We do ‘cat test’ our dogs, but there are never any guarantees. It’s upsetting for the new owners if it doesn’t work out, a task for the volunteers to try to rehome and more upheaval for the dog.
Guidelines to try make the process successful:
- Many dogs and cats learn to live together peacefully. Patience is the key, but knowing that whether or not your pets get along will also depend on their individual personalities.
- Make sure the cat has access to a dog-free sanctuary with a secure door at all times with a litter box, scratching post, water and food bowl and toys. Remove any poisonous plants, medicines, fragile ornaments and hide or tie up cords. Hiding places or tunnels will help the cat feel safer.
- Be prepared to manage your pets’ interactions for several weeks.
- Ideally, your living space should have high areas, like shelving or furniture that your cats are allowed on so they can easily escape the dog if needed.
- Keep the pets separate for at least the first 3-4 days. Confine the dog in a sanctuary room with the door closed or a separate floor of your house. The goal is to allow the pets to get used to each other’s presence without face-to-face contact, but they can hear and smell each other.
- Feed them on opposite sides of a closed door so they associate the presence of the other pet with pleasant things, like food. With each feeding, move their food bowls a little closer to the closed door. Continue this process until each pet can eat calmly right next to the door.
- Teach your dog basic obedience cues, such as ‘sit’ and ‘down’. Keep training sessions short, pleasant and rewarding for the dog.
Once your pets can eat their food calmly right next to the door, conduct ‘meet and greets’ in a common area of the house. Don’t use either animal’s sanctuary area. Keep the first few sessions short. Keep the dog on a leash and let the cat come and go. Do not restrain either pet in your arms in case either pet behaves aggressively. Ask the dog to ‘sit’ rewarding him with small tasty treats for calm behaviour. Give your cat treats as well. If either pet demonstrates aggression, calmly distract and redirect them. Toss a toy for the cat to lure him from the room, or call the dog’s name and reward his attention. Return the pets to their confinement areas.
Repeat these face-to-face sessions daily. Save your pets’ favourite treats for when they are together. If the cat attempts to leave the room, allow him to do so, but don’t let the dog chase him. Try to end each session before either pet shows stress or aggression. When the animals appear to be getting along, allow them loose in the room together, keeping the dog’s leash attached and dragging on the floor so that you can step on it and prevent him from chasing the cat if he gets excited. If tension erupts, go back to the earlier introduction steps and repeat the process. Make sure the cat has access to a dog-proof sanctuary room at all times. Always proceed with caution and continue to separate the pets when you are not there to supervise.
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Such short little lives our pets have to spend with us, and they spend most of it watching for us to come home each day. John Grogan