How to Train Your Dog to Accept a Kitten

How to Train Your Dog to Accept a Kitten
Medium difficulty iconMedium
Time icon1-2 Weeks
Behavior training category iconBehavior

Introduction

You want to add a feline furry, friend to your family, but your family already contains a dog, who happens to have very little experience with cats. Is there any hope of integrating a new kitten into your home, in a way that is peaceful and safe for all parties involved? 

The answer is yes! Thousands of households contain cats and dogs, that get along just fine. These housemates can even become quite attached to each other, playing together, sleeping together, and providing excellent company for each other. However, when adding any new member to the household, especially a kitten, you will need to ensure the introduction is conducted in such a way as to create a positive experience, so that your dog will accept the kitten and both kitten and dog are not stressed, frightened or injured in the process.  

Dogs can have a tendency to view small critters as prey, so you will need to ensure that your dog does not make this mistake upon introduction of a new kitten. Also, remember that the kitten itself can be aggressive and lash out in defense if it perceives a threat, even when one is not present. Precautions to control the kitten's perception and reaction to being introduced are also necessary when teaching your dog to accept a kitten.

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Defining Tasks

You will want your dog to react calmly around your new kitten, not rushing the kitten, crowding it, mouthing, pawing or otherwise invading the kitten's space. A cat or kitten will often see the above behaviors as threatening and will either flee, creating an opportunity for your dog to establish that he is a great toy to chase, or fight--neither of which is conducive to a happy, peaceful home. Both behaviors can result in either the kitten or your dog being injured. A feisty kitten can scratch a dog's nose or eyes, resulting in injuries, and getting the kitten-dog relationship off to a poor start. 

Before introducing your dog and kitten you will want to acclimatize them safely to the sights and sounds of each other and control the environment where they are introduced. Your dog should have a good grasp on obedience commands so you can control and direct him during the introduction and while the dog is getting used to the kitten's presence in his home in the first few days. Remember, this is a big adjustment for a dog that is unfamiliar with cats. Controlling the situation and ensuring that positive associations are created will make your dog's acceptance of the kitten, his new companion, much smoother. 

Most dogs and cats learn to cohabitate quite nicely together. A little bit of effort on first meeting to ensure acceptance of your new pet will speed up the process and establish a lasting friendship between your furry friends.

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Getting Started

When teaching your dog to accept a kitten you will need a way to gradually introduce the animals and keep them both safe during the introduction. A separate room to contain your new kitten, barriers, or crates will be useful. Also, if you have a choice, find a kitten that has some spunk, not a frightened or shy, skittish kitten that will avoid your dog and run. A running kitten presents a target for your dog to chase, resulting in a more traumatized kitten and more opportunities for your dog to chase. Take precautions to ensure the kitten does not get chased or injured during introductions. A kitten that stands its ground, or even shows interest in playing with your dog will develop a friendship with your dog faster.

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The Maintain Space Method

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1

Contain kitten

Contain your new kitten in a separate room for the first few days. Put a litter box in the room; this provides the added bonus of letting your kitten become familiar with the location of her litter box, and the sights, sounds and smells of the home.

2

Allow introduction through the door

Let your dog smell the kitten under the door or through the crack. Do not let your dog bark or scratch at the door.

3

Allow to see each other

Put a baby gate or barrier in the doorway and open the door part way so that the dog and kitten can see each other and meet through the barrier. Remember that while your dog may not be able to get over the barrier, most kittens can. You will want to supervise closely when just the barrier is present.

4

Reward calm

Reward your dog for being calm in the presence of the kitten on the other side of the gate.

5

Supervise loose introduction

Eventually, allow the dog and kitten in the same room, supervised. Reward your dog for being calm and not approaching the kitten. Allow the kitten to approach your dog while you reassure and pet your dog.

The Controlled Intro Method

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1

Prepare

Teach your dog a strong 'down-stay' or 'leave it' command. Put your dog on a leash. Have a route of escape for your kitten, like a cat tree or a room with a barrier the cat can easily escape to, but the dog cannot follow.

