Posted on October 20, 2015: For about ten wonderful years of my life I lived under the same roof as two to three cats and our wonderful indie mix female dog Juni. Juni grew up with my first shelter cat Nim Nim and as time went on the cat brood got bigger (and then smaller) but Juni took them all in her stride. We even moved houses and yet, both the cats and Juni were unfazed. There were some minor skirmishes here and there, when either the cats got the better of Juni or the dog took the cats for a ride but never anything too major. I always put it to Juni’s kind demeanour and the fact that when she came home she was paralysed waist down; that she was so good with the cats and the cats seemed to tolerate her. When a friend asked me recently about how I did it was when I thought about the training and introduction that we had to undertake to get both seemingly warring species to live together under the same roof, as a family.
It helped that we got the animals together when they were puppy and kitten, respectively. It also helped that we had the cat in the house before the dog was introduced. But most cats and dogs can live together just fine. There are exceptions to this - if your cat or dog are too old or sick they may feel threatened by the introduction of another animal. With certain breeds such as border collies and other herding breeds, or hounds such as Afghan hounds and guard dogs such as Rottweilers and German Shepherds, the genetic character makes them unsuitable to be around other smaller animals. They are naturally predisposed to chase/hunt/herd small mammals though this behaviour can be redirected and they may peacefully coexist with cats. Dogs that are friendly and accommodating such as Labradors, dachshunds, St Bernard’s and even desi mixed breeds can be excellent companions for cats. You should always be absolutely certain about your pets’ temperament before introducing another animal into the house. It is dangerous to leave a cat and dog that aren’t used to each other unsupervised in the house.
The younger, more curious and energetic your cat is and the calmer, more obedient and smaller your dog is, the greater the chances of them hitting it off as best pals. Here are some more things that might help to smoothen the relationship between your cat and dogs:
Introductions are everything
As they say, first impressions last the longest, so make sure that your cat is at eye level when you first introduce them. It is usually a good idea to get the cat into the house before the dog, as cats are more territorial than dogs. If the dog perceives the cat as someone who is dear to the pet parent, the dog will naturally take the cat under his or her fold. So when introducing the two animals keep one hand firmly on each of them. Keep your dog on a leash and give the cat enough room to move. Never restrict the cat’s movements. Don’t let the dog sniff the cat without you lightly holding the dog back. If the introductions seem cordial – no one is hissing, growling, looking aggressive or scared – let the two get to know each other as best as they want to while you keep a close eye on the proceedings. If the animals seem aggressive or frightened, immediately remove them from each other’s presence. DO NOT PUSH THEM OR FORCE THEM TO BE FRIENDS. You risk making either animal permanently frightened of other animals if their first interaction is traumatic or chaotic. It may be helpful to run the dog in the park and tire him/her out before making the introduction.
Anticipate reactions and react accordingly
Imagine yourself as a matchmaker trying to set up a date for two very unlikely and completely different people. If your dog has never lived with a cat, he/she is most likely to try to play with the cat as if it were a toy; chase after, hurt or even kill it as if it were prey or avoid it completely to be cautious. If your cat has never lived with a dog or another animal, he/she may react defensively to the dog. Cats are not as social as dogs, so they need to be coaxed into liking other animals. Getting your dog to accept the cat as a friend by not being nervous or unsure around them yourself, is half the battle won. Make sure your energy is open, happy and understanding. Most of all, you need to be patient and set up a neutral meeting and hanging out area for the animals. No one should feel forced out of their territory or like they’ve lost their spot as your favourite pet.
Train both the cat and the dog to be obedient
While I didn’t invest much time into training the cats, we did give Juni a lot of lessons on ‘Come Here’ using her favourite treats. We’d take her to the park, move away from her and tell her to ‘Come here’, rewarding her with treats if she obeyed. It may be a good idea to work with the cat as well. You could try a similar training exercise where you reward the cat with nice-smelling tuna or chicken for coming to you when you call his/her name. If both of them are obedient and attentive, introductions may go smoothly as you would be able to get the animal’s attention in case they behave inappropriately. Remember the cat can also seriously injure your dog with his/her claws.
Never yell or punish
Do not yell at either animal or punish them if things don’t go right. If your dog reacts in an over enthusiastic fashion and scares the cat, remove him/her from the scene by redirecting his/her attention to a toy or treat. Do not scold the dog. Similarly, if the cat wishes to dart away or hide under furniture, let him/her. If he/she hisses and tries to scratch the dog, remove him/her from the scene with a heavy-scent treat or by gently lifting the cat and placing him/her elsewhere.
Be careful, both animals run the risk of getting injured or killed in the process. And most of all be patient, making cats and dogs be friends is doable but you have to act according to the vibe you get from the animals. If things don’t go smoothly one day, try again another day.