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With a full-time job and busy family, many people opt for a low maintenance pet like a cat. But circumstances change and many an animal lover's thoughts then turn to getting a dog. This faces them with the problem of how to stop cats and dogs fighting like...ahem...cats and dogs.
Most dogs can learn to live in peace with a cat, however, some dogs are tougher to train than others. For example, terriers are hard-wired to chase down prey, and seeing a moving target such as a cat, pushes their 'chase' button. If you are in the position of weighing up which dog to get, one option is to make life easier for everyone involved and avoid terrier breeds.
Also, starting out with a puppy is a lot easier than re-educating an adult dog. Puppies that are still within their socialization period (the time when they accept what they see around them as normal) are much quicker to catch on that the cat is a family member and not a toy to chase.
Having a dog get along with cats can mean different things to different people. It might be that 'getting along' simply means ignoring one another in a live-and-let-live standoff. It is a rare dog and cat that will snuggle up together, but anything is possible!
Most pet parents would be happy if the cat feels able to stroll around in a relaxed manner and isn't stressed by the dog's presence. Indeed, to facilitate this you can help by providing cat-friendly walkways that are up off the ground (shelving will do it!) When the cat is able to navigate round the room without touching the ground, then she is automatically more at ease.
Chasing behavior is self-rewarding for a dog. Therefore, it pays to start the training early, indeed before the dog and cat meet. Teaching a good solid "Sit" and "Look" enables you to stop the dog in his tracks or distract him when the cat strolls into the room. Interrupting chasing behavior in this way helps keep everyone happy.
Train the dog in several short sessions a few times a day, but keep things light and fun. Praise and reward the dog when he gets things right, and never punish him for making a mistake.
To train a dog to get along with cats you'll need:
A collar and leash
A friend to assist you
A crate for the dog or carrier for the cat
A squeaky toy or something to distract the dog
The Beef Up Basic Training Method
Until the dog learns not to chase cats, it is your commands that are the dog's self-control. By teaching him a solid "Sit", "Come", or "Look" you can nip chasing behavior in the bud.
Hold a treat in front of the dog's nose, so that it gets his attention. Raise the treat in a slow low arc over and behind his head. As his nose follows the treat, his butt sinks to the ground. Say "Sit" in a happy but firm voice, and give him the treat.
Keep practicing, and as he learns to follow your hand, start phasing out the treat by rewarding the "Sit" at random
Sit in different locations
Once the dog is obeying in a low distraction place, practice with distractions in the environment.
Show the dog a treat to get his attention. Travel the treat in a straight line from the tip of his nose up to the bridge of your nose. Hold the treat between your eyes and say "Look". Then reward the dog.
Extend the look
Expect the dog to hold his 'Look' for longer each time, before he gets a reward. Ultimately he should be able to stare at you for several minutes, which is a great way of distracting him.
The Learn to Ignore Method
Let the dog see the cat
With the dog on a collar and leash, have him sit by your side. Have a friend bring the cat into the room, but at a distance from the dog.
Reward calm behavior
If the dog remains calm, praise him and reward his good behavior.
Label bad behavior
If the dog lunges toward the cat or starts barking, give a swift tug on the collar along with a sharp "Leave it!"
Bring the cat closer
Have the friend bring the cat a little closer. Again, reward the dog's calm behavior. The idea is to teach him that ignoring the cat gets him lots of praise.
Repeat these encounters, taking things slowly. Have the cat ever closer while rewarding the dog's calm behavior. Once the dog no longer pays attention to the cat, you can start supervising sessions with the cat wandering freely in the room.
The Add Crate Training Method
If the cat sprints away, this triggers the dog's prey drive. Aim to avoid this by crating either the dog or the cat (perhaps alternating the two options). For a dog, this means crate training, or using a carrier for the cat.
Dog in the crate
Seed the crate with tasty treats so the dog is happy to enter. Close the door and let him settle.
Allow the cat in the room
Now let the cat into the room to stroll around. If the dog is calm, then praise him and feed small treats into the crate. If the dog reacts, say "Leave It" is a stern voice and turn your back on the dog.
Cat in the carrier
Alternatively, place the cat in a secure carry box. Place the box on a table or chair (up off the ground).
Let the dog investigate
Let the dog approach the carrier calmly (keep him on a lead so he's under control). Reward his calm behavior with praise and treats. If he barks or over reacts say a sharp "Leave it!" and wait for him to calm.
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 10/05/2017, edited: 01/08/2021