Walk the dog back and forth in front of the safe room and reward him when he focuses on you and follows your cues. If he lunges at the baby gate, growls, barks or stops walking to stare at the cat, walk him away from the gate and then back again. He’ll learn calm behavior allows him to stay closer to the baby gate but rambunctious behavior causes him to have to leave the area. Don’t yell at your dog or jerk on the leash during this process – simply walk him away from the area and allow him to try again. If he gets reactive then walk away again. He’ll eventually get the idea that calm behavior is the best option.
Keep Training Sessions Short
Don’t try to do a marathon introduction in one or two days. It’s better to do several short training sessions each day to minimize stress. Try to end on a positive note each time so the animals will be more inclined to advance in progress during the next session.
During the introduction sessions (and it’ll take multiple training sessions), if at any time the dog tries to aggressively go after the cat, or the cat appears totally panicked or dangerously aggressive, then this is not a safe match. If you feel uncertain as to whether the situation might improve, contact a professional trainer or certified behavior expert to work with you.
During the introduction phase keep the cat and dog separated unless you’re there to supervise. Keep the dog on a leash until you’re absolutely sure both animals are comfortable with each other. Never leave the cat and dog unsupervised – even for a few seconds if you’re not sure they have established a safe relationship.
Environmental modifications should be made to ensure ongoing safety, even after the cat and dog are allowed to be loose. Provide plenty of escape options for the cat, such as a tall, sturdy cat tree or other elevated areas where she can go should the dog chase her. Even after the pets have become friends, a cat may find a dog’s play solicitation attempts to be disconcerting. The ability to escape to higher ground must be an option that’s always available.
Nothing is More Important Than Safety
Just because your neighbor’s dog and cat may have become friends in a matter of days doesn’t mean your two will bond instantly. Move at the pace of the most stressed out pet and remember that nothing matters more than keeping everyone safe. If you’re at all in doubt about whether things are going well or you aren’t sure whether you’re doing it correctly, talk to your veterinarian about a referral to a professional trainer or certified behavior consultant. Use common sense and don’t assume the animals will work it out. Tragedies can happen in a split second.
If you have a question about your cat’s behavior, you can find information in the articles on our website as well as in Pam’s books. If you have a question regarding your cat’s health, please contact your veterinarian. This article is not intended as a replacement for your cat’s veterinary care.