behaviour tips for cats

Dog to Cat Introductions

Congratulations on the adoption of your dog! Dogs and cats can learn how to live comfortably with each other, but proper work and management does need to be put in place and followed consistently in order for this to happen. Introducing a dog to a resident cat is a step-by-step process that can take weeks or even months to properly work on.

 

Underneath is a guide detailing how to get your animals comfortable together. If at any point during this process you have concerns or questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at 519-966-5751 ext 118, or email us at behaviour@windsorhumane.org

Step 1: Feeding on Opposite Sides of the Door

It will be best to set up a room for your cat(s) to be in with all their essentials like: food, water, litter box (far enough away from the food and water), toys, and things to climb and hide in. You won’t want your new dog to visually see the cat when they first come home so it’s important your cat is already in this room before the dog enters the home. If your dog goes up to the door and sniffs, be sure to call them back to you to prevent them from stressing the resident cat out too much and learning to walk away when asked. If throughout their time separated from each other, your dog goes over to sniff near the door while remaining calm, be sure to call them away and reward them for listening. The more your dog can calmly pick up on the cat’s scent but learns to walk away when asked, the more you’re setting them up to learn appropriate manners which will be applied heavily when they are actually around the cat. For the first 3-7 days, you’ll want to feed your cat and dog on opposite sides of the door, first starting far away and only moving the food dishes closer to the door if both animals are remaining calm and comfortable.

 

During the process of this first step, you’ll also want to make sure you are scent swapping. Every day you can have each animal get used to the other animals’ scent by doing things like taking a cloth and rubbing it onto your cats cheeks and taking another cloth and rubbing it on your dogs sides. You can then leave these cloths out for each animal to sniff (such as putting it underneath their food dish) as well as swapping out their blankets. You can also swap out their living areas and let them sniff each other’s space (like having someone take the dog for a walk and letting the cat come out and sniff the home, thenputting the cat in another area safely while the dog sniffs the room the cat is staying in). You can even work on rewarding each animal for calmly sniffing the other animal’s scent in the environment, and make it a positive experience.

 

During each feeding, gradually move the dishes closer to the door only if each animal is remaining calm and comfortable. If you are seeing stress or discomfort between the animals, move the dishes farther away and work at this distance while very gradually moving the dishes slightly closer during each feeding. Once each animal can eat close to the door without any issues, you can move onto Step 2.

 

*Please note: While you are working on Feeding Behind the Door and Scent Swapping, it will be important that you work on obedience with your dog daily, which will then be applied when working around the cat. Work on cues like “sit”, “down”, “look at me”, “come”, and “stay”. A great cue to work on with your dog is a ‘place/go to your bed’ cue to teach them when to go relax and be stationary in one spot. To see how to work on some obedience cues, please check out this Youtubers channel with tons of great videos on training your dog! https://www.youtube.com/user/kikopup/videos

Step 2: Some Visual Access While Desensitizing

Now that each animal has been able to eat on opposite sides of the door comfortably, you can move on to allowing them to safely see each other at a distance. To do this, set up a baby gate at the doorway to the cat’s room. If you have someone to help, they can desensitize and help treat your cat at a distance away from the gate, while you work with your dog at a distance. If you don’t have anyone to help, you can give your cat something valuable to keep them busy while you work with your dog (such as a bowl of wet food or high-value cat treats). Keep in mind that during each session you’ll want your cat to start far away while getting gradually closer, ensuring they have something to keep them busy will be important.

 

Have your dog on a leash far enough away from the gate that they can see the cat, but aren’t close enough that they get too curious and overexcited. Play the LAT (look at that) game, teaching them every time they look at the cat but remain calm, they get a treat. You’ll need to ensure your dog is staying under threshold when doing this exercise. Consider at what point your dog notices the cat without becoming fixated or reactive, and still responds to you when you say their name. That is their threshold. Each dog has a different threshold. For one dog, 4 feet away from the cat might be their threshold; for another dog, it might be 20 feet. Find the distance your dog is calm at and start here. Have some high value rewards on you (like small pieces of cheese or unseasoned chicken) and have your dog sit. Wait for them to look at the cat, then reward as soon as they do. Whenever they make eye contact with the cat, praise and reward with a treat. Your timing is important. You don’t want to wait until your dog starts becoming too focused or reactive (and accidentally rewarding them for this behaviour), you simply want to have them look and instantly give them a treat. After many repetitions of rewarding them for calmly looking at the cat, work on having them look at the cat but then looking back at you when asked (you may need to hold a treat between your eyes, take a step back, or make kissy noises so they focus on you), and reward them for focusing on you instead and disengaging from the cat. Depending on the dog, this process may go smoothly within the first few sessions, or may need multiple desensitization sessions working at a distance, until you’re able to get closer. Only get one step closer if the dog is remaining calm and able to focus on your directions. Take your time with this, don’t rush this process. Patience pays off. It’s always best to end your sessions on good notes between both animals. Short sessions are much more advantageous than longer sessions.

 

Be sure to also keep track of how close you are getting, and if at any point your dog starts becoming too fixated or reactive, simply go further back and work at this point until you can gradually get closer. This process can take days or weeks, so do not rush it. While getting closer to the door be sure you’re having your dog follow some commands like sitting, coming when called, or lying down near the gate while rewarding heavily for remaining calm around the cat. Once your dog can get close to the gate while seeing the cat and remaining calm (and possibly even sniffing calmly through the gate), you can move onto Step 3.

