Whether you’re bringing home a new pet or trying to broker peace amongst a household, it’s not impossible for cats and dogs to get along. Animals in general are wary of other species – that’s why interspecies BFFs are so rare and adorable. There are some important steps a pet parent can take to make the home more comfortable and inclusive of both cats and dogs. A key point is consistency in enforcing rules and boundaries for pets, not only house rules but their own disputes. With time and patience your home’s cats and dogs can get along peacefully and maybe even become friends.
Research your new dog
Some dog breeds were developed for hunting – or “sporting,” as the American Kennel Club prefers – but that still doesn’t mean it has a drive to hunt. Pointers are technically sporting dogs, but their non-violent task is to silently “point” out game for the hunter. Dog breeds that do come into direct contact with game include Retrievers, Spaniels and Setters, who mainly retrieve and flush game.
While only a very aggressive dog is likely to maliciously harm a cat, it’s common for dogs to playfully chase felines or underestimate their own size. Never give your dog toys shaped like small or furry animals, as this reinforces the prey instinct. If you see your dog chasing a pretty freaked-out cat, stop him immediately yet gently and redirect his energy to a chew toy.
Put your pet’s best paw forward
When introducing cats and dogs, a good first impression is very important. Arrange the pets’ first meeting very carefully. Make sure your pet is comfortable in the room you do the introduction in and that she also has places to hide. At first, bring the dog in on a leash and make sure neither animal can touch the other. Let them check each other out and see what the initial reaction is. If it’s negative – hissing, growling, bolting for under the couch – end the intro. If they briefly sniff each other and then seem disinterested, congratulations! This is how most cats and dogs get along.
Sometimes you have to go slow; try swapping items from each pets’ favorite area or room. Another way to help them acclimate to each others’ scent is to pet one animal, then the other. Create a semi-transparent barrier to allow the animals to get to know each other a little better – aka stare awkwardly at each other until they get bored or hungry – with a screen door or two baby gates stacked in one doorframe. Once you’re confident the pair can get along, make the release casual, such as when both pets are preoccupied napping. When they wake up, odds are neither will even notice.
Create hiding places for cats and dogs
Once the animals have accepted (or embraced) their new living situation, maintain their relationship by allowing them to have “me time.” Create hidey-holes for both pets to curl up in, as well as areas restricted from the other pet. For example, install high shelves for felines to birdwatch in peace; build a dog run in the backyard for snoozes in the sun. If you know Mr. Pibbles loves to camp out under the futon, but Spike wants to bury his bone there, DIY a “couch trapper” or “toy blocker” and put the pup outside.
Make clear boundaries for both pets
Ensure you’re enforcing house rules universally – no dogs or cats in the kitchen. Unequal enforcement can leave pets feeling resentful and confused. Some vengeful pets may even strike back with “accidents” in forbidden areas, seeking to mark their territory. Cooped-up cats can become jealous of dogs’ outdoors privileges and try to escape more; consider leash training your cat and take both pets outside.
Some rules are difficult to apply equally; sorry Fido, it’s much more reasonable to allow your cat on the couch than a large dog. If your dog is desperately to kickback on the couch, indulge him, but only at certain times. Make it clear that he’s only allowed up with an invite, in the form of a blanket covering the cushions.
Help pets respect each other
Pets can’t mediate their own disputes, so it’s up to the pet parent to keep the peace. If your dog is getting into the litter box or eating the cat food, put an end to the behavior. Punish with a stern word, but only when you catch your dog red-pawed – any later and odds are she’s likely forgotten already. Place cats’ food on a dresser or invest in an automatic cat feeder, which only dispenses a single serving that Fluffy will eat in one go. Block off the litter box with a baby gate or try a dog-proof cat box, which typically has a top-entry or a pair of offset entrances to thwart canines.
Give each pet their own bed and water bowls – cats may prefer a fountain or faucet – and reinforce the rules. If your cat commandeers the dog bed, either evict him or buy a second bed; some cats steal out of spite, while others may be genuinely comfortable. It’s also important to never assume who started what. While dogs’ are notorious for having an awful poker face, cats are much better at playing it cool and are often the instigators.
Don’t force anything
The saying “fight like cats and dogs” does hold some truth to it, because no strange animals get along automatically. Most cats are wary of or even annoyed by other cats, and even dogs go through the butt-sniffing ritual before becoming friends. Never force cats and dogs to be in close proximity, such as holding their heads together. Forging an amicable – or even just civil – relationship between cats and dogs takes time and patience, and it has to be on their terms. If it’s not meant to be, try to follow this article’s tips and avoid conflict.
(Featured image via Flickr.com/mokapest)