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How would you like to introduce a new cat to your dog and have them strike off a lasting friendship immediately?
That would be epic, right?
Well, this is entirely possible, and in today’s article, I’m going to show you how you can do this.
It has nothing to do with having the same favorite color, or the specific breed of cat that you choose.
To know how to make cats and dogs best friends forever, we first have to understand why they don’t get along in the first place.
Why dogs and cats don’t get along.
Broken interspecies communication.
You’ve heard the saying “communication is key”, right?
It holds true in cat and dog relationships.
Why don’t dogs and cats get along? It’s because their body language is different and, in some instances, opposite. Here’s what I mean:
Cats wag their tail when they’re stalking or hunting prey, while dogs wag their when they’re happy or excited.
You know that dance move some dogs do when they’re excited? All that jumping and side-to-side movement, plus the barking, etc. It makes cats feel threatened and they hate it.
In the world we live in, it’s normal for small animals to run from big ones. A bird flies and a squirrel scurries away when you get close because to them, you’re a threat – which is true, LOL.
Cats perceive dogs as threats too.
But, you’re a pet owner. You’d be glad if they could get along. So what do you do?
Understanding the differences.
The number one mistake I see many pet owners make is wishing their dog and cat got along like siblings – rather than the different species that they are.
Aside from that, the other problem that makes this remain a fantasy is down to compatibility issues.
In a situation where the cat is fearful and displays unprovoked aggressive behaviors, and the dog doesn’t know how to properly read or react to the cat’s aggression.
Or the dog is too playful and loves to chase or hunt, and the cat is too fearful so she keeps running away from the dog.
You can immediately see that this isn’t a breed-specific issue. And when these incompatibility issues come up, the solutions have to be tailored to the specific household and pets involved.
Now we know the problem, the next question is…
How can you improve dog and cat relations?
Personality over breed.
Lots of people believe that certain cats and dogs don’t usually get along, but that’s not true.
The truth is that individual cats and dogs have personality traits that can make them friendlier to the other species. They need to have matching personalities and energy levels.
For instance, a territorial and aggressive dog with high energy will be a bad fit for a skittish cat. On the other hand, an aging dog would hate being around an unruly kitty.
So when choosing, consider the breed’s energy level and behavior. But have it in mind that the deciding factor is their personalities.
Start with obedience training.
To set up your cat and dog for success, you need to teach the dog to control his impulse. Does he lose it when you bring out his favorite toy? Does your dog scavenge junk when he’s on a walk with you or leap across the kitchen towards a dropped cookie?
If so, then your dog won’t be a great companion for the cat since he’ll likely chase the cat everywhere.
Don’t introduce them, or better, hold off on getting a cat until your dog has learned to stay put. Teach him that chasing cats is unacceptable behavior.
If your dog can obey basic commands like ‘stay’, ‘sit’ or ‘down’, and ‘drop it’ or ‘leave it’. Then you have a better chance of making friends out of the two. These commands will improve communication with your dog and will help you handle him easily when introducing the new cat.
Avoid territorial spats.
Dogs and cats are territorial animals. They need some sort of ‘den’ or ‘home base’ that they can run to when things go awry.
How can you do this?
Create separate territories.
Make the cat’s territory off-limits to the dog. You also have to prevent the cat from waltzing into the dog’s territory or eating from the dog’s bowl – they like to do this and then wonder why the dog is being ‘so sensitive’. Do not downplay a cat’s ability to cause trouble!
But that’s not to say the house should be divided into dog and cat territory only.
The next thing you have to do is…
Create safe shared-spaces
You need to create safe spaces around the house for both of them to interact – of course, under supervision!
This way, the cat (and dog) can navigate the house without feeling like they’re encroaching or the other is.
This allows your cat to watch the dog from a safe distance like a drone and only come down when she feels safe.
You also want to keep your dog away from the litter box. There are few things as disturbing as not being able to relieve yourself when you’re pressed. Cats need to feel safe when doing their business – you don’t want to clean a mess off of the floor each time, do you?
Baby gates and ex-pens are perfect for this purpose. However, if your dog is the canine Houdini, then place the litter box in an open space. Worst case scenario, the cat can escape from the dog with ease.
Do you know the last territory most owners forget to share equally?
That’s you – your attention to be precise!
Depending on which animal came first, you are automatically their territory and your attention is theirs.
When the new pet joins the family, do not shower all of your attention on him or her. Animals feel jealousy too and you’d be in for a surprise if you think otherwise.
Be wise about sharing your time with both pets.
Get rid of the chasing energy.
