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Can Cats and Dogs Get Along?

How to introduce a dog to a cat with the best results possible

Question: My girlfriend will be moving in with me in the next month.  She has a cat, and I have a dog that's a husky mix.  I'm not sure how my dog will react with a cat in the house. He's never been up close to a cat, but there is a neighborhood cat that roams around and every time he sees it he goes crazy and wants to go after it. Knowing this, is it crazy for us to try and introduce these two to each other, or should we be looking to re-home one of them?  

Answer: Cats and dogs can certainly live amicably under one roof.  Some may even become best friends. On the other hand, some dogs may possess stronger predatory instincts and even with the highest level of training can never truly be trusted around cats without supervision.  Since I haven't met your dog it's difficult to say, but here are some steps to consider should you decide to test the waters.

It's important to set up your living environment properly and introduce them to each other through a slow process. Don't just throw them together and hope for the best.  A scared cat will usually try to flee a situation or make herself look like a nasty little demon.  The cat that chooses to flee will trigger the dog's prey drive so you need to set it up in a way where both animals will be safe and can adjust to each other's presence.  

If you have a dog crate, put the CAT in the crate and place the crate in a room away from the dog.  If you don't have a crate, borrow one. Your dog will pick up on the cat's scent and realize there is something new in the house but won't quite understand what it is just yet.

He will be curious and try to make his way toward the room with the cat.  Don't introduce them yet, just let him get used to the new scent, and let the cat get used to the crate. It helps if you have a leash on him so you have greater control.

Once your dog settles down and adjusts to the new scent, you can take him in to the room where the cat is, open the door to the room (not the crate) and let him approach the crate.  It may get tense and noisy, but each animal is safe from any harm (assuming you locked the door on the crate)  Since the cat can't flee, the dog's desire to chase will pass. Both animals will be able to adjust to the others presence. Reward your dog for calm behavior around the cat.  

Next, move the crate to an active area of your house where the dog will pass by freely and often. You are desensitizing them to each other and diffusing their instincts to react.  If each animal can successfully withstand the presence of each other through the crate, you can move on to removing the cat from the crate.  

Make sure you have a leash on your dog when you take this next step  Good obedience on the dog's part will come in handy here.  Put him in a "sit" or a "down."  Open the door and allow the cat to exit on her own.  The key is to keep her comfortable and relaxed.  If she feels threatened she will run and the dog will want to chase after her.  Let them sniff each other.  Cats will usually greet nose to nose, while dogs greet nose to tail.

Again, reward your dog for calm behaviors.  If your dog gets too excited, settle him down by controlling him with the leash and give him a command to follow like "sit" or "down." When the cat decides to move around freely, watch for your dog's reaction. If he gets tense and goes in to a hard stare you must step in and redirect his attention.  Might be worth it for you to introduce the command "Leave It" if he doesn't already know it.

For the next week or two, the animals should only interact with each other when you are around to supervise.  If they have made it through the steps above, chances are they will be just fine together.  They may have an altercation here and there, (like most siblings) but they often can work it out on their own. If you are unable to control your dog around the cat on your own, you might want to call a professional to evaluate the dog and work on these issues more in depth.

Have another dog question? E-mail jenn@bigcitydogs.net.

Jeff Grill March 15, 2011 at 12:21 PM
This is a great response to a question that is asked all the time on the http://www.dog-health-guide.org/dogbehavior.html. Thanks for helping so many owners that love both cats and dogs.
Jenn Guerriero March 15, 2011 at 10:22 PM
Thanks Jeff...feel free to repost!

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