How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat

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Have you ever wondered if your dog could get along with a cat? Or if your cat would be ok if you bring a new dog home?

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We've all heard the phrase fighting like cats and dogs, but it doesn't have to be that way! With some careful planning as you bring your new pet home, many dogs and cats can learn to peacefully coexist!

Intentional introductions

It's important to be intentional about introductions when pets come face-to-face for the first time. If you're bringing a new cat home, it's helpful to set up a bedroom or other small area of the home that can be their safe space. Let your cat get acclimated to that area of the house, and the smell of the dog first before starting face-to-face introductions between the pets.

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When first introducing dogs and cats, it's a good idea to have your dog on leash or separated from the area where the cat is by a baby gate. It can help to have two people, one who is working with the cat, and the other who can work with the dog. Both people should have treats for rewarding the animal they are working with. Start at a distance where both animals seem comfortable which might be across the room, or even across the house. The idea is to work at the pace that both dog and cat are comfortable with instead of trying to force interactions. Offer lots of praise and treats to your dog and cat for calm behavior, and just looking toward the other animal.

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Continue with this and over several sessions slowly allow the two animals to calmly move closer to each other as they feel comfortable. This is a great opportunity to practice luring your dog away from the cat and rewarding with a treat which will in the future help you to build value for your dog in when asked moving away from the cat and can prevent chasing in the future. Keep these introduction training sessions short and fun for everyone, and carefully watch for any body language that might indicate either the dog or cat are stressed or worried and need a break.

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Everyone needs personal space

To help dogs and cat peacefully coexist, it's very important for all pets to have personal space. This will help reduce conflict between species by giving everyone a safe place to comfortably relax, baby gates are extremely helpful for creating temporary dividers in the home. Make sure your cat's litter box, bed, and toys are kept in an area that the dog isn't able to access. This will help your cat to feel more safe and comfortable with the presence of the dog, and also prevent your dog from getting into the litter box which is a bad habit you don't want your dog to develop.

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Set boundaries

Don't allow your dog to continually follow or pester your cat, as this can cause stress for your cat and lead to further conflict between the pets. For this reason, it's good to create high places for your cat to escape to, that your dog can't access.

If your dog is overly interested in what your cat is doing, get your dog's attention with a treat or toy and engage your dog in a different activity. Although many cats will be naturally fearful of dogs, some bolder cats may try to take the dog's food or toys. If this is going on with your, cat use treats and toys to get your cat's attention and encourage play with you, instead of the cat interacting with the dog. Similarly, make sure your dog has access to their bed and/or crate area that they don't have to share with the cat. If your cat seems interested in the dog bed, use treats to encourage them to a different napping location.

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Everyone needs exercise

Always, but especially in times of transition like when bringing a new pet home, it's important for dogs and cats to get plenty of attention as well as mental and physical exercise. Be sure to spend quality time each day playing with each your pets separately. For dogs, this may look like taking your dog out on walks (sniff walks in particular can be a great stress reliever). Similarly, make sure that your cat has an opportunity to run, jump and play with toys without being bothered by your dog. It can be helpful to setup a room or rooms in the house that are only accessible to your cat by having a baby gait lifted slightly off the floor so the dog can't get under it. This way your cat has more areas that are only theirs, and will set your dog up for success by keeping them from having access to cat toys, and beds they shouldn't chew or play with.

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Feeding schedules

When pets are eating, make sure that they aren't bothered by anyone else in the household. Feeding dogs and cats separately is important because it will ensure your pets are each getting the proper amount of food at each meal. In addition, feeding separately will help to prevent resource guarding issues in the home.

An easy way to prevent dogs and cats from bothering each other at mealtime is to create designated feeding areas in your home, such as feeding your cat on a cat tree out of your dog's reach. You can also feed your dog in another room with a baby gate at the door, or in a crate. Once everyone is done eating, don't forget to pick up the empty bowls.

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Supervision

It's essential to always supervise interactions between your dogs and cats, especially when they are first getting to know one another. When you're not home, or if you're home but asleep or otherwise not able to fully supervise interactions, it's best to keep your dogs and cats separated (at least at first). Not only will this keep everyone safe, but it will also prevent them from rehearsing behavior and interactions that you don't want to encourage. When not able to supervise interactions, you can keep your dog in one area of your home and your cat in another, separated by closed doors or baby gates.

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In summary

When you are introducing a dog and cat for the first time, it's important to go slowly and to be intentional. Supervise all introductions between the new family members, and provide opportunities for each animal to have their own personal space away from the other. If you are struggling with introductions between dogs and cats in your home, it can help to get professional support. A local positive reinforcement trainer can support you with observing interactions between your pets, and help all of you learn some new skills to exist more peacefully together in the home.

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