The old saying of “fighting like cats and dogs” does not have to be a reality. With a little bit of patience and management, your clients’ dogs can learn to accept new cats into the household. Help your client work through these steps and soon they may have the joy of seeing their dog and cat snuggling together in bed.
I will be sharing my own experience of integrating my rescued cat, Malcolm, in with my American Pit Bull Terrier, Inara.
Day 1 – The Grand Arrival
Just like when bringing home a new dog, cats can also benefit from a decompression period. Whether they were a stray, or came from a shelter, or a foster home, or a pet store, or wherever, cats don’t like change. The new cat will really appreciate a chance to settle in with some peace and quiet to learn the smells, sounds, and activities of its new home. I did this by setting up my spare room for Malcolm. He had food, water, a litterbox, and comfy blankets to lie on. I would take a book and just go in and read, sitting on the floor, while he explored his new room and me. When he solicited attention I’d give it to him, but I didn’t push it on him.
It’s important to make sure the bedroom door remains firmly shut though. We want the cat and dog to be able to hear and smell each other without being able to touch.
It is so important give the dog plenty of attention during this period. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the wonders of a new pet and spend all your time with the new arrival. Do spend plenty of time with the new cat, but don’t neglect your other pets.
Baby Gates Are Your New Best Friend
When both the cat and dog seem relaxed with the situation, you can move on to the next step. I cannot emphasize enough that days should be dedicated to these steps, not hours. Going slowly at first, even though it’s hard, will pay off in the end. And if you have any hesitation on whether either animal is ready, don’t move forward. And if at any time either animal is stressed, slow down and back up a step.
Now it’s time to open the door. However, for the safety of both cat and dog, you want a barrier. I chose to use a tall metal baby gate to provide separation. If I’d had any doubts that Inara might go over it, I would have stacked two gates. Then alternate sitting on each side of the baby gate, doling out yummy treats to both cat and dog for appropriate, non-confrontational behavior.
Here are two videos from when I was at this step with Malcolm and Inara. Neither are exciting at all – this is what you want though! Boring is good. In the first video, Mal isn’t quite up to going over to the baby gate, but that was okay. The second video is long, but I didn’t cut it because it shows what a slow, steady process this is. In that video, they do have their first official greeting.
The Raising Of The Gates
This is a big step, but if you have done your homework and not rushed things, it should go very smoothly and without fanfare. At this point, dog and cat are relaxed while sniffing each other through the gate and there has been no barking, growling, hissing, spitting, or swatting. So once again, it is time to arm yourself with something comfortable to sit on, a book, and yummy treats (for the animals, not you). Then raise the baby gate up about a foot. You want the cat to be able to easily come and go underneath it, but you don’t want it high enough that the dog can get under it. Quietly sit and read and whenever the cat is brave enough to come out and explore a little, dole out treats. Whenever the dog is being gentle in her behaviors towards the cat, dole out treats.
Once this major milestone has been reached without difficulty, it should be smooth sailing. Before letting the two have free roam of the house together, put the dog in her crate or in a bedroom and let the cat explore the house. We want him comfortable in his full surroundings before he is expected to happily deal with a dog AND new surroundings. If you are comfortable that the dog will not bust her crate to get to the cat, you can leave the cat out while you’re at work and dog is crated (or in a bedroom).
Eventually you can give them both free reign in the house together. It’s so important to ensure that the cat always has escape routes from rooms and high places to flee to if necessary. I kept the baby gate up but raised for quite a while, just so Malcolm always had his safe place.
Even though there is peace in the household, I am a firm proponent of “better safe than sorry.” Keep cat and dog separated at meal times and separated when you are not at home. All it takes is one incident and you have a seriously injured or dead cat or dog. A little management goes a long way to maintaining a happy household.
Malcolm’s foster home had dogs, and Inara grew up with a cat, so you’ll see by the Youtube dates that within a few days these two were fully integrated. I do NOT encourage this speed and would have gone infinitely slower if they both weren’t already familiar with the other species.
What other tips do you have for integrating dogs and cats?
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