For all the times you’ve heard the phrase “fighting like cats and dogs” you’ve no doubt heard of cats and dogs who are best friends. So, what’s the deal? Can dogs and cats live together in harmony or are they destined to clash? Well, not all dogs will get along with cats and not all cats will enjoy life with a dog. However, puppies that were socialized with cats will be more comfortable around cats as adults, and the same is true for kittens and dogs. And some dog breeds are well suited to life with a cat and a few breeds simply aren’t. But for most breeds, if the dog is taught how to interact with the cat and the cat has escape zones, the two species can become fast friends or at the very least live together in peace.
Give the Dog and Cat Time Apart
When adding a new dog or cat to your household, don’t put the two pets together and expect them to work their relationship out on their own. Instead, keep them apart for at least the first few days so they can experience each other’s sounds and smells before they interact. Give each pet their own safe space, such as a bedroom, and alternate who is out in the rest of the house until it’s time to make the introductions.
Before the first meeting, build positive associations with the other animal. Place items that smell like the cat, like toys or a blanket, in the dog’s area. Drop them near the food dish or offer treats when you present them to help the dog link the cat with good things. Do the same for the cat with items that smell like the dog.
After they’ve had a few days to adjust to each other’s smell, try feeding the dog and cat on opposite sides of a closed door. Start with the food bowls a few feet away from the door to ensure your pets feel safe, then slowly move the bowls closer until they are eating right in front of the door. If all goes well, your next step is a face-to-face introduction.
Make Proper Introductions
Your pets’ first interaction can be on either side of a baby gate or screen door. This allows them to see each other without any risk of injury. If they’re calm in that situation, you can bring them together in the same room. Choose a neutral location rather than one of the animal’s safe spaces and let the cat wander free so they can escape if they feel the need. However, keep your dog attached to you by a leash so you can control your dog’s movements and prevent them from chasing the cat.
Keep the meetings short and sweet. Try several of these interactions each day for at least a week. Offer treats to both pets to continue building positive associations with their new housemate. Consider reserving a particularly delicious treat for just these sessions so your pets will look forward to seeing each other.
Train Your Dog to Stay Calm Around Your Cat
Chasing is an instinct for dogs, but you want to prevent that behavior from ever occurring with your cat. You don’t want your dog to learn how fun it can be. Therefore, during your introductions, let your dog know what you expect instead. For example, ask your dog to sit or lie down in the presence of the cat to reinforce calm behavior. You can also ask your dog to stay in those positions while the cat wanders nearby. When you give your dog a treat for those behaviors, you not only reinforce calm, you teach your dog that the cat is a cue to look to you for a reward.
In the beginning, to ensure your dog listens to you, start with your dog as far from the cat as needed. Then slowly move closer. Once your dog is automatically looking to you when the cat is around, it’s time to drop the leash and continue training. Or, for an intermediate step, put your dog on a long line that’s attached to you or a stable piece of furniture. Keep on training until your dog is behaving in a safe and predictable way around your cat. Then you can finally remove the leash or long line and let them roam free.
To help your dog succeed during these training sessions, keep them focused on you rather than the cat. Use your “leave it” cue to tell your dog that the cat is off limits. Then ask for a “watch me” to encourage your dog to look at you instead. With enough training, your dog will begin to look at you when the cat walks by in hopes of earning a reward. However, if you ever catch your dog chasing the cat, redirect your dog to a more appropriate chasing game like fetch or running after a toy.
Long-Term Friendship Between Dogs and Cats
Once your dog can behave appropriately off leash during training sessions, you can start allowing your dog and cat to interact in the same room while you’re supervising. Continue to praise and reward both pets for positive interactions so that those behaviors become ingrained. Until you’re sure of the outcome, which could take a few weeks to a few months, don’t leave them together on their own.
Even when your pets can co-exist without supervision, you still need to consider both animals’ safety. For example, keep your cat’s nails trimmed or covered in nail caps to prevent injury to your dog. And provide your cat with a permanent dog-free space using baby gates or a cat door. The cat’s room should include the litter box along with toys, a bed, a water bowl, and a scratching post. Outside the cat zone, consider your cat’s three-dimensional view of the world. Let them use shelves or tall cat trees to escape any unwanted canine attention. Finally, feed your cat somewhere your dog can’t access such as on a windowsill or in another room.
If you take time with the introductions, train your dog to behave appropriately around your cat, and give your cat a dog-free area, your two pets should be able to co-exist. At the very least they’ll live in harmony, but hopefully as best friends.