Let’s face it: getting along with one another is tough. We’ve all seen it: cats fighting dogs, cats fighting humans, cats fighting other cats. All of this disrupts the peace of the household. The Perfect Paws Web site describes dogs as social creatures and cats as independent, solitary creatures.¹
However, cats do tend to live in groups. In observing my own animal family (two cats and two dogs), I have seen that this is true! The obstacle to the animals’ getting along lies in the two animals’ dispositions. Understanding each animal’s needs and instincts—and working within them—will allow for a more respectful relationship between cats and dogs.
Introducing a cat and a dog to each other takes gentleness and patience on the part of the owner. Most dogs and cats will take a few days to become acquainted with one another’s scents. The owner can facilitate this process by placing the cat in the dog’s area, making sure the dog is elsewhere. The cat can then sniff around the room, undisturbed, to familiarize itself with a prospective roommate. For the same purpose, place the dog in the cat’s area while the cat is away. After several opportunities to become accustomed to each other’s scent, invite the two animals into the same area.
The first encounter is an important one; setting up the right conditions will result in a more peaceable future for the animals. It’s a good idea to exercise your dog to get him tired prior to this first meeting and to trim your cat’s nails. Praise your dog; give him treats for being a good dog. Redirect him at the slightest sign of his intent to lunge at the cat. Correct his behavior with a positive approach or vocal tone so that the association is a pleasant one. Show your cat an escape route or safe place to hide, preferably up high, out of the dog’s reach. Praise your cat’s good behavior too. It only takes a second for a bad experience to occur, so watch for signs of stress, and separate the animals before an incident starts.
Supervision is needed when placing your cat and dog in the same room together for the first time. Let them see and smell each other for a few minutes, and then separate them from each other. Your cat might hiss and bat at your dog to set distance boundaries. Watch your two pets interact as you increase their time spent together.
Allow this to happen naturally, but watch for excessive signs of stress in both animals. A little stress is good. Hair will stand up, and cats will arch their back, turning sideways (both animals instinctively make themselves bigger). The animals’ eyes will dilate with excitement, and they will stare intently. The tail is a good indicator of whether the meeting is going well (tail up means assertive, tail between legs means afraid, tail in neutral position means relaxed). Dogs tend to become aggressive and exhibit predatory behavior when they are highly excited or stressed. Cats tend to mark their territory with urine, excessively groom themselves, hide, or display aggressive behavior.²
Your dog and cat need to make friends with each other on their own with as little intervention as possible from you. In this fashion, they will learn to respect each other. Watch them play. The dog will jump around and perform a play bow (elbows on the ground and back legs up). Cats will pounce and box. This play should be done in a gentle manner and equally by both players. If for any reason it doesn’t feel right, end the session, and try again later.
Keep in mind the animals’ dispositions and personalities. Some animals have a strong prey drive, some will tolerate each other, and some will become best buds! I can’t stress enough the importance of a slow transition and of lengthening the time of supervised visits until you can finally leave the animals alone together.
Either way, you can help your family pets build a relationship that results in household harmony.