Dogs and cats… each makes a terrific companion for you, but they don’t always live in harmony together. You’ve probably heard the expression “fighting like cats and dogs” before, right? While that can certainly be true, there are steps you can take – starting with the first introduction between the animals – to foster a loving relationship.
Before you schedule the first meet and greet between your two pets, learn their body language cues.
Happy cats will purr and rest with their feet tucked under their bodies, maybe with their eyes half closed. They’ll rub up against you and act with an overall calm demeanor. Cats who are agitated will pin their ears back or puff up their tails. They may growl or shriek, or roll onto their back or side so that they’re ready for an attack, bearing their teeth and claws.
Happy dogs will be loose in their body and tail, maybe with a tongue hanging out. They may be playful, but will alternate between a chase and be chased posture. Dogs who are displeased may stiffen their body or tail, fixate on the other animal, and stare. Dogs may also bark and whine if they’re upset.
While these are standard body language cues, your pet may have a unique signal for you to watch out for, so be sure to know what the warning signs are before you schedule an introduction.
Making the Introduction
When it comes time to make the introduction between your animals, there are a few different options to consider.
Desensitizing Your Dog
In some cases, your dog will be so fixed on the cat that you’ll need to desensitize them so that you can make a controlled introduction. This usually starts with sequestering the cat in a room so that the dog can get used to the cat being in the house, while creating a bit of separation. Set the cat up in a bathroom or spare bedroom with all of their needed supplies (water, food, litter, toys, blankets). Feed the dog right outside the door, so they begin to associate positive rewards with the smell of the cat. After a couple of days, swap the blankets of each animal with the other animal’s bedding so that they can continue to get used to the smell of the other animal. Slowly start to let the dog see the cat without getting to the point of overstimulation, so that by the time they are both allowed to be free in the same room, the dog is disinterested or otherwise not excited by the new animal.
If your dog has a naturally calmer demeanor, you can try a face-to-face introduction right away. Keep the dog on a leash and let the cat walk around the dog, getting acclimated. If the cat’s body language stays calm (see body language above) and the dog is able to remain controlled, responding well to commands and direction from you, perhaps even lying down, then the dog should be rewarded for ignoring the cat. Ultimately, the goal is for the cat to be close to the dog, sniffing it even, without eliciting a reaction from the dog. If the dog lunges, this method likely will not work right away and you should try desensitizing it before making another introduction.
If after desensitization and a face-to-face introduction, the dog is still unable to remain calm around the cat, it’s best to consult a professional, certified trainer to discuss a more structured training regimen for your dog. This doesn’t mean that the two animals will never be able to live in harmony together, but you will need to keep them separated until you know they’ll be safe when left alone together.
Sources: https://www.americanhumane.org/fact-sheet/introducing-dogs-to-cats/, https://www.petmd.com/cat/slideshows/15-signs-your-cat-happy, https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/common-cat-behavior-issues/aggression-cats