BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat: Rewriting the Movie Conflict between Co-Existing Dogs and Cats

dog-rolling-around-with-cat
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Dogs and cats are undoubtedly the two most common pets that we can find in both urban and suburban settings. However, we rarely see them living in the same house together because pet owners are afraid that they would be left with World War III constantly happening underneath their roof. While the two species are not usually known for being able to coexist naturally, with some knowledge of how to introduce a dog to a cat, you can help them achieve a state of mutual respect if not friendship.

Dogs and cats are not natural enemies—they are simply two different species that have trouble communicating. The key is to bridge the gap between them. If you can do that, you’ll sure to have a fairytale-like household where a human, a cat, and a dog can live happily ever after. Picture perfect moments where a cat and a dog snuggle up together like you often see on the internet will occur from time to time.

Image showing a little puppy and a little cat together

In this piece, we will talk about all you need to know when you are bringing a cat home to meet your dog for the first time so that it doesn’t end up in a bloody affair. Instead of just a head-on approach, we will take a holistic approach to this process. In light of arming yourself with as much information as needed, let’s talk about some of the considerations you need to make first.

Making the Perfect Match

Think of the introduction between your cat and dog as an arranged marriage. Neither one of them has ever seen the other before. Territoriality is bound to come to the fore. As much as we have tried to domesticate these animals, it would be rude to assume that they have lost all of their natural instincts. That is why you need to predetermine the kind of cat you want to bring home to your dog (or vice versa).

cat-and-dog sleeping together

In other words, you need to put the pets first. Don’t just go and get a breed that you like. We are not saying you shouldn’t pick what your heart desires, but be fair enough to make a choice that is a win-win-win for every party involved. Basically, you need to consider the traits of both pets involved. If the information is available, ask if the pet you are about to get has ever been exposed to the other type before.

That way, you have one less furry fellow to train on how to get used to the other. Likewise, they would usually adapt faster to behaving around their new company from another species. You also need to consider their personalities. The things you need to consider in this manner differ based on whether you are bringing a cat home to a dog or the other way around—because the way they defend their territory differs:

Bringing a Cat Home to a Dog

Observe your dog to see its level of excitement. Some dog breeds get easily excited and like to chase things. That is not necessarily because they want to inflict harm on such things, but because they are fascinated by the chase.

If your dog has the tendency to go after small animals in the area, especially when you’re walking in the park, or if he sees a rat in the house, getting a cat to go with him might not be the best idea in the book. Still, it’s not impossible to achieve a peaceful state of coexistence if you’re willing to compromise.

Image showing a dog and a cat separated in a house

Do not bring home a shy cat to him. Your cat might just take off in fear one day and the dog would go after the cat, thinking he just got himself a little plaything that moves on its own. It would be much better if you could get a cat that is collected, calm, and confident. This is especially true if your dog can get kind of rough. If your dog is one to play rough with you, think about how that ‘roughness’ would feel to a smaller cat.

For such dogs, avoid kittens and elderly cats. Bring them young and agile cats who know how to get themselves out of trouble. Should your dog be an elderly one himself, complement their lifestyle with a calm partner. Don’t go for young cats that would bother the elderly dog. This may lead to irritation.

Bringing a Dog Home to a Cat

Some preparations need to be made before you bring a dog home to a cat. Clip the nails of your cat to minimize the risks of damage to your dog (in case things get out of hand). Create a safe haven for your cat. Cats value their personal space. Even if they don’t, they are usually physically smaller so you would want to offer added protection. A baby gate or a crate would do.

Make sure the dog is in a relaxed state of mind before you bring him into the house. Take him for a walk or play with him outside first. Whatever it is that gets the dog calm, do that first. And make sure to get some treats handy so you can distract him from the cat if things get hairy.

Image showing a brown dog smelling a black cat

If your cat growls, snarls or runs away from the dog, this process might take more time than you initially anticipated. It’s natural. Cats are a creature of habit and they need time to adjust to new things. It should happen in time. Just make sure to keep them supervised so no unwanted accidents happen.

We’re hoping you would have, at this point, applied the hints above and streamlined the kind of pet you want to get according to the other’s personality. And now we’re ready to move on to the real action.

How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat

Here’s what you need to do to make sure you’re ready to bring a new pet into the family to meet another one already at home:

Step 1: Introduction

The first step of the introduction is to determine where the two species would first meet. It is wrong to take your dog to a cat shelter to meet their new friend. While that would be unnerving for the rest of the cats there, your dog might also start to form a bitter opinion of them from that experience.

