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Creating a Healthy Dog-Cat Bond in Your Home

With a little planning and effort on your part, your dog and cat can peacefully coexist in your home. These tips can help you get your pets off to a good start at living together under one roof.

Plan Carefully for the Cat-Dog Introduction

A successful introduction between a cat and a dog begins the moment you decide to bring the new pet into your home--not the moment the new pet arrives. This means, from the time you decide you are going to bring home the new cat or dog, you’ve got to create a plan and stick to it. This is not a time to be spontaneous and “see what happens.” Please read through the entire article before you start an introduction between a cat and dog.

You have only one shot at getting the cat-dog introduction right. Don’t blow it.
  • The very first moments in the house together can set the tone for this new relationship and for the atmosphere with family members. Your plan needs to include:

  • Inquiring about the possibility of introducing the animals to each at the location where the new pet is being purchased, before you buy.

At your home, where will the “resident Pat A” be when Pet B is brought home?

If it’s a dog, they should be in their crate or a small, gated room. They should not be roaming around the house or the yard. You may say “my dog has never jumped a fence, busted through a gate, or bit anything or anyone.” Bring a new pet home and all that can change fast--and too often has a tragic outcome.

If the cat is the pet in residence, it could be placed in their pet carrier or left on a high perch tower in the room you will use for the introduction. .

What are My Options for Planning a Cat-Dog Introduction?

Any new pet, dog or cat, has a lot of information to take in when they first enter your home: New people, new home, new sights, scents, and sounds. You don’t need to introduce the pets the second the new family pet walks through the door. For a dog, allow the animal to sniff around--while on a leash that an adult is holding. If the new pet is a cat, you can hold it and move about the home, allowing new people to approach slowly. If you are in a closed room, away from the family dog, you can allow the cat to explore a bit.

You might want to keep your new pets in the same home, but separated from one another for a night or two before you even attempt the introduction. (This will be helpful for decompression, a vital step every new pet goes through after adoption). They will sense one another---don’t worry about that!

Some animal behaviorists suggest allowing the dog and the cat to sniff each other under a bedroom or bathroom door as the first step. This reduces the intensity of visual and olfactory stimulation and can make for a calmer introduction for many pets. Another tip: Let the animals stiff each other’s bedding -- but supervise this--you don’t want your dog to mark the cat’s bed, or vice versa.

Once the pet has been in the home a night or two and is settled into their routine it’s time for a formal introduction. Ideally, you’ll get a ho-hum reaction along the lines of “Oh, it’s the dude from under the door.”

Cat - Dog Meet n Greet: First, Crate the Dog Dogs are more likely to go a bit nutty at the site of a cat. Some see “playmate” for a good game of chase, others may see “toy”, and some dogs may see that cat as “supper” (hopefully, not!). The dog needs to be crated when the cat first comes into its line of sight.

The cat needs to feel safe and confident in the new surroundings. It can’t feel that way--no matter how you hold it or speak to it-- while a dog is staring them in the face.

YOUR JOB: Think carefully about how you can manage dog containment and cat confidence during the first meet n greet between a dog and a cat.

As we mentioned, your dog typically will be more excited than the cat. Please don’t assume the age of the dog makes any difference. Dogs, even the oldest and tamest, can surprise you when it comes to cats in the house !

Remember: if you want a dog and a cat to become friends, you’ll start by keeping the dog from getting in the cat’s space.

Whether you choose the crate or gated areas for the animals to see each other and get a little closer, you must be present the entire time. This is not a job for your teenager or any other child. If the dog is crated, consider keeping the cat on a long leash to walk around the crate.

Have treats for both animals at the ready (in a hip satchel so you are hands free, except for the leash). You can use these to reward appropriate behavior and as a distraction. For your dog, especially, make sure you have high-reward treats!

When the dog comes out of the crate, sit with the cat (still leashed) in your lap. Leash the dog as they exit the crate. Keep in mind that you need two people to do this job right--you can’t hold a cat and a leashed dog. And if your dog is rambunctious, then having them on the leash can be a challenge for a few reasons::

  • You get tired of holding on, which could lead to a slip-up.

  • If you let your leashed dog pull you around after the cat, the cat will feel unsafe, become anxious/fearful, and could bite or scratch someone.

Have a Safe Retreat Ready for the Cat

While most cats will be able to jump and climb up to spots a dog can’t reach, you don’t want any broken vases the day of the greeting. Have a tall cat perch ready for the cat. The faster the cat figures out the safe space, the easier it is for you to keep a peaceful home. A high, safe perch gives the cat that all-important confidence that she’s got some control over the situation, which will allow her to entertain the idea of exploring a friendship.

Know the Body Language of Cats and Dogs

You want to watch for tense, anxious, agitated, and fearful behavior from either the dog or the cat. If your dog’s body goes rigid and he stares intensely at the cat, that’s not a good sign. Remove the animals from the same room. Obviously, teeth showing and growling means this may not be a good pairing.

If your cat’s ears are pinned back, eyes wide, and the tail is waving back and forth, it’s worried about the dog in the room.

  • Remember: depending on the respective size of each animal, a cat can harm a dog as easily as the other way around!

Treats to Reward Calm Behavior Those treats are intended to reward each animal for calm behavior such as:

  • Not barking or hissing relentlessly; hot showing aggression

  • Showing eager, friendly, curious interest

  • Following commands to sit, lay down, and especially if they stay put!

A few tips for treating during the introduction:

  • The moment the cat is in sight, offer your dog bites of the treat that is his favorite, most rewarding (hot dog, cheese, whatever!) Treating in the presence of the cat helps the dog build a positive association with the cat.

  • Use small pieces of treats so you don’t run out too quickly. If your dog is not interested, increase the distance from the cat, reward, ask for tricks if your dog knows them, and reward again.

  • Have one person standing near the cat, offering a sense of security, petting, and treats. If the cat realizes the dog can be in sight without being a threat, she may well go into “boring kitty” mode, which is ideal.

  • Keep the introduction sessions short--five minutes at first for a few days, a couple of times each day. Increase duration to 10 minutes and frequency throughout the day, up to four times a day in the first two weeks.

  • Study your cat and dog’s behavior and use that as the best judge of how much time is enough and how often they should be exposed to each other in the first weeks at home.

  • After introductions or “exposure time,” each pet should go back to their respective “safe zones” in your home.

If you do this right--taking your time, moving at the pace that best suits the animals, then your dog will soon associate “kitty in the room = yummy treat for me” instead of “kitty = chase.” Likewise, your cat will move to her perch for a treat -- instead of having a freak-out and rampage your home at the sight of the dog!

When in doubt, speak to your vet or call a certified animal behaviorist/trainer from the local Wilmington area. Your friendly pet sitters at Kitten Sittin’ of Delaware and Weather or Not are happy to assist with recommendations.

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