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Introducing dogs and cats

As published in Canadian Dogs Annual
Introducing dogs and cats

Dogs and cats may not seem compatible, but many people have both. But too many pet owners put up with their pets acting out or hiding because they don’t like each other.

Does this describe you? Solve these problems and help your dog and cat live in harmony in just a few simple steps.

1. Assess the animals

Has your resident dog or cat ever been around the other species? How about the pet you are acquiring? How did they react? A good relationship with a previous pet is a good sign, but doesn’t guarantee the same results with a new one. Err on the side of caution and assume the dog may want to injure the cat, even if you know the dog was friendly with other cats in the past.

2. Start slow

Allow the dog and cat to hear and smell each other, but not see each other. Confine the resident pet to one part of your house when you first bring your new dog or cat home. Allow the newcomer to explore his new digs while your resident animal is safely confined.
Take an old towel, rub it on your new dog or cat, and put it in the room where you’ve confined your resident animal.

After an hour or two, reverse the arrangements, including the scented towel. Repeat this process throughout the first day, and during the entire time your pets are housed separately during the acclimation period.

Feed the animals on either side of a closed door so they will learn to associate pleasant experiences with one another. Your goal is to have them calmly eat with the bowls very close to the door.

3. Let them interact

Continue keeping them separated until their interest in each other’s scent and presence at the door wanes. Next, arrange an episode where they can see but not touch one another. This might be through a glass or screen door, or on either side of a baby gate, or with your pets on leashes or in crates.

Encourage the animals to lie or sit quietly, using treats, toys and/ or petting. If anyone seems uncomfortable or overly excited, either increase the distance between them, or calmly end the session and try again later.

Once they are relaxed, allow a bit more interaction. Attach your dog’s leash to a couch or chair and allow the cat to approach him at her own pace. Interrupt over-exuberant or aggressive behavior with a squirt of water.

A dog’s reactions usually fall into several categories:

• Some immediately view cats as prey and will chase them with intent to hurt them.
• Many will be intensely curious about the cat. That curiosity can turn into playful, friendly behavior, or aggression, depending in part on the cat’s response.
• The dog may start out just wanting to play, but the cat feels threatened and behaves aggressively. This may in turn provoke an aggressive response from the dog.
• A few dogs will immediately love the cat and be calm and relaxed in her presence.
• Some dogs will even be afraid of the cat.

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Dr. Suzanne Hetts is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviourist and co-owner of Animal Behavior Associates, Inc. in Denver, Colorado. For behaviour assistance and education, visit AnimalBehaviorAssociates.com.