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Introducing Dogs and Cats
(by Scotty Valadao & Ady Hawkins)
(Before going this route, or if you are unsure how to handle it or what to do if something goes wrong, it is always a good idea to have a behaviourist on hand at the first meeting at the kennels and when the dog/cat is brought home, so that you receive the professional assistance you may require – our motto – Prevention is better than cure! Please feel free to contact us for a registered behaviourist in your area - www.animal-behaviour.org.za
It is very important to know if the dog will be good with cats and vice-versa. First prize would if the dog has lived with cats before or if the cat has lived with dogs before. Obviously in a welfare situation this kind of knowledge is not always available. If there is no history then you need to, with the aid of the welfare organisation, do some work with both the dog and the cat to see what their reactions are to each other.
Dogs that have had no prior socialisation to cats will either react as if they are another dog or as if they are prey. This means that they will either try to play with the cat or they will give chase. A lot of what happens depends entirely on the cat’s reaction to the dog.
If the dog is relaxed and calm around the cat and does not show much predation behaviour then it will probably be a good dog to learn to live with a cat. Predatory behaviour is an instinctive behaviour and one that is very hard to un-train in a dog. Dogs of this nature make a cat’s life very stressful as they always have to be alert and have a ready available escape route. Living like this also makes it very hard for the family as most times the cat ends up having to be confined in one area of the house with access to part of the garden and the dog has to be confined to another area. The risk, always, is that someone leaves a door open and this could have disastrous effects for the cats. Even if a dog chases the cat but does no harm, it is still a very stressful way for a cat to live. Dogs that have high predatory behaviour have been known to kill cats.
It would, of course, be advisable to go for a dog or cat who are less intense when it comes to each other. It will still take time, hard work and patience but these types will have a better chance of developing an amicable bond.
Adopting a Dog when you have cat/s at home – in the shelter environment:
When assessing a dog’s reaction to a cat make sure that the dog is leashed. Ask the welfare organisation to help you set up a couple of different scenarios.
- With the dog on leash, ask it to sit, treat and then start training the “look” exercise. With the dog in a sit and you standing upright holding the treat to the dogs nose and then immediately up to your nose and when he looks at you, you treat. Repeat this until you can move a few feet in a different direction and the dog follows, sits and immediately looks up at you. You can now bring in the word “look”. Now, every time you say “look” you have the dog’s attention. To make this easier on both yourself and the dog, practice this exercise at home.
- Now you can walk past the cat kennel (at a distance where the dog pays no attention to the cats) and ask the dog to look and treat. Slowly, slowly move closer and closer to the cat kennel and observe the dog’s reaction. If he looks at the cats but immediately when you say “look” he focuses on you then you are off to a very good start. Repeat until you can walk alongside the kennel with the dog happy to look at the cats but also focus on you when asked. http://www.friendsofthedog.co.za/watch-me.html
- The next step is to ask one of the welfare people to put a calm, dog friendly cat into a crate in a quiet area. Put the crate on a raised area so that the dog and cat are eye level to each other. With a relaxed lead let the dog slowly approach the crate and let him sniff. If all goes well ask him to “look/watch” and treat. At the same time the welfare person can be giving the cat treats. Repeat until both cat and dog are relaxed.
- The last scenario would be for the welfare person to hold the cat in her / his arms and allow the dog to approach and sniff. Reward all calm behaviours with treats.
- You can try out No 3 and No 4 with other cats too.
This calm dog is a good option for adoption with cat/s. If at any stage the dog lunges on the end of the leash, if he whines, barks or shows any agitation whatsoever then it is not an option at all and it would be far better to pick a different dog.
If your cat at home has never been socialised to dogs, had a bad experience with a dog or is just generally a more stressed cat that is likely to flee, we would also reconsider adopting a dog. Ask yourself the question “is it fair on your cat to live in a constant state of high alert and panic?”
Once you have chosen your dog and you are waiting to collect him give him and your cat a new blanket each to sleep on for a night or two. Once they have, swap them around so that they can become acclimatised to each other’s scent.
When you take your dog home leave him outside in a part of your garden for a period of time to give him the chance to investigate, eliminate if need be, have some water and to generally settle and relax. When he is relaxed put him on a leash and walk him from room to room throughout the house. Let him sniff around, ask for some sits and looks and don’t forget to treat. In this way you are introducing him to his new home in a calm settled manner. Make sure that there are plenty of windows open for your cat/s and let them come and go as they please. Keep your dog leashed at all times when inside for a day or two and if the interactions with the cats are going well then let him off leash, making sure the cat/s have lots of high places to go to and monitor all interactions. Ensure that the cat/s litter trays, water and food are in an area that the dog cannot get to so that the cat has a “safe space” to go to when needed. The cat/s should slowly start venturing out of their own accord once they start feeling more settled around the dog.
