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Introducing a new cat or dog to the family – Karen Phillips

Every Monday night I answer questions on the Better Pets and Gardens Facebook page and an interesting one that I received recently was how to teach dogs to accept a new cat in the house and have them co-exist happily.  I have had to introduce cats to my household of dogs in the past and, on thinking about it, I realised just how much planning I put in to make sure everyone learned to get along.

When you bring a puppy or kitten up together, it’s going to be pretty easy as both will more than likely become very good friends because they will go through their critical development periods together.  You are far more likely to have issues when you introduce an adult cat to an adult dog as both have already developed their personalities and are less likely to cope with change.

No matter how much you think you’d really like to bring a new cat or kitten into your home, when you already have a dog, you do need to be realistic about your chances of success.  If your dog has previously shown a tendency to want to chase or rough up cats, then you may want to reconsider whether it’s such a good idea.  It’s not fair to bring a cat into your house if it’s going to be traumatised or possibly hurt.

Not all dogs are going to be capable of happily co-existing with a cat but it is also important to assess the cat’s personality as well.  If the cat is very nervous or fearful already, then asking it to live with dogs, especially if they are big, is probably a bit unfair.

It is important that your dog has a reasonable level of good behaviour before embarking on this journey.  If it always ignores everything you say anyway but then decides to chase the new cat, the outcome for the cat is fairly uncertain.  However if your dog has a great recall (that is, it comes back when you call it) and goes to chase the cat, then you have a good chance of calling the dog back to you and rewarding it for being good.  This will reduce the chance of it happening again.

If your dog doesn’t have a good recall, be prepared to have it on a lead for a long time when the cat first joins you.  What you don’t want is for the dog to learn that chasing cats is awesome!  Nothing will encourage a dog more than a cat running away from it.

When you first bring the new cat home, put the dog outside and allow the cat to explore and get to know his surroundings without the stress of the dog’s presence.  Before bringing the dog anywhere near the cat, set up a room with a door where the cat can spend time while feeling safe and comfortable as you work through the introduction process.  Then, only let the cat out of the room if the dog is in the house but you are available to supervise the interaction and control the situation.

Wail until the cat is starting to relax in its new home and has had the chance to adapt to the new smells and noises before you start to slowly introduce everyone.  Unless you are absolutely certain that your dog will stay in one spot when told without chasing the cat, always have dogs on lead.

I first introduced a rescue cat to my border collies by putting the dogs in a ‘down stay’, something they were very familiar with.  I knew they would not move unless they were released from that position no matter what was going on around them.  This allowed the cat to investigate and come closer as he felt comfortable while realising that he was totally safe.

If you are not so sure what will happen, put your dog on lead and get out a dog bed and then reward your dog continuously for lying on the bed while the cat is out.  Don’t try and stop the dog from looking at the cat, just focus on rewarding the dog for being relaxed and not trying to chase.  What you are working hard to achieve in the first few sessions is for the cat to understand that the dog is no threat and that it doesn’t need to be scared and run away.  The dog is learning that the cat is not something to chase.

Increase the duration over a period of time based on how the animals are coping with each other.  Do not allow your dog off lead with the cat in the room until you are very certain that the novelty of the cat has diminished and definitely do not allow any unsupervised interaction until they can both relax in each others company.

Keep your initial sessions short so that you aren’t putting too much pressure on either of the animals.  If you are able to keep control of the introductions, it shouldn’t take long for the cat to learn that running isn’t necessary and it can hang around safely with no fear.  For most dogs, if the cat doesn’t run there is nothing interesting about it but, make sure there is always somewhere for the cat to escape to just in case you have a situation.  A high cat scratching post that the dog can’t get to is a great option, as is a pet gate with a little cat door on it that the cat can get through but the dog can’t.


Karen Phillips is the owner and trainer of Riot, the beautiful Border Collie that is the Better Pets and Gardens mascot.  Karen has had immense experience and success with her dogs, all border collies except for Cassie, the very fast papillon, and is currently involved as a trainer with the Agility Club of WA.  Karen is also a regular expert on our Facebook page every Monday night.

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