibly tough decision.
While you can train a dog with a history of chasing, even killing cats, this takes weeks, even months of rehabilitation. You may need to invest in working with a professional behaviorist. Your management will have to be failproof. Baby gates, crates, and leashes will need to be used every day to keep your cat safe.
Living together may cause a lot of stress for your animals. Your cat might begin losing hair, refusing to eat or pooping outside the litterbox.
You can even find a temporary foster through your local shelter who can give your cat a home while your puppy matures for a few months.
There’re many things you can do before rehoming one of your pets. However, if you must give one up to ensure peace and safety in your household, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
When Things Go Well
If your pets are calm around each other, there are some things you can do to help them enjoy one another’s companies.
Group snuggles are a good choice. In both cats and dogs, snuggling together is an act of bonding. At first, you’ll need to act as a barrier. With kitty in your lap and doggy by your side, you can help your pets associate one another with warm, fuzzy feelings of comfort.
Even if your pets get along, allow them to have separate spaces. Feed them separately, and use baby gates or cat shelves to give your cat places to retreat if they need time away from the dog.
A loving relationship between a cat and a dog is just like a healthy marriage: avoid unneeded conflict, give one another space, and take the time to snuggle. That’s all it takes!
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