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Tips for Introducing a New Dog to a Household with Cats

By Langley Cornwell

We have a cat and a dog, and they are best friends. The introduction was easy for us; we rescued the animals together, so they were getting accustomed to us, our home and each other at the same time. It worked beautifully. But what do you do if you already have cats and want to adopt a dog?

Cats and dogs can live together in harmony, even if you bring them into the household at different times. Much of their long-term relationship depends on the manner in which they are introduced to one another. As long as you are patient and mindful of each animal’s natural tendencies, the transition should be fairly peaceful.

The initial meeting of an adult cat and a puppy

If you have an adult cat that has no experience with dogs, introducing her to a rambunctious puppy requires extra care. Keep these tips in mind:

•  Put the pup on a leash during their first encounter. Keep the leash loose enough for the dog to behave naturally, but make sure you are in control of the meeting.
•  Allow the dog and cat to sniff each other – it’s an important aspect of their initial meeting.
•  Try not to overreact to hissing, growling or barking, which are typical ways for new animals to communicate. Be ready to separate the animals if the hostility escalates.
•  Puppies are naturally energetic; their overzealous behavior can trigger a quick and serious attack from a wary cat. Stay alert.

If none of these tips work, separate the animals with a crate, baby gate or in rooms with an adjoining door where they can sniff each other under the door. Keep them separate for a few days, allowing them time to become acquainted without coming into full contact with one another.

Training and reinforcement

It’s important to enroll the puppy into obedience training classes immediately. Commands like leave it, down and stay are especially important. Leave it will come in handy when you want the dog to leave the cat alone. Down and stay are helpful if the dog becomes overenthusiastic and the cat needs a break. 

Positive reinforcement for good behavior will teach the dog and the cat what you expect of them. Observe their interaction so you notice when they act appropriately. Praise the dog when he doesn't chase the cat around the house, barking. Likewise, praise the cat when she's gentle with the dog. Have plenty of dog treats and cat treats on hand. Reward your pets with CANIDAE Snap-Bits™ or CANIDAE TidNips™ when they behave calmly towards one another. Praise and reinforcement are vital in teaching your pets to repeat good behavior instead of engaging in undesired actions.

Organizing your home

Arrange your living space to accommodate the needs of both animals. Make sure each has a place of their own, where they can retreat for safety and privacy. Early on, confining the dog may be necessary at times, so the cat can roam the house surveying his territory. When the dog is in a crate, behind a baby gate or in an exercise pen, the cat is free to safely investigate his physical space and get comfortable with the new family member.

Make sure the cat has several escape routes so she can quickly get away from the dog. Our cat runs behind the TV stand when he needs a break; it’s easy for him to get back there and the dog can’t reach him. Perch ledges are a good option for a safe get-away. My friend has a cat door that’s too small for her dog to get through. The door leads to a bedroom where the cat can relax peacefully. 

In the beginning, separate the animals physically when you leave them unattended. When you’re out of the house, the dog and cat should be separate but both should have access to their own water, a comfortable resting place and some toys. Additionally, the cat must have access to a litter box.

During mealtime, feed your pets where they can feel safe and relaxed. If an animal thinks their food is being threatened, they will become stressed. Stress can lead to hostility and/or digestive issues. In the beginning, we fed our cat and dog in separate areas but now they eat near one another without any issues. 

Social hierarchy

Remember that you are the ultimate pack leader. When introducing pets, be positive, authoritative and confident. Animals are intuitive; they will pick up on your thoughts and feelings by the way you act towards them. 

Social order is important to dogs and cats, but for different reasons. Cats are focused on physical place while social place is more important to dogs. The dog must accept that the cat will be dominant over the household/territory. There’s not much you can do to help this process along other than consistently reward good behavior. Once the animals work this arrangement out, the relationship typically begins to solidify.

Practical considerations

•  Give the dog plenty of exercise to expend his energy. That way, he won’t channel his excess energy into bothering the cat. We always say a good dog is a tired dog.
•  Keep the cat’s claws clipped so if they do connect with the dog, the damage will be less severe.
•  Pay plenty of attention to the resident cat(s). Be careful not to shower all of your attention on the new pet.
•  Understand that the dog and cat may not become buddies right away. The relationship will develop at their own pace.
•  Realize that some dogs and cats will never become best friends. That’s okay as long as they tolerate one another reasonably well and the household is harmonious. 

Photo by Scott Kinmartin

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