Image showing a cat meeting a dog for the first time

The same goes for a cat that you immediately put in the same space with a dog without preamble. Instead, introduce them in your home. It is a neutral ground. Also, they would be living there together for a long time, so it should be the first place where they come in contact.

Step 2: Allow Scenting

Animals recognize one another via scenting. Thus, you should allow the dog and the cat to sample one another’s scents freely. One of the best ways to do this is by making one of the pets move around while the other is on clampdown. For a dog, you could use a leash to hold it down while the cat is allowed to move about freely.

Over the period of a few days, switch the routine. When restricting the cat, use something that completely protects them such as a crate. Monitor the behavior of each pet as they try to get acquainted with the scent of the other. The cat might not be as bold as the dog and will, therefore, opt to investigate from afar. The dog, on the other hand, might want to approach the confined cat out of curiosity.

Image showing a dog smelling a little cat

Hopefully, that would be the only reason. If the dog still seems aggressive towards the cat in confinement after more than two days, you should consider getting the help of a trainer to get your canine in order.

One other way through which you can get them accustomed to each other’s scent is by keeping both dog and cat on opposite sides of a door. They would be drawn to each other’s scents (which they would surely pick up as strange at first) but start to get used to it as time goes on. Once the dog and cat have started to act naturally around each other, they are ready for the next phase of their training.

Step 3: Share-A-Space

You’ve been letting one pet roam about while the other is on lockdown, but this brings a new twist to it. Find a room in the house and put both pets in there. Keep the dog on a leash, and provide both pets with essentials. The dog gets his food and water bowl, the cat gets the same as well as the litter box.

Image showing a cat and a dog sharing the same space

Carefully observe the duo till they start to ignore each other even more. The dog should not be concerned about having a cat in close proximity and the cat should no longer get startled by every little move the dog makes.

If, at any point during this step, either party shows aggression towards the other, retrace your steps to Step 2. Let them get used to one another for a little while longer. Keep this exercise going for a while till you’re happy with what you’re seeing, and you’re very sure one is just not tolerating the other because of the restrictions you’ve put in place. At this stage, your pets are begging to graduate to the next step.

Step 4: Remove All Barriers

After going on with the supervised interactions for a significant period of time (a month or so), take both the dog and the cat off of any leashes or restrictions. At this stage, you aren’t supposed to interfere, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep watch for the next few days. After all, this is when they truly start to cross paths and invade each other’s personal space.

A cat and a dog sleeping together

When you’re not at home, take the extra precaution of still separating them in a way that’s comfortable enough for both pets. Let this go on for a relatively long period of time. You can remove this final barrier after there is no longer any doubt that they have come to see each other as harmless creatures and that they can co-exist peacefully.

Red Flags

As much as we have tried to provide you with working tips, the truth is that some marriages just don’t work out. To ensure things don’t get messy, below are some red flags to let you know you’re getting nowhere with the coexistence plans you had in place:

  • Does your dog lunge at the cat whenever the cat moves? Or is he very fixated on the cat or the door which you have put in place to separate them? If even after the first three steps, these behaviors persist in your dog, you might need to re-think the possibilities of a coexistence.
  • If your cat is constantly hissing, snarling and growling at the dog, even when the other remains calm, step in. At first, take the cat away from the dog, let the cat have a break, then try again in a couple of days. If the same behavior persists, try the cat with different kinds of dogs. In some cases, it could be that your cat just does not want to live with a dog, and you shouldn’t force them to.
  • If the cat suddenly stops going about their daily activities normally, they may be distressed. Look for changes in the cat’s feeding, drinking, and littering pattern. If there is a downward trend, they might be unhappy. Don’t give up just like that, though. You could simply need to get a better match or list the help of a professional on this one.

Wrap Up

The movies, especially cartoons, have made it look almost impossible for a dog and cat to live together. This is not true. Results might not start to show up in just one day, but you are surely going to have a home where your cat and dog co-exist peacefully under the same roof.

Many people would suggest that when bringing a cat home to meet a dog (or the other way around), you should enlist the help of a specialist that would help you get them familiar with one other. We have been involved with quite a number of these cases, and we can tell you that this is something you can do yourself if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.

Image showing little cat sitting next to a dog

Don’t forget to let us in on your success story when you do make your family bigger and happier. We will be waiting around the corner for the good news. If you’ve got some tips of your own, by all means, please share them with us! You can post them in the comments section below!

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

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