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Can Cats and Dogs be Friends?

We’ve all heard that old saying, “They were fighting like cats and dogs”, but do they really have to be arch enemies or can our best friends become friends with each other too?  Sometimes a cat and a dog will become instant friends, often they will develop a tolerance of each other over many years and occasionally they can’t even be in the same room together.  Just like with kids, sometimes a little bit of coaxing and a touch of manipulation is all that is needed to help them make friends.     

Dogs are pack animals.  They enjoy the company of others, whether it is their family, other dogs and sometimes even cats.  Cats are, as many owners know, loners.  They will spend time with the family and play with other cats but often they just enjoy wandering off and spending time on their own.  Cats live by their own rules.

Of course, individual animals have their own personalities but it is no accident that hundreds of cartoons and movies have been created around the antics of cats and dogs that live together in the same household.  Our experience is that these two don’t get on but whilst they might never be best buddies, they can certainly learn to tolerate each other and perhaps even call a truce so that everyone can live together in harmony.

Although not always possible, the best approach is to start socialising the pets whilst young.  Ideally kittens should be socialised between 6 and 12 weeks and puppies between 8 and 16 weeks.  This is when they start to work out the things around them that are safe and the things that they should be wary of.  If either animal has a bad experience with the other at this age, it is almost impossible to undo this fixed belief.  Allowing a kitten or puppy to meet a cat or a dog calmly and in a safe, controlled environment is more likely to result in a tension-free relationship over the long term.

When first meeting another animal, cats must have a positive experience if there is to be any hope that the two will interact in any way later on.

Whether a little one or an adult, the first introduction is crucial and shouldn’t be rushed.  Imagine being in the paws of a new pet as it is brought into the home.  He’s spent a bit of time in a carry box being bounced around in a car by a complete stranger and is brought into a completely new environment that he doesn’t recognise and which has very different smells and sounds from where he came.  Seems scary doesn’t it?  Then, imagine that, on top of all this, he gets put in front of a cat or a dog that is probably bigger than he is and is pushed from behind by strangers to get closer to this new creature.  It’s enough to make any small animal frightened.  Nothing good can come from this scenario.

Allowing the new cat or dog time to acclimatise with the new surroundings will allow him to relax so the introduction needs to be broken down into simple steps.  It is important that both, but especially the cat, have a positive experience so that in the long term they feel comfortable and confident around each other.

  1. Keep the resident pet separated in the next room allowing the new pet time to explore, feel safe and relaxed.  Don’t let either pet even see the other for the moment although it is good that they will probably smell and hear each other in the next room.
  2. Whilst they are both still apart, take an old towel and rub it all over the new cat or dog then take this into the other room where the resident pet is.  Let him sniff the towel and get used to the new pet’s scent for an hour or so.
  3. After a while, switch the pets around.  Place each animal in the room where the other pet was making sure that both are calm and relaxed in that environment.  This gives them a chance to smell the other pet again and gain more confidence.
  4. Next, place some treats for both of them on either side of the dividing door giving them both the chance to enjoy their food whilst the other pet is around.  This provides a positive experience for both pets without feeling any threat at all.
  5. Once the animals are less curious about sniffing each other underneath the door, allow the animals to see each other but preferably through a gate or screen door.  This will make them both feel secure, especially if there is still some tension between them.  Use treats and patting to calm and reward both the animals.  This step might take quite a while, even days so be patient.
  6. Once both are calm and relaxed, slowly allow more interaction but always with the dog on a short lead and using treats to reward calm behaviour.  Again, this may take several days and may be best whilst the family is relaxing in front of the television or in the back yard but eventually the cat will begin to trust that the dog won’t harass it and will choose to spend time with everyone.  The dog will just get used to having the cat wander around and won’t feel the urge to chase it like he would a new ball.

Sometimes in a household there is a cat and a dog that just don’t get on at all. This may have started long ago and so the feud has simply continued as a normal way of life for the animals.  It can’t be nice for them to have to be on guard all the time so it may be worth trying to break the ice.  As with all animal training and socialising, patience is the key.

The problem is that neither trusts the other and so this needs to be rebuilt.  The aim is not to have them sleeping on the same bed or playing with each other as this is never going to happen but if eventually both can be in the same room without feeling threatened by the other, then the socialising has been a success.

Start by placing the dog on a short lead and making him sit calmly a metre or so away from the cat, rewarding him with treats for his calm behaviour.  Hold and stroke the cat in a relaxed manner whilst the two begin to get used to being around each other.  Avoid forcing one forward on to the other and if either shows any sign of fear or tension, allow it to move away in its own time.  This routine may only last a minute to begin with but over time the duration should gradually increase and the need to restrain the pets will reduce.  Always keep the dog on the lead during this type of training and only remove the lead when absolutely sure that he won’t become too excitable in the room.

Once there is at least a mutual respect between the animals, begin to smother the cat with affection by patting, stroking and even brushing him and reward the dog occasionally for sitting calmly and relaxed. Do this for several minutes at a time allowing the cat the control to move away if he feels the need to.  The cat will soon associate the dog with this wonderful experience and may begin to hang around him if only to be lavished with love and affection by its owner.

It is not uncommon for cats and dogs who have been mortal enemies as youngsters to begin to tolerate each other and even interact as they both mature and find their places in the home.  This may take several years but it is quite lovely when it does happen.

Some breeds of dog have a strong instinct to chase and catch which is, after all, what they would have done in the wild.  This instinct is now used to train greyhounds to chase rabbits, border collies to round up sheep and spaniels to retrieve birds.

It is safer to train these dogs that cats are off limits and are not to be disturbed.  By teaching the “Leave It” command, these breeds will soon learn to ignore the cat and be patient when around it.

Local dog training associations are able to take both you and your dog through this training process.  For you closest association, drop into any Better Pets and Gardens store.

We all know that fragrance has the power to influence others.  After all, that’s why we spend a fortune on tiny bottles of perfume.  Why not try using this same theory on cats and dogs?

Cats adore catnip so rub the leaves of the catnip plant, dried catnip or catnip extract on to the collar of the dog.  It might just make him seem far more interesting and maybe even worthy of a little bit of attention.

Spend quality time with each of the pets alone so that each feels spoilt and loved and this will help them both feel less resentful about the other.  By each believing that he is the favourite, the “teacher’s pet”, neither will feel that it has to compete for the owner’s affection.

When playing boisterous games with the dog, make sure that he doesn’t disturb the relaxed environment of the cat who may be lazing under the bushes or on his bed and will not take kindly to a lumbering dog bearing down on him chasing a ball.  Similarly, try to develop a “no-go area” for each of the pets so that each has somewhere to escape to.  This is especially important to a cat and it can be in the form of a spare room, an enclosure or even just a semi-enclosed scratch pole.  Set the boundaries early and ensure that each pet knows the rules.

Provide separate water bowls.  Cats love fresh, clean water and it only takes a dog seconds to mess up the bowl.

Feeding time for animals is an especially important time and if another animal is around, they will defend their bowl causing tension to set in.  Feeding cats and dogs at the same time is no problem and can actually help to develop a routine where the pets are at least in the same vicinity as each other, but choose different areas for their food bowls to be placed.  Cats will prefer somewhere off the ground so that they know that they can relax whilst they eat without any threat of the dog coming along to steal their food.

Above all, be patient. Don’t force either pet on to the other and always allow them an escape route if stressed or upset.  They are, after all, different species with different personalities and were never intended to be best friends.  If they do begin to enjoy each other’s company, it will be in their own time with just a little bit of encouragement from you.

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