I can’t stress how important it is for dogs to get enough exercise daily. The simple act of exercising your dog gives him a healthy avenue to release energy, which effectively helps them slow down their brain and control their impulses.
Dogs, especially energetic breeds, need lots of mental and physical stimulation. You can either help them channel that energy towards acceptable activities or they’ll use the energy to chase the cat or destroy furniture.
For this purpose, I recommend using sturdy dog toys, going for a long walk, playing fetch, or high-intensity trick training.
If your schedule is filled at the moment, you can hire a dog walker, or enroll in doggy daycare. However, nothing beats exercising your dog by yourself as it provides ample opportunity to bond with him.
Let them meet through their noses.
If your dog has learned to control his impulses, is well-exercised, and is ready to meet the cat, start by introducing their scents.
Unlike humans, dogs and cats can get loads of information about their environment by sniffing around. Having them sniff each other’s toys, bedding, and other items with their scent help relax the tension when they meet.
They can’t feel threatened by a toy, so when they perceive the same familiar scent on the other animal, they’ll be less likely to attack each other.
First impressions matter!
Just like in human interactions, cats and dogs have one chance to make a great first impression. Though this initial impression can be corrected on subsequent meetings, it’s tougher to do so.
Lucky for you, both cats and dogs love food – at least, they have something in common.
Make sure the dog is well exercised prior to this and provide food 30 minutes later – this helps prevent digestion issues.
Feed them close to each other but with an opaque barrier in between them. You want them to smell each other without seeing – doors work just fine for this.
After a couple of meal sessions, they’ll both begin to associate this ‘familiar’ smell with food, which is a good thing.
Continue this for a couple of days before slowly removing the visual barrier.
If done correctly, by this time they’ll be eating side by side and will sniff each other to associate the smell with the animal in front of them. However, the dog should ALWAYS be on a leash and the cat should ALWAYS have an escape route.
Provide an escape route for the cat.
Remember what I said earlier about size? Small animals usually feel threatened by large ones.
If your cat is the smaller of the two, it’s best to provide an escape route in case she feels unsafe. If she runs away from the dog, that means she’s not ready to meet him. Or she’s yet to warm up to him. Do not try to lift and bring her close to the dog. You and the dog could get severely scratched.
Forcing an interaction is counterintuitive and will have negative consequences – tell me, how smooth is your relationship with family members you’re forced to meet during reunions? Don’t do it!
After you’ve successfully introduced them to each other – hopefully with little to no friction – next is maintaining boundaries.
Get stainless steel bowls for each of them and keep the bowls separate. Cats have the annoying habit of trying to eat out of the dog’s meal bowl. And, it would surprise you to find your dog having a good time with the catnip.
If you do get a quiet cat water fountain, place it on the table or somewhere only the cat can access – for now, at least!
After the initial step of letting them smell each other’s toys and bedding, they shouldn’t get close or play with those personal items.
Supervised interactions only.
You should only allow supervised interaction for the first couple of weeks after they’ve met. This is to protect your dog and cat from each other. If your dog gets anxious in your absence, you’ll have to deal with that separation anxiety before leaving him with the cat.
Take your foot off the gas.
Your dog and cat can become best friends within minutes of meeting each other – that’s if they’re in Disney World.
But they’re not!
So, take your foot off the gas, don’t try to push things faster than they should. When it comes to helping cats and dogs get along, slow is always better.
It takes time for dogs and cats to learn how to communicate in the other’s language, so be patient. It’s just a matter of time.
Catch them young.
It’s much easier introducing cats and dogs when both are still in the puppy and kitty stage. At this stage, puppies soak up their training like a sponge and cats are less intimidated by the dog.
However, you need to watch out for the ‘teenage’ stage in dogs as they usually become rougher around this period.
And when it works…
…there’s nothing as endearing as seeing a dog and cat interact with each other like they’re of the same species.
The cat plays like a cat should, pouncing and drawing the dog to chase her. And the dog plays like a dog, nipping, pulling, and play-biting the cat.
When the play session gets too intense, the cat knows just when to seek refuge on her cat tree.
When to Get Help?
If you’re having trouble getting your dog and cat to get along, there’s no rule that says you can’t ask for help.
Do not wait until one of them gets hurt. By then the relationship will be harder to fix. Speak with an animal behaviorist. These professionals can help you identify issues you may have missed, such as stress, resource guarding, fear, etc. that is stalling the process.
If it still doesn’t work, then you’ll have to exercise patience and keep showering them with love. Hopefully, they’ll come around to love each other just as you love them.