Ted, my black cat, has taught two Rotties, my Mom’s two Dobes, my sister-in-law’s Min Pin, a Beagle and countless rescue dogs the ropes. He doesn’t really like dogs, but he always managed to find a way to get along with them peacefully.
I suspect that it is because even now, at 15-years-old and having survived with lymphoma for two years, he is fearless. He stares the dogs down and body blocks them so they can’t get down the hall. He jumps up on the furniture so he is at their eye level and bats them repeatedly on the nose. Introducing Ted to dogs has always been easy. I just let him lay down the law and then reinforce the law to any dog who dares to break any of Ted’s Commandments.
Yet some cats are not as street smart as Ted. When they see a dog, they run for cover, enticing the dog to chase them. If you are adding a pup to a family with an existing cat, prepare the household and the cat so things go peacefully.
Consider your cat’s personality. Has your cat lived with dogs previously? Is he confident around other animals? Is the personality of your puppy similar to the personality of your current or previous dog? If so, you are likely to have an easy transition. One quick swat to your pup’s muzzle and your cat will have laid down the law even if your cat is declawed. If your cat becomes piloerect (puffs up), hisses, or runs from other animals, you will have a more difficult time introducing him to a new pup. For cats that are fearful, a safe place and good control of the pup will be the keys to keeping a peaceful household.
Let your cat do the talking. If your cat is the confident type, it is best to let your cat handle things. Even then, the meeting is not a free-for-all. Put your cat on a higher surface than the pup and put your pup on the leash for the first meeting. Have treats ready for reward or distraction. Reward the pup for calm behavior from the beginning. Don’t wait until your pup is straining at the leash and the cat has already left the room to act. If the pup can’t stay calm, give your cat some space. When your puppy and cat finally meet, let your cat correct your dog and reward your dog for backing off. Continue with this type of work until you see that your cat is more confident and that your pup is less likely to chase him. Whenever you see that your pup is staying calm while your cat is moving about, reward him.
Keep them separated. Until you can feel confident that your cat will be safe when alone with your pup, they should be separated when you cannot directly supervise them. The safest way to do this is to keep your pup in a crate. Even a pup who simply wants to play can seriously injure a cat. You may have to put your pup on a leash when they are together to keep your cat from running and hiding.
Give your cat a safe place. Give your cat a safe place where he can escape the new pup. This could be a room with a baby gate at the doorway, a cat tree, or a room with a cat door installed. A couple of safe places enable your cat to get away from your pup without running very far. Once cats run, dogs chase. Then it’s game on! It is very important to prevent this at all costs.
Give your pup some skills. In order to help your cat feel safe, your pup has to be under good control. She will need basic command tools such as "leave it," "sit," and "stay." Puppies can start to learn as early as eight-weeks-old, so get started now. Teaching your pup impulse control will also help your cat to gain confidence. When your pup sees the cat, ask him to sit and reward him for calm behavior.
Keep your pup busy. If the only thing your pup has to do is chase your cat, chasing your cat is going to be his favorite activity. Keep your dog well exercised and busy by using food toys and rotating his play toys so that he is constantly occupied. You can even reserve these fun activities for times when your cat is loose in the house.
Dogs and cats can live peacefully together with a little preparation. If you are lucky to have a cat like Ted, you can rest easy. He will teach the little one how to behave.
Dr. Lisa Radosta