As animal lovers we want all of our pets to feel secure, safe and comfortable at home. The introduction of a new puppy into a home represents a very exciting experience, but we must not neglect the mental and physical welfare of our established pets.
Also it certainly will not help to promote good canine-feline relations if your puppy suffers a corrective scratching swipe from the cat, as they will associate this strange unwelcoming animal with aggression.
Although in any breed guide there is an indication of which dog breeds have high prey drives and are more likely to chase, a much more important factor is being a strong canine leader clearly showing what you expect of your dog. This means any puppy can be trained to respect feline members of the family through positive reinforcement and consistent socialization.
This meeting has to be managed in careful, structured and sensitive steps.
#1 Let them follow their noses
The first introductions should be as gentle as possible. This could be managed by giving your cat(s) an opportunity to smell the puppy before they are confronted by the physical reality. In the first few days your puppy will be confined in different areas of the house.
If possible once your puppy has moved, give your cat(s) access to the this area of confinement. Allow them to familiarize themselves with the scent of the puppy in an entirely non-threatening context. This will help with positive (or at least neutral) first impressions. Similarly, allow the puppy to explore areas where she will encounter recent scents of the feline members of her household.
This will prepare both pets for a subsequent encounter by removing the shock element and some of the excitability.
#2 Ensure your puppy is well-exercized and relatively relaxed
If possible