Dogs & Cats
The Prey Drive
Bringing a new animal into your home can create many problems — especially if one of the animals is a dog and the other is a cat! Always remember that dogs are predators and they look on a small animal, such as a cat or rodent, as prey. Dogs are very attuned to quick movement, and nothing is as irresistible to them as a small, running animal. Cats often seem to instinctively understand this; an experienced cat will usually sit still when a strange dog approaches. However, an inexperienced cat may run which will trigger the dog’s predatory instinct.
More than half of adult dogs that haven’t been socialized to cats will show some signs of predatory behavior. Finally, when two or more dogs are together, they may acquire a “pack mentality” and spur each other on to chasing smaller animals.
Some dogs tend to have a higher prey drive than others, and some breeds also tend to have higher prey drives. If you are considering getting either a dog or a cat, research the breed of dog you have or are thinking of getting to see how that breed interacts with cats in general. You may have trouble finding such information in breed books, but there are many breed lists on the Internet, and the members are usually very happy to answer such questions.
Dogs are social animals and, unless they have behavioral problems, will actively attempt to make friends with a new member of the household. They may appear jealous at first, but their natural instinct is to live in peace and harmony. Cats, on the other hand, are not necessarily social animals, and may have no innate desire to make friends with strange animals. Cats living entirely inside a house have different social rules than cats that spend time outdoors; cats living with other cats have different social rules than cats living without other cats; feral cats living in a group, may have very different social relationships than feral cats living in another group, so it is very difficult to predict how cats will behave in any given situation.
Another huge factor is whether or not cats and dogs were socialized well when they were very young. Cats that grew up around dogs will tend to be less fearful, and dogs that grew up with cats will be less likely to show predatory behavior — although all dogs will chase a running cat, regardless of socialization history.
Introducing Cats & Dogs
You must ultimately take responsibility for your animals’ safety when living in a multiple-pet household. Regardless of which animal was in the household first, when bringing a new cat or dog into the home, some good, basic rules to follow are:
- Do not force the new house mates to interact;
- When they are in the same room, have the dog under control — either in a crate or leashed;
- Allow the cat to approach the dog at his own pace;
- Always have safe areas for the cat to retreat to; and
- Don’t be surprised or disappointed if your dog and cat never become friends.
Be aware of the stress levels in both the cat and the dog. If either animal is constantly under stress, it is very bad for the animal’s health.
A simple way to tell if a cat is under stress is by whether or not she’s eating. If you have food and water in a safe area where the cat is confident the dog can’t get to her, she should eat normally. This may take a couple of days, but once the cat is secure in this area, she will relax. You can watch the area, or set up a video to see what your cat is doing while in her safe area.
There are some techniques for introducing dogs and cats which may ease the transition. First, make sure your cat has a safe area. High places that the dog can’t get to should be available in all rooms, but setting aside one room as “the cat’s room” will give the cat a reliable resting area. Her food, water and litter pan should be in this room, as well as toys for her to play with.
A baby gate across the doorway to the cat’s room can serve a dual purpose: First, it will keep the dog out of the room (you may have to train your dog not to jump the gate); secondly, it can act as a cue to the cat. When the gate is up, the dog is in the house; when the gate is gone, the dog is out of the house. This will allow the cat to safely explore the house. If you use this method, be sure to always have the gate up when the dog is in the house — if you lie to the cat, she may never feel secure enough to get out and explore. When the cat feels comfortable in the house with the gate gone, you might try crating the dog and taking the gate down.
Another method is to take a towel or blanket and rub the dog with it. Then let the cat smell the towel and perhaps use it as a blanket for the cat to sleep on. Eventually the cat will be familiar with the smell, and that will ease the transition. You can use the same technique in reverse — rub the cat and let the dog get used to the smell.
In the end, patience and management are your best tools. A cat and dog will not like each other simply because you want them to. They will make that decision for themselves. They may become great friends, they may tolerate each other, or they may never relax in each other’s presence. If you have any concerns about the safety of your cat, you should contact a certified dog trainer (www.ccpdt.org) for help.
Raising Canine has a school for dog trainers which focuses on operant training for dogs, dog behavior, working with clients and addressing client compliance, and the science behind behavior modification.