Promoting harmony between dogs and cats – Part 1

Dogs and cats getting along?

The age-old feud between Fido and Fluffy is legendary and frequently brings to mind the classic Billy Murray quote from the 1984 movie hit Ghostbusters, “This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions… Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!”

Dogs and cats that live together may never, ever genuinely get along, but there is no reason why you and your pets cannot co-exist in relative peace. Let’s face it – dogs are generally the instigators in most dog vs. cat scenarios. Understanding why dogs chase cats in the first place is essential, if you desire more peaceful interactions among your pets.

Prey Drive

All dogs possess some level of predatory aggression, which is an involuntary desire to chase, catch and kill other small animals. It is a survival mechanism passed down from the wolf and some dog breeds have stronger prey drives than others.

For example, dogs from the sporting and herding groups (German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Coon Hounds) were, and still are, bred for their skills in detecting and/or herding prey. It is not a behavioral problem, but a natural response to a natural stimulus.

As far as your dog(s) are concerned, cats and kittens are nothing more than a daily trigger for this behavior. It’s a game in many respects, especially for puppies and adolescent dogs – a serious game involving stealth and survival, one which can end in tragedy for the feline(s) in your household.

Suppressing, Redirecting, Relocating

For better or for worse, pet owners habitually label their beloved pets’ behavior with human characteristics. Despite what we might think, the dynamic between dogs and cats has nothing to do with “not getting along,” or “not being nice.” It’s really just predator versus prey and the outcome is determined by which animal has the better skills. The best you can hope to do is suppress it, redirect it, or separate the two participants geographically.

What You Can Do

Here are some suggestions to help minimize the barking, chasing, hissing and clawing that usually follows when Fido and Fluffy cross paths:

– Introduce dogs and cats to each other as early in their lives as possible. Kittens and puppies of the same general size and age that grow up together will be less likely to demonstrate aggressive behaviors toward one another as they mature.

– Once a puppy or young dog experiences the prey drive, it is very difficult to break him or her from acting upon it. The best thing you can do before this happens, and it most certainly will, is to begin training your puppy or dog simple commands as soon as you bring him home. If your dog responds positively to the sit and stay commands, you can redirect his attention to you and the command before he bounds off after your cat. Reward you dog when he listens to you, resisting the urge to chase. He will soon understand which behavior provides him with the most favorable outcome.

– Allow your pets to have their own “space.” Despite your best efforts, dogs and cats are going to do what nature is telling them to do and the chase will eventually ensue. Make sure your cat(s) have an area of your home all to themselves that it strictly off-limits to the family dog(s.) Train your dog(s) from Day 1 that this location is verboten. This is where your cat(s) can escape to if things get a little, or a lot, out of control.

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