Introducing a dog to a previously cat-only household is not as insurmountable a task as it sounds. The biggest mistake owners make is simply walking the new dog in the front door and letting the chips fall where they may. When disaster follows, you cannot simply blame the dog. Cats are frequently the instigators, moving quickly so you don’t see what happened. Of course, a hyper, noisy dog will wreak havoc on the peace of a cat’s castle. Prior to any introduction, your grown dog should have basic obedience skills already such as “sit,” “stay,” “leave it,” and “come.” If not, or if you have a puppy, begin training immediately.
Ever so often you come across a dog that cannot be trusted around cats. It’s fairly uncommon, but when you have a dog that really does hate cats, it is not a matter of simple retraining. A true hatred of cats means you absolutely cannot trust the dog around cats, period. In these cases, you must make a decision about where to place the dog. Take the time to find them a loving, cat-free home. If you purchased the dog from a breeder, contact them and try to return the dog to their care.
It is important you understand the difference in how cat’s and dog’s personalities vary. Cats are solitary creatures, preferring to come and go where they want, when they want, and solicit attention at their discretion. They value physical space. Contrarily, dogs are pack animals. Dogs value time spent with and close to their pack, and do not understand the concept of alone time or personal space.
Before introductions, create a place your cat can retreat to, preferably high off the ground, where the dog cannot reach, or climb. Move the litter box and food and water dishes to a location the dog will not enter such as the laundry room. Many dogs will steal cat food and even eat feces from the litter box.
The key to a successful first encounter is controlling the situation. That means keeping constant physical control of your dog, either by putting them on a leash or inside a crate. Although crating can be effective in more extreme cases, it is simpler to use a leash so your dog still has the freedom to move around their new environment while keeping you right by their side the entire time. Of course, if you are introducing a puppy to your cats, you should be utilizing a crate anyway for other training needs. You can move your puppy or dog to a leash after they spend time crated calmly in the cat’s presence.
When you first bring the dog into the house, leave the cats in a separate area. Having the cats or dogs run at one another the instant the front door opens is a recipe for disaster. Let your dog explore while on the leash. Leave the cat in its own room where it has access to its litter, food, and water for a few days, letting them smell and hear one another through the door without actual interaction. Do not allow the dog to growl or bark. How you correct misbehavior depends on how you have trained your dog. A short, sharp yank on a choke chain or the use of a spray bottle filled with lemon water are two possibilities.
After a couple days of sight unseen interaction, make on-leash introductions so long as the dog is not trying to growl or bark at the door anymore. Have your dog sit or lay down, although for many dogs lying down in the presence of a cat may be too overwhelming at first.
If your dog makes any aggressive movements such as growling or lunging, correct them immediately with a quick, sharp downward tug on their leash. They should be wearing a choke chain, but be sure you buy a properly fitted collar and know how to use it without hurting your dog. Prong collars are not necessary. When your dog returns to their well-behaved position, compliment their good behavior verbally along with a small treat or simply a gentle pat. You should also discipline your cat’s poor behavior and reward good. A squirt bottle is the easiest way to punish your cat for taking a swipe at the dog, and, depending on the cat, either praising with pets or kitty treats. Remember to keep your cat’s nails clipped to minimize potential damage.
When both animals are behaving calmly, drop the leash. Let the dog roam the house, but stay nearby. If there is a problem, you can step on the leash. Once you are confidant neither pet will threaten nor attack the other, remove the leash.
Unsupervised time together should occur only when your household is consistently incident-free. When your dog and cat are living in harmony, you may be surprised to see them sleeping and playing together. A multi-species household is not impossible to come by, and the rewards are great. It is possible to successfully introduce a dog into your cat household as long as you are willing to be patient. When you are rewarded with a harmonious home for years to come, your weeks or even months taken in introductions will clearly be well worth it.