If any intense chasing does happen then interrupt by calling the dog to you and asking for a sit and then treating.
Keep an eye on all interactions for at least 2/3 weeks to see if the interactions are getting better or worse. Make sure that you give the cat/s a lot of attention as the dog is the newcomer and you do not want your cat/s associating him with less attention.
Adopting a cat when you have dog/s at home:
Before starting, it is essential that the dog/s listen to you and we would suggest you bring in the following:
- House Rules – especially the NRM to tell the dogs when they have done something wrong and the ‘work to earn’ using the Watch mentioned below. House Rules
- Leave Cue – essential if a dog gets hold of the cat
- Real Reliable Recall – you have to have this if the dog starts chasing the cat
- Watch Cue - to keep the dogs attention on you, and by turning the head the dog is giving/receiving a Calming Signal.
Ideally when choosing the right cat to adopt it would be best to go for a cat that is more relaxed and laid back or even a kitten. Relaxed cats are less likely to flee and trigger chasing. Shy, skittish cats are not an option. You can ask the welfare organisation to help you assess the cat / kitten’s reaction to a cat friendly dog at the shelter.
Once you have chosen your cat / kitten then buy it and your dog/s a new blanket for a few nights and then swop the blankets around so they can get used to each others’ scent.
Bringing a cat / kitten into a “dog home” can be a potentially dangerous situation and we really would suggest that you get in a behaviourist to assist you, especially at the beginning when doing introductions.
Here are the basic steps:
- Start now by having a room where the cat can be in for at least the first few days in order for it to settle and get used to its new environment. Make sure that the cat has a litter box, water, food and a bed in the room.
- Get the cat used to spending time in a crate. Preferably one of the metal ones that vets have. It would be a good idea to ask your vet or a grooming parlour if you can hire one for about two weeks if you do not already have one. Make the cat’s time in the crate a pleasant one – feed meals in there, get the cat used to the door being shut and have some toys, cat nip etc in the crate. The cat only gets access to these things when in the crate as this will change the cat’s perception of the crate to a rewarding one.
- You can now swap the blankets over so that the animals can scent each other with no danger.
- When the dogs come inside, do not let them have any interaction with the cat, other than to have the blankets and sniff under the door of the room the cat is in.
- With the cat in the room practice the “watch” exercise with the dog/s. Practice this as often as possible. See link above.
- fBefore you start your first introduction make sure that the dog/s has had a good long walk beforehand. They will be tired, serotonin levels will be good and your chances of success are higher. If you have more than one dog it is important to do the introductions one dog at a time.
- Have the dog on lead and place the cat on a low table, in the crate, about eye level to the dog and right across the room. Stand with the dog with high value treats at the other side of the room. Keep on using the “watch” cue and get the dog to look at you and then reward with a treat. Do not move from this position until the dog is completely relaxed. Every time the dog looks at the cat, use the “watch” cue and reward.
- Always end on a good note and most importantly, the second you finish this exercise, the treats stop! This allows the dog to start associating the cat with good things i.e. food and attention from you. Repeat this exercise with each dog.
- As soon as the dog shows he is coping well and is nice and relaxed, take ONE step forward and keep on repeating, calling that session quits when the dog is relaxed. You can do this several times per day.
- You very slowly and gradually work your way up to where the cat is in the crate and allow the dog to sniff. If the dog shows any reactive behaviour at all, give a quick jerk on the lead and give a loud ‘uhuh’ (NRM). The SECOND the dog stops the behaviour, praise and treat. You are now rewarding the behaviour you want. If this situation does occur, just go back a few steps and slowly work your way towards the cat again over a few sessions.
- After you have mastered the above with the dog/s, the next step is to repeat the above, one dog at a time, but this time with the cat sitting on somebody’s lap.
- Next step is you still have the dog on lead, but allow the cat to move around the room freely, making sure the cat has high areas to escape to if needs be. As the cat is new in the home I would make sure that, with the dogs locked outside for a period of time each day, you give the cat a chance (with windows closed) to familiarise itself with the whole house.
Personally, in situations such as these and when this final stage has been reached we recommend that the dog and cat are allowed to be in the same place together but until you are certain of the relationship, the dog is always kept on lead. This is easily achieved by putting on a belt, slipping the loop of the lead through it and walking around with the dog in tow, so to speak. This allows you to praise the behaviour you want and an immediate reprimand if the dog shows any reactive behaviour. This also allows the cat the chance to slowly start approaching the dog of its own accord, secure in the knowledge that it is safe but is also free to find a safe space. Slowly the dog/s and the cat/kitten will get used to each other.
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