Introducing Your New Dog to Cats
You’ll need a highly controlled environment to introduce your new dog to a cat. The dog should be in a crate or confined to a room by a baby gate ‘and’ on leash, while the cat is allowed to pass by. This will give you an indication of how high a prey drive your new dog may have. Keeping the dog on leash will ensure the cat’s safety, should the dog suddenly wish to pursue.
The leash also allows you to firmly correct your dog at the first hint of undesired behavior. Your new dog should learn that they are not allowed to stare intensely or pull towards the cat. Distract with obedience work and praise for any other good behaviors and relaxed focus. If it turns out you can’t calm the dog, remove them and try again later-preferably, after the dog has been exercised.
Training a dog to leave small animals alone requires patience, as it can take weeks.
For the animals’ safety, don’t leave them alone together, and separate them at mealtime.
Never unleash the dog around your cat until they are interacting calmly, make sure you are supervising when they are in the same room in case trouble breaks out. Warning signs in cats include a direct stare, elevated hindquarters, and fur standing on end. If the pets seem to be accepting each other, praise each animal and reward them with treats and petting.
Be careful not to praise undesired behaviors. For example, petting and soothing an agitated or growling animal will reinforce the wrong response. Reward only calm, desirable or at least neutral behavior.
A dog with a high prey drive can be taught to coexist with cats; this requires concentrated practice involving the assistance of another person. First, you must train your dog to understand and obey the “Leave it” or “No” command. Put the dog in a sit/stay. The other person stands at a distance, holding or treating the cat. Correct at the start of any undesired behavior and firmly state “Leave it” (or “No”). Praise and treat your dog for remaining calm and in the sit position. When the dog behaves, the dog can move closer; praise or correct the dog as needed. Continue for 15 minutes at a time, and try to end the training session on a positive note.
NOTE: Litterbox accidents are likely, since cats will be disturbed about the newcomer. Your cat may hide or seek higher ground for days or weeks until she is ready to investigate and accept the dog. Make sure your cat has places to retreat that the dog cannot access, especially in an emergency. Also be sure to block the dog’s access to the cat’s food and litterbox.
Your cat may also appreciate attaching a bell to the new dog’s collar to keep track of his whereabouts.