2

Keep dog still

Ask your dog to 'down-stay' while your new kitten is allowed to investigate the home. If your dog tries to rush towards the kitten to investigate, say “leave it” or “down-stay”, restrain with a leash if necessary.

3

Reward calm

Pet and praise your dog and reassure him for staying in the 'down-stay' position in the presence of the new kitten. Keep the initial introduction short so your dog does not become frustrated, jealous, or over-excited or have an opportunity to intimidate the kitten. Remove the kitten to a separate room or part of the house.

4

Increase exposure

Repeat introducing the kitten, while controlling your dog, increase the length of time your dog is exposed to the kitten. Provide your dog treats to create a positive association with the kitten's presence.

5

Increase access

Gradually take your dog off-leash as he shows calm behavior around the new kitten, continue supervising and provide 'leave it' or 'down-stay' commands as needed until the two animals are comfortable around each other.

The Crate Intro Method

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1

Put kitten in a crate

Put your kitten in a crate, or behind a pet barrier that your dog cannot get through.

2

Introduce your dog

Introduce your dog, while on a leash, to the kitten in the crate or behind the barrier.

3

Allow calm investigation

If your dog barks, scratches or rushes the crate or barrier, reprimand your dog, ask him to 'down-stay' or 'leave it'. Your dog may investigate the carrier or kitten through the barrier but should be calm and not show aggressive or out-of-control behavior.

4

Reward calm

When your dog is calm around the kitten in the container, provide treats and praise. Distract your dog with play with a toy. Repeat over several sessions if necessary until calm is achieved.

5

Increase exposure

Once your dog is calm around the kitten in the container, hold your dog on a leash and let the kitten out of the container or from behind the barrier. Reward calm behavior. Command 'down-stay' for aggressive behavior. Go back to containing the kitten if necessary. Continue supervising and eventually move your dog off leash as he learns to be calm around the kitten out of the container.

By Laurie Haggart

Published: 12/07/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Sydney

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Goldendoodle

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8 Years

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Question

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We recently (2 weeks ago) adopted two kittens. One (oreo- 4 months) gets along with Sydney fabulously. He is calm and tries to play and snuggle with Sydney and she really pays him no attention. The other kitten (Walnut- 3 months) is not so sure about Sydney (70 lbs/gentle but very intimidating size). He hisses and swats at her anytime she gets close. Syndey is obsessed with Walnut and won't leave the basement door. The cats have the run of the basement and are allowed to come upstairs when we are around to supervise. Sydney is not interested in normal things like food and literally just wants to guard the basement door even if oreo is upstairs and trying to play/cuddle. Walnut is very gentle with people and loves to be held. Please help us get Sydney and Walnut to co-exist in a healthy/peaceful way. Thank you!

Dec. 26, 2021

Sydney's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Taylor, For Sydney's end of things, I would work on impulse control in general with pup, by teaching things that increase impulse control and calmness - such as a long, Place command around lots of distractions. Practicing the command until you get to the point where pup will stay on Place while you are working with the kitten in the same room. You can also back tie pup while they are on place - connecting a long leash attached to pup to something near the Place just in case pup were to try to get off Place before you could intervene. This keeps kitty safe while practicing and reinforces to pup that they can't get off the Place. The leash should be long enough that pup doesn't feel the leash while they are obediently staying on the Place because it has some slack in the leash. Reward pup for ignoring the kitten and staying calm while they are in the room, to help desensitize Sydney to Walnut. Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omg5DVPWIWo Mild cat issue - teaching impulse control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWF2Ohik8iM Moderate cat issue - teaching impulse control using corrections and rewards: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dPIC3Jtn0E I specialize in dog training, not cat training, but for the cat, check out these trainers' youtube channels to help build the kitten's confidence around Sydney also. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCheL-cUqfzUB8dfM_rFOfDQ https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAKdgYzfrpEZ-1tQZHPOHZw Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Dec. 27, 2021

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Buddy

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Labrador

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12 Years

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My dog has a slight aggression trait and I was scared to bring my new one year old kitty home. When he saw her, he did not growl, bark, and his fur didn’t raise, but he kept sniffing her and wagging his tail. I took her out of the cage and he was still curious and was licking her then he nipped her. He did not bite but I am scared to let them interact. Does anyone know what this means? Please respond asap.

