If I had a dollar for every rescue dog that “wouldn’t get along” with the cat, I’d be rich. There are a handful of reasons why dogs get bumped from home to home or returned to shelters. If there were a top five list, not getting along with the cat would make the list.
The number one mistake people make when bringing a new dog home is that they just turn the dog loose. Even the friendliest of dogs can do detrimental damage to the well being of your cat’s psyche. Before adding a dog to your cat household, it is important you know the proper steps. It requires your dedication to make sure that your cat feels safe and your dog knows the ground rules for happy interactions.
We asked Paws 4 You volunteer and dog trainer Dee Hoult of Applause Your Paws for some tips to follow during the first month:
• Keep your dog on a leash around the cat. This ensures that at all times during the adjustment period your cat feels safe. If you demonstrate to your cat that you have total control of your dog during the adjustment period, the cat is more likely to let its natural curiosity kick in and will begin to approach the dog on its own. Plus, having your dog on a leash when around the cat gives you the opportunity to quickly correct any unwanted behavior.
• Let your cat call all the shots. Your cat should be the one to initiate all contact with your dog. Crating your dog when you cannot supervise him is a great way to provide a safe opportunity for your cat to investigate the new roommate. Letting your cat call the shots ensures that a friendship will develop over time. Do not get impatient or over-confident and bring your cat in your arms over to meet your new dog. Should your cat become frightened you’ve decreased the likelihood that your dog and cat will become friends in the future.
• Provide a safe zone for your cat where your dog is not permitted. A cat safe-zone can be any room where your cat feels comfortable and should be selected so that your dog cannot see the cat. Your cat will appreciate having a safe place. It’s preferable this is where you keep your cat’s food, water and litter box.
• Do some scent swapping. You can help your animals get to know each other safely by placing a towel in each one’s sleeping area to pick up each animal’s scent. Every few days you should swap the towels so that each animal can sleep on the other’s scent.
When your dog is behaving nicely around the cat, praise him! More important than letting your dog know what not to do is to let him know what is appropriate and excellent behavior around the cat. If your dog watches the cat walk by and doesn’t react, tell him “that’s nice, good boy!” to indicate that being calm was the correct behavior. Dogs should especially be praised for not feeling tempted to chase if a cat begins to run. You can offer food or toy rewards if your dog can remain calm during your cat’s frisky moments.
If your cat wants to hiss or take a swing at your dog, let him! To some of us, it’s uncomfortable to see our cat growl, hiss or puff up their tail. On that same token, it upsets us to see our dogs whimper or yelp. Sometimes some good old fashioned animal-to-animal communication is exactly what is needed. Should kitty decide to take a swipe at the dog, chances are your cat won’t use its claws in full force. But, the act will have given the dog the message it needed to think twice. Your dog may look to you for the appropriate response. Be ready to take sides with the cat and convey with your eyes and body language “that’s what you get if you scare the cat!”
Just like when meeting new people — the first impression is everything. Don’t let your dog make a bad first impression.
To learn more about Paws4You Pet Rescue, research dogs currently up for adoption and find out about special events, go to visit paws4you.org.