Dogs and cats have been arch enemies for years. Fighting like cats and dogs is a well-known expression used to describe scrappy argumentative behavior. It is assumed that dogs and cats fight! A chase mode usually initiates the fight. Movies have been made about cats and dogs and generally it appears that they cannot get along. Dogs just want to chase cats, but why is this part of their behavior? There are some specific instinctive characteristics to consider and then there is just plain playful behavior. Either one of these reactions could be behind the reason that dogs chase cats.
The Root of the Behavior
Dogs became part of domestic life as hunters and began to integrate their lives with the hunting and herding activities of men. Hunting for smaller animals feels right for a dog that has a natural drive to hunt for prey. When dogs hunt alone, they chase after smaller creatures than themselves as they know they can successfully chase and catch their prey. Something small and furry like a cat will naturally trigger the prey drive in your dog. Instinct kicks in and before you know it, your dog is after a cat. Dogs are more likely to chase cats outside as this resembles their natural hunting environment and therefore it seems right to give chase in the great outdoors. Dogs have a very keen sense of motion and cats are naturally a bit nervous around dogs. Cats will fluff up their tails and hiss and growl around dogs they don’t know. Cats and dogs give off different messages when they meet. Dogs for instance, wag their tails to say ‘Hi nice to meet you.’ When a cat waves its tail around it usually means ‘I am not so happy about something and it could be you — the dog!’ Always be on the look-out for the signs your dog shows around cats and smaller animals. Intercepting a chase behavior before it starts can go a long way to stopping the ’dog chase cat’ scenario. Some dogs are more prone to cat chasing than others. The hound group, bred to hunt and chase, is one group that will be predisposed to chasing cats. Hounds, like the Greyhound, are built for speed and agility. They are quick off the mark and together with their keen sense of smell are easily able to catch a cat. Cats do not like to be chased and luckily, they do have the advantage of being able to shoot up into a tree or onto higher ground for safety. It is also possible in this ‘let’s chase cats’ scenario that your dog is actually just being playful and the cat is seen as a plaything or another playmate. Dogs, especially young dogs and puppies, are very playful. Perhaps your dog just wants to play a game of tag or run around having fun. He sees the cat as a play opportunity and there is nothing sinister in the chase. If the cat is not a willing participant, then let your dog have fun with you chasing a favorite toy or Frisbee. This can lead to a good healthy chase without a furry friend.
Encouraging the Behavior
It can be difficult to decide if your dog likes to play with the cat or to prey on the cat. Lip licking initially and play bowing may indicate playful gestures but lip licking and salivating will give a very different signal. Cats actually don’t like to be chased, so in fairness to the cat, your dog should learn to ignore cats and not to chase them unless the cat initiates the game. Cats and dogs can live in harmony together but it takes time and careful planning to introduce a cat to a doggie household. Meeting through the safe bars of a crate can work well as the dog can see the cat and be rewarded for calm behavior while the cat is also remaining calm because the cat does not feel under threat. Dogs and cats can learn to adapt if you work with your dog on a leash initially. Walk the dog closer to the cat each time and praise and reward for good behavior. Always have an escape exit for the cat. Build on success and take small steps towards your goal. It takes time and patience, but dogs can get along with cats. Working indoors gives you more control of the situation as the dog is less likely to give serious chase to the cat inside. Obedience training is another rewarding way to instill good manners and a positive response from your dog. Ideally, if you can intercept the chase mode with your dog obeying and responding to the sit command, then you remain in control and can put a stop to the chase before it starts. Chasing cats definitely triggers the natural response of chase and fetch that furry bit of fluff running away from him! The prey drive is very strongly imprinted on some dogs, but it can be overcome and these two animals can lead harmonious lives together.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Although cats and dogs are both predatory animals, they don’t have to prey on each other. Their tactics are different. The cat is a stalk and pounce hunter, while the dog is the cut to the chase operator. The idea that the two could get along may seem impossible as often their humans have a predisposed idea that cats and dogs don’t get along. If you remember that the dog is reacting to the chase and prey drive in his mind, then it will be easier to mark this behavior and successfully end the chases. You can replace them with some sort of relaxed play behavior. Cats playing with dog’s tails and dogs curled up on the carpet with a family cat are heartwarming pictures. Obedience training and getting your dog to focus on you will stand you in good stead to arrest this kind of behavior. Always be the leader of the pack and in control of your dog, ready to intercept if the behavior gets out of hand. Generally, most dogs can be prepared to accept a cat, and cats are able to give dogs a hiss and a scratch if they overstep the mark. You will know if your dog has strong urges to chase cats, and should deal with the behavior accordingly. Keep in control of your dog until you are confident he is not a problem around cats.
A domestic situation with both dogs and cats together will not be peaceful unless the animals can get along with each other. Cats have attitude and do not like to be chased. Dogs have energy and are wired for chasing. It is said that dogs drool, while cats rule! But, what about this in fairness to dogs: Dogs give chase and cats can’t keep up the pace!