| Sarasota Herald-Tribune
Question: We’d like to bring a cat into our home, and we already have a 2-year-old mixed breed dog. What’s the process for acclimating a dog and a cat?
Answer: Contrary to what cartoons taught most of us, dogs and cats are not natural enemies. Guaranteed, any dog or cat who has a severe reaction to the other has had a bad experience in the past. This is why a new kitten and a little puppy, once introduced, pretty much develop into the best of friends of their own volition.
If your dog is fairly laid back and doesn’t have a lot of “prey drive,” getting him used to a cat will be easier. It will be up to you to protect your new kitty and set up introductions carefully so that she feels safe and has a mellow experience getting acquainted with your dog. For the record, holding your cat to force interaction, or in any way restricting her, is a very bad idea.
I would suggest preparing for the arrival of your new cat by brushing up on Max’s obedience skills. Two exercises that are important for him to do well when cued are “come” and “leave it.” These skills are really helpful for making boundaries if he gets overexcited around the kitty.
Naturally, you want their initial meeting to be as stress-free as possible. At first, confine your new cat in a room with her food, water and litter box. Use a baby gate in the door, and walk your dog on the leash slowly by the doorway a few times each day for a couple of days. If it was me, I’d probably do it at least 10 times a day. Your new cat has to set the pace. If she wants to run and hide under the furniture when you and the dog walk by, let her. This just means your introductions will take longer.
Taking things slow now will build a nice foundation for the future. Cats can take a long time to form relationships with other animals. Praise and treat Max for calm behavior, and toss the cat a treat as well. This way, they associate each other with treats and praise. If your dog overreacts to the cat, distract him and get his attention focused on you. So much of how well this goes, depends on the excitability of the dog.
Next, you can start to introduce her to your dog through the baby gate. Have treats for both of them. I’d start by presenting Max’s rear end to the cat for a few seconds. Then you can let them get nose to nose for a few seconds. Treat and praise for civil behavior. If Max starts to get antsy, give him the “sit” or “down” cue, and reward for compliance. Keep these interactions as brief and positive as possible.
Since cats are usually more fragile, the whole exercise should be based on deferment to her. The cat should be free to approach the baby gate to get closer to the dog or to retreat as she desires. Reward her any time she approaches the baby gate by tossing her treats. The next thing you should do is have them swap rooms for a day to acquaint themselves with each other’s scent.
If your cat doesn’t seem afraid of Max as you pass by the doorway of her room, or if she shows an interest in hopping the gate, you can introduce them in your living room or other large room. Make sure she can get away from him during the introduction. She should always have the leeway to run and hide, slip under a piece of furniture or jump up on something higher than him.
Use the “come” and “leave it” exercises if he starts nosing her or following her and she seems irritated. Finally, don’t get in a hurry. This will take a little bit of time, so patience is really important here.
Originally from Louisiana, Gregg Flowers is a local dog trainer who “teaches dogs and trains people.” Contact him at [email protected] or dogsbestfriendflorida.com.