Introducing Your Cat to a New Dog

Jason Cook

apl-smWhen bringing home your new dog, you must allow time for him to get to know your cat.  If your cat has never seen a dog or vice versa, it will take a while for the two to bond.  Sometimes it can take years for a truly trusting and mutually agreeable relationship to develop.  The best thing you can do for both animals is to make their interactions positive, so that they associate each other with good things.

When meeting a cat, dogs usually react in a playful way, get into prey mode, or show cautious interest or avoidance.

Playful dogs may treat the cat as if she were another dog and try to play with her.  Cats do not always react well to an invitation to play.  Your cat may react defensively toward your dog.  For this reason, you must be sure to supervise all play between your dog and cat.  Tension can build quickly if your playful dog does not respond appropriately to your cat’s signals to end play.  Remember that a dog can easily kill a cat, even in play, and a cat can use her claws to seriously injure a dog.

Some dogs respond to cats as if they are prey, especially if the cat runs when she sees the dog.  The dog  may react to the cat as he would toward a fleeing prey animal.  In this situation, the dog can harm or even kill the cat.  In addition, cats often view dogs as predators and become defensively aggressive.

Quieter dogs will often watch the cat from a distance or try to avoid her.  They may be intimidated by the cat, especially if she is young or has a lot of energy.

Cats tend to react to dogs with either cautious interest or with an attitude of defensiveness.  The cat may accept the dog as an interesting and safe intruder and watch him from a distance or treat him with curiosity.  Or, the cat may see the dog as an unwelcome intruder in her territory and react defensively.  Cats are not social animals the way dogs are, and they do not always share territory peacefully.

Follow these steps to set up safe and successful introductions between your cat and your new dog:

  • First, make sure that your cat’s claws are trimmed so that she will be less likely to injure your dog if she becomes defensively aggressive.  Work on basic training with both your dog and your cat so that you can distract them from one another should the interaction become too tense.  Teach your cat to give you attention on cue.  Do this by saying her name when she is not looking at you, then praising and offering her a favorite treat.  Never scold your cat if she does not respond to you.  Teach your dog a solid recall (“come”) and the cue “leave it.”  With these two basic behaviors, you can interrupt your dog if he gets too excited around the cat.
  • For the first couple of weeks in his new home, keep your dog confined to one room using a baby gate.  Allow your dog and cat to meet with the gate in between them.
  • To facilitate the introductions, sit in the doorway and call your cat to you while you ask your dog to sit or lie down on his side of the gate.  Treat your cat for coming to you, and treat your dog for calm behavior.  Keep the introductions positive and upbeat so that both the dog and cat will build good associations with one another.
  • If your dog does something that scares the cat or makes her back away, distract your dog from the cat and get his attention.  Ask your dog to sit or lie down, then praise and reward him.  Allow your cat to come near the gate or walk away if she chooses, and reward her any time that she chooses to approach.
  • Follow your cat’s pace for the introductions.  Don’t force your dog and cat to interact by holding the cat or keeping her in a carrier.
  • If your cat does not seem afraid, you can bring the dog and cat into the same room with the dog on a leash.  Make sure the cat has room to get away if she wants to.  Cats who accept dogs will often bat at or rub against them, and dogs often nudge the cat or play bow in return.
  • For the first couple of weeks, keep your dog on leash when he is around the cat.  Carefully supervise your cat so that she does not use her claws to injure the dog.  Use your “come” and “leave it” cues to help your dog behave appropriately.
  • Interrupt any chasing, barking, or agitated behavior.  Redirect your dog’s attention with basic obedience exercises.  Avoid scolding your dog or using leash jerks to correct him.  All of your dog’s experiences in the presence of the cat should be positive.
  • When you cannot supervise your dog and cat, confine them separately.  Do not allow your dog to access your cat’s litterbox.

The most important thing to remember when introducing your new dog and cat is to keep interactions positive.  Never scold the dog for behaving inappropriately with the cat; simply redirect his attention and ask him to do some basic obedience exercises.