Teaching Your Dog and Cat to Get Along

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Do your dogs and cats get along?  Some people have cats and dogs who live in harmony right from the start.  Others have to worry about opening the wrong door and accidentally letting their pets into each other’s areas.  If you are in the “doors must stay closed” category, don’t panic!  Most dogs and cats can learn to live together peacefully (though there are exceptions).  It just takes a little time and effort.

Below are steps you can take to help your dog and cat learn to get along.

NOTE: For best results, please keep the dog and cat in separate areas while you are working on this (except during training sessions)!

Getting started

Here are some steps to take before you actually start the training:

I. Put a small towel where each of your pets sleeps. After a day or so, put the dog’s towel in the cat’s sleeping area, and vice versa.  Swap the towels daily, so both animals’ scents are on the towels at all times.  This will help the animals get used to each other’s scent.

II. Get your home ready for training using one of these options:

  • OPTION ONE: Put up a baby gate separating one part of the house from the other, with a towel or sheet draped over the gate (so the cat and dog can’t see each other). This is usually the best option
  • OPTION TWO: If your dog is crate trained, you can also put your dog in a crate with a sheet draped over it, so neither animal can see each other, and the dog can’t get to the cat.

The key is to set things up so the dog and cat can hear and smell each other, but you can control whether (and how much) they see each other.

Now that your home is prepared and the animals know each others’ scents…

Now that everything is ready, you can start training.  Do this training no more than once or twice a day, and keep the sessions very short — five minutes is plenty, for most pets.  Here are the steps.

Teaching a routine

Step 1: Bring the animals into the training space (cat on one side of the gate, dog on the other side; or dog in the crate). Start with the animals at least ten feet apart. If you can, work with another person so you can get one pet to focus on you while the other person gets the other pet to focus on them.  Feed both animals treats as long as they are in the training space.   If your cat is not really into treats, pull out your cat’s favorite cat toy and play with the cat.

NOTE: The goal right now is for both animals to be focused on their own activities, rather than the other animal.  If either animal acts frightened, overly interested, or aggressive, separate them immediately.

Do this for about two minutes at most (stop sooner if either pet gets excited), and then put the cat and dog back in their usual separate areas.

Step 2:. If Step 1 goes well, do the next session with the animals a little closer together. Make sure both animals stay calm, and are able to focus on their own activities (rather than getting overly interested in what the other animal is doing).

Step 3: Gradually close the distance in small increments until the animals can “do their own thing” right on either side of the barrier.

Building on that foundation

Step 4: Next, go back to the original distance of at least ten feet apart, but pull the sheet or towel a little to the side so there is an inch or two of barrier that isn’t covered. Repeat Steps 1, 2, and 3 with the barrier uncovered just that little bit, until both animals can do their own thing right by the barrier even with the sheet or towel a little bit open.

Step 5: Next, go back to the original distance of at least ten feet apart again, but open the sheet or towel an inch or two further. Following the same basic steps, gradually close the distance until the animals can do their own thing right by the barrier again.

Step 6: Opening the visual barrier bit by bit, and starting over from ten feet away each time (and then getting closer in small steps), work up to taking the sheet or towel off the barrier entirely.

NOTE: Remember to make sure both animals stay focused on their own activities throughout this process!

Making things more realistic

Step 7: Once both animals are able to focus on their own activities even when there is no sheet or towel covering the barrier, you can remove the barrier and start the routine again at ten feet apart, but this time with your dog on a leash and the cat loose. Slowly work your way closer in multiple training sessions, as you did before.  To ensure the dog and cat don’t suddenly wind up right next to each other, keep your feet in one spot for each training session (so the dog can only get as far as the leash allows with your feet there, but no further).

Step 8: If everything is going well, try letting go of the leash but leaving it on the dog so the leash is dragging while you supervise short interactions between your pets. The dragging leash lets you easily get control of the dog if anyone gets too excited.

Step 9: Build up to longer supervised interactions gradually. If everyone is consistently calm after many interactions, you can consider taking the leash off your dog. If you have any doubts, though, continue to use the leash to keep everyone safe, or go back to using barriers.

Short-term work for long-term gain

This may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth taking the time and effort.  This training will help teach both the dog and the cat to do their own thing and feel calm, rather than stressed, around each other.  Being able to co-exist without feeling frightened, over-excited, or compelled to interact, is a great foundation for a possible future friendship.

Need help getting your canine and kitty together, or have other training issues?  Contact me!

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