Nov. 23, 2021

Buddy's Owner

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Alisha Smith - Alisha S., Dog Trainer

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257 Dog owners recommended

Your best bet in this situation is to go with a method to desensitize her to the kitten. Your dog needs to learn that the kitten is just a normal part of the household. So we need to teach her to become less reactive by the kitten. If you are up for this, it is going to take about a month of consistent practice before you see results. You will want to start out by teaching her "leave it". Leave is great for anything you want your dog to leave alone. Instructions on leave it will be at the end of this response. After about a week or so of working on the command, you can start taking her around the kitten while on leash. Any time she even looks at the cat, you give the command leave it. Once she breaks her attention away from the kitten, you reward her with a treat. Ideally, you want to her to be sitting and looking at you. But in the beginning stages, as long as she isn't focused on the kitten, you can reward her. You will literally practice this over and over, while moving closer to the kitten until she is no longer interested in the kitten. While this method takes a while, it is the best in relaying the messages across to your dog. The kitten needs to be left alone! Here are the steps for "leave it" Teaching a dog 'leave it' Teaching “leave it” is not difficult. Begin the lessons inside your home or in an area with very few distractions. Here are the steps for teaching “leave it”: Make sure you have two different types of treats. One type can be fairly boring to the dog, but the other type should be a high-value treat that he finds pretty delicious. You will also want to make sure that the treats are broken up into pea-sized pieces so it won’t take him too long to eat them. Put one type of treat in each hand. If you like to train with a clicker as your marker, you can also hold a clicker in the same hand that holds the high-value treat. Then, place both of your hands behind your back. Make a fist with the hand that is holding the treat of lower value and present your fist to your dog, letting him sniff. Say “leave it” and wait until he finishes sniffing your fist. As soon as your dog is done sniffing, you can either click with the clicker or say “yes.” Then offer him the higher-value treat in your other hand. Repeat until your dog immediately stops sniffing your hand when you say “leave it.” When you say “leave it” and he stops sniffing right away, leash your dog and then toss a low-value treat outside of his reach. Wait until he stops sniffing and pulling toward the treat. As soon as he does, either say “yes” or click and then give him a high-value treat from your hand. Practice this exercise a number of times. Over time, by practicing “leave it,” your dog should stop pulling as soon as you give the cue. When rewarding him with a treat, make sure that it is something good, not plain old kibble. By doing so, you are teaching him that asking him to leave some food doesn’t mean he won’t get anything, but that in fact he might get something even more delicious. When your dog is reliably responding to the cue, you can teach him that “leave it” can apply to other things as well, not just food on the floor. Repeat the exercise with five different items that are fairly boring to your dog. After using five different “boring” items, start using slightly more exciting items. You know your dog, so you alone know what items he would consider more interesting, but don’t jump to high-value items right away. To increase his chances of success at learning the cue, you want to work up to high-value items gradually. If Kleenex or a piece of plastic, for instance, would attract your dog on a walk, don’t start with those. Choose the items based on your ultimate goal: Anytime you say “leave it,” you want to be confident that your dog will indeed leave whatever you are asking him to leave. . The reward he receives when he leaves an item can change as well. If your dog has a favorite toy, squeak it and play for a moment when he comes running to you after leaving the other item of interest. Most dogs love interacting with us, so a moment of praise or play with a toy can be just as effective as a treat. Keep it fun Even though you’re practicing “leave it” as a way to keep your dog safe, you want him to see it as a fun game you play. When your dog is proficient at the game in your home, start practicing in a variety of locations with more distractions.

Nov. 23, 2021


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