Step 3: Desensitization Work with Cat Loose

Now that each animal has seen each other behind a barrier while remaining calm, it’s time to work on viewing each other without a barrier in place. If you have more than one cat, it will be best to work on this step with one cat at a time until your dog is interacting with each cat separately without any issues, then working up to both of them out together. Remove the barrier and have your cat at a distance. Have your dog on leash and have them at a safe distance away from the cat. You can give your cat some wet food in a dish so they remain stationary, until moving up to having your dog see the cat moving around. Work on the LAT game while, again, working at a distance that helps keep your dog under threshold. If your dog is having a hard time getting closer to the cat without becoming too over-aroused or escalating too much, you may need to go back to working on training behind the baby gate until they can get close and see the cat without having a negative reaction.

 

IF AT ANY POINT DURING THIS PROCESS YOU SEE CONCERNING SIGNS LIKE:

  • Baring teeth

  • Snapping towards the cat

  • Stiff/freezing around the cat

  • Lunging with a stiff or tense body

  • Deep growling

  • Low body stalking

  • Fixation and not breaking hard eye contact

  • Attempting to bite

PLEASE SAFELY SEPARATE THE ANIMALS AND CALL US FOR FURTHER GUIDANCE!

 

During the time your dog is out with the cat, work on allowing them to get closer as long as they’re able to respond to your directions and aren’t displaying concerning body language. You’ll want to desensitize them to the cat in every part of the home so they learn to be appropriate at all times. Once they are able to go up to the cat and sniff, keep it very short and sweet (just a few seconds) and call your dog away while giving them lots of treats, ensure your dog is learning not to focus on the cat too much and to come back to you when called. The more you can work on teaching your dog obedience when around the cat and the more positive associations you make between the animals, the more successful and comfortable they will be together. Depending on how your dog responds to the cat once out together, you may need to work in multiple short sessions a day while keeping them separated at other times, then gradually working up to them being out together for longer periods of time. For the first few days of your dog and cat being loose together, it will be important you keep a leash on your dog while holding it to help teach them how to behave around the cat as well as continuously implementing proper obedience. Once they seem more comfortable with each other, you can still keep a light leash on your dog but let it drag behind them in case at any point you need to pick it up and redirect them as needed (just be cautious of kitty thinking the leash is a toy!).

Things to Keep in Mind…

  • Having a cat and dog together can be a wonderful thing, but in order for them to have a successful relationship together, proper supervision and management is crucial. At any point things can turn sour, so be sure to never let your guard down and always work on building good associations between the animals when they are out together. Some examples are: having them engage with fun interactive toys together at a safe distance in the same room; have someone work on obedience with the dog while someone else is working on obedience with the cat in the same area (yes, cats can learn to ‘sit’ and ‘come’ for treats!); and giving each of them treats when they interact in a positive way. The more positive associations they have together, the better.

  • Cats run, and dogs chase. Never allow your dog to chase the cat! This is a HUGE risk factor and becomes easily reinforced for the dog as the cat continues to run and the chase continues to happen. Even if a dog’s intentions are playful, they can still accidentally injure or kill a cat due to the size difference. If a dog is chasing the cat they should immediately be interrupted and redirected away. Working on a strong “leave it” and a strong recall is vital, and should be put in place when working around the cat. Some dogs may also have a stronger prey drive when around small animals and display behaviours such as stalking, excessive chasing, or overall fixation. While some dogs with prey drive can learn how to act appropriately when around the resident cat, sadly not every dog can and it can become a very dangerous situation. If you’re concerned you may be noticing prey drive behaviours in your dog, it will be best to reach out for further guidance.

  • Ensure you give your cat lots of vertical surfaces to climb! The more shared floor space the dog and cat have together, the greater chances of them coming in contact with each other throughout the day. Animals like their space, and in order to have harmonious living, we need to provide that for them, especially if your cat is feeling stressed or uncomfortable around the dog. Making sure you have tall cat trees around the home, tunnels to hide in, vertical shelving to climb, and even setting up a baby gate or two that the cat can jump over but the dog can’t. Check out the link underneath on ideas to add vertical space!

  • Do not leave them unsupervised until they are completely fine together without any tension or issues (this can take months or longer, do not let your guard down!). Even when you do leave them alone together, you should set up a camera or video recorder in the home, step out just for a few minutes and see how it goes, then increase time very gradually until you’re comfortable with them being alone together for longer periods of time. In the meantime, when you can’t supervise, the cat can go back into their safe room to prevent further issues.

  • While this process is the same with kittens in the home, you must be even more cautious when introducing a dog to a young kitten, as they are much more fragile and can easily be injured or traumatized. Take even more precaution in these scenarios and supervise vigilantly.

  • Keep a routine and ensure you still spend quality time with your cat. It will be crucial to make sure your cat still has structure in their daily routine as any kind of serious change in their lifestyle can cause added stress. Ensure you are still having play sessions with your cat, spending quality time with them, and even providing enriching toys for them to interact with.

  • If you are constantly stressed or punishing your dog when your cat is nearby, such as keeping the leash taunt, popping the leash or yelling at him/her – your dog may come to associate these negative experiences with your cat and redirect aggression towards them. Be sure to take your time with the step by step process and only proceed when improvement has been made.

Important Resources to Check Out