Recently, a few of my friends have been introducing their dogs to their significant others’ cats. I’ve done this myself; my two dogs with my girlfriend’s cats, and several clients have needed cat/dog help over the last month.
Tis the season, I suppose?
Whatever the case, let’s talk about cat/dog relations. Here’s my opinion on dogs and cats: No matter what happens, it’s the dog’s fault.
“Now wait a minute!” I hear you cry. “What if my dog’s just trying to play, and hasn’t touched the cat?”
It’s the dog’s fault.
“But my dog didn’t hurt the cat!”
It terrified the cat, even if your dog was only trying to play. It’s the dog’s fault. In fact, if your dog were sleeping, and your cat came up and slapped him in the face, and the dog jumped up which startled the cat, it’s still the dog’s fault.
Here’s the thing: the dog can kill the cat. I heard from someone today whose 30-pound wheaton terrier killed a cat. Even if the dog doesn’t kill the cat, it could severely hurt the cat.
Cats can hurt dogs, too, but it takes a lot more effort, and it doesn’t come naturally to them. Though cats and dogs are both hunters, generations have gone into dogs to make them hunt things the size of cats (and bigger), and generations have gone into cats to make them run from hunters that are bigger than them — which will trigger a dog into chasing them.
What does this mean? It means a dog’s instinct will tell it to chase and play with a cat that runs — and most cats run. When dogs play, it’s essentially hunting (and that’s assuming your dog won’t activelly hunt the cat). Whether or not your dog is being aggressive, your cat is going to be terrified. Cats don’t read dog body language, it isn’t going to look at the dog and think, “Hey, it’s just playing.” It’s going to look at the dog and say, “Hey, this animal is trying to eat me!” whether or not that’s the case. Do you really want your cat feeling that it’s life is in danger?
Further, how do you override the dog’s instinct to chase when the cat runs? It depends, in part, on the dog (and the breed). For instance, my pit bull Lily spent her puppyhood being bullied by a cat; she avoids them naturally, and I only have to encourage that. My king shepherd Cash takes a bit more careful management, but knowing his bloodlines helps: king shepherds are a mix of German shepherds (a shepherding and guard breed), malamutes (which are hunters) and great Pyrenees (herd protectors). Mostly protective bloodlines, but that malamute means that, as much of a wussy baby as Cash is, I make sure that if he gets interested in the cats, I step in.
Now, in general I have a few tips for cat/dog relations.
First, I always recommend introducing dogs to cats on leash. If my dog so much as looks at the cat, even just glancing, I give them a sharp tug. When they look away from the cat, I pet them calmly and tell them they’re good.
This is basically it; I reward the dogs only when they’re ignoring the cats, and they get in trouble when they so much as look at the cats. At some point, you’ll be introducing your dogs off leash; they already have to be so aware to be careful with the cat that if the cat leaps and dashes, we can call the dog off just by expressing unhappiness — and then I’d chase the dog right out of the room to express more unhappiness.
I want my dogs feeling that the cats are the ULTIMATE gods in the household; animals that dogs are wary of are less likely to be hunted.
If you don’t want to supervise your dogs for hours, or they aren’t hunting breeds, another option is to keep the dogs caged/crated to give the cats time to sniff and check out the dogs safely. I’d give the cats several hours, preferably all day (or night), and then I’d still keep the dogs on leash when they first come out, so the cats don’t get scared off right away. Cats that are comfortable around the dogs are less likely to run, which means they’re less likely to be chased.
I’m a dog person through and through, but even I know that my dogs, my darlings, my sweeties, my super fluffy adorable peaceful puppies, are hunters at the root of their nature, and I want my girlfriend’s cats to feel safe. As safe as my dogs do!