by Janine DeVault
We’ve all heard horror stories about cats and dogs fighting like, well, cats and dogs. But is it possible for them to live together peacefully?
While there is never a guarantee that two animals will get along, there are certain things you can do to help your pets get off on the right foot. In this article, we’ll cover how to successfully introduce a cat to a dog, how to support them as they adjust to life together and when it’s time to intervene.
How to Introduce a Cat to a Dog
A well-managed introduction can do wonders for helping your cat and dog get along in the long run. Instead of bringing home a new dog and letting him loose in the house with your cat, introduce your pets in stages.
In fact, do your best to keep the pets separate for as long as a day. This will allow each of them to adjust to one another’s scent. Your dog will begin to get his bearings in the new environment, and your cat will have a chance to slowly acclimate to the changes.
When it is time for your pets to meet face to face, keep the initial introduction brief. Keep your dog on a leash, and make sure there is a clear exit path for your cat.
Your cat will likely be unwilling to approach your dog. This is fine. Let your cat adjust to your dog at his own pace. Do your best to keep your dog calm and prevent him from lunging at your cat. Speak to both pets in a soothing tone, and praise them when they exhibit behaviors you approve of.
Depending on how well the first meeting goes, you may need to repeat introductions frequently over a few days.
Once your pets seem more at ease with one another, you can stop keeping them separated.
How to Curb Aggressive Behaviors
If you notice your pets exhibiting aggressive behaviors toward one another, separate them. While it’s normal for your cat to set boundaries by hissing at your dog, you do not want either pet to incite a fight. If you notice their interactions escalating, separate them so they can decompress.
In many cases, aggression can be corrected with training. It may be a matter of teaching your dog not to chase your cat or helping them navigate territorial issues.
Create Safe Spaces for Each Pet
Even if your dog and cat seem to get along, it is wise to create spaces for each of them where they feel safe and relaxed. This may mean designating a room in your home that is off-limits to your dog. That way, your cat knows where he can go for some peace and quiet.
Alternatively, ensure your cat has sanctuary spaces throughout the house. Your cat will feel safer knowing that he has a resting spot out of your dog’s reach. Cats are generally good at setting boundaries, so in time he will teach your dog to respect his safe spaces.
It’s important to create a space of reprieve for your dog, as well. This may be as simple as buying him a bed and placing it somewhere he feels comfortable. Or, you may wish to create a cat-free room in your house where your dog can lounge freely.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement is the key to dogs and cats living together successfully. Every time your pets exhibit the type of behavior or interaction you want to maintain, be sure to praise them. In time, with plenty of repetition and consistency, they will learn what is acceptable and what is not.
In the beginning, it is wise to conduct training sessions with your pets. This will help you create opportunities for them both to exhibit the types of behaviors you want to see more of. These sessions can be as simple as bringing your pets together, monitoring their interactions and praising the behavior you like. For instance, if your dog is prone to chasing your cat, reward him every time he resists the urge to do so.
Remember, Good Things Take Time
It’s important to have realistic expectations when it comes to dogs and cats living together. Of course, there’s a chance that they will get along famously from the moment they meet, but this is not likely to be the case. It may take many months before a steady equilibrium is established. And don’t be afraid to enlist the help of a trainer if you feel that you need additional support during this process.
It may be a bumpy road, especially in the beginning, but with consistent guidance from you, your dog and cat will surely learn to get along.
Janine DeVault is a pet care writer, animal rescue advocate and former celebrity dog walker. She lives in Mexico with her three rescue pets, Maia, Fozzy and Kesi.