How to Introduce Your Puppy to Your Cat

Trainer Talk

How to Introduce Your Puppy to Your Cat

Cats and dogs can get along great, but it depends a lot on the personality of both animals -- and how they were introduced. Dogs that are known to chase or kill small animals usually don’t buddy up with cats. There are also many dogs that live peacefully with a cat at home but chase the ones they find outside. The transition is easiest if you start with a young pup and introduce him to your cat gradually.

Puppy-cat Management

Since a puppy will be confined to small portions of your home while he learns to control his bladder, bowels and teeth, it probably won’t be too tough to keep the two animals separated at first. Your kitty should always have an escape route -- a place where cats are allowed but dogs are not (the cat food and litter box should always be kept from the dog). A cat can jump most pet gates that dogs can’t. You can also get a gate that keeps medium to large dogs out but allows cats through their own little cutout on the bottom (although small dogs can fit through those, too). Similarly, you can install a baby gate a few inches off the ground for a small cat to fit under.

Conditioning -- This Is GOOD!

Your next step is to teach each pet that the presence of the other animal means Good Things. This is called “associative conditioning,” because the animal begins to associate his housemate with something he likes. Often, the easiest lure to use is food: Kitty gets special treats when puppy is around, and puppy earns special treats by exhibiting calm behavior and following obedience commands when kitty is nearby. 

Because the animals should be separated when no one is there to supervise them (especially with young, impulse-impaired puppies or a dog that’s much larger than the cat), you should briefly allow the animals into the same area while providing each with treats and attention. Keep puppy on a leash, and consider having your cat in a carrier or pen, too. If both seem relaxed, you can let the cat out -- but keep the leash on the pup for a while.

Short Periods
Repeat this exercise for short periods over several days and take a good objective look at how well each animal is doing. If the puppy is calm and the cat seems comfortable, extend the period they spend together. Try naturally relaxed times, like mid-afternoons (but not evenings, when both dogs and cats are likely to get “the zoomies”). Consider settling your puppy down with a bone or stuffed Kong while gently petting your cat.

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/salihguler

Stacy Braslau-Schneck is a longtime dog trainer and a professional member of the Association of Dog Pet Trainers. She works closely with the Human Society Silicon Valley and is the owner of Stacy’s Wag’N’Train, which offers small group classes and private lessons in San Jose, Calif. Stacy writes frequently for Exceptional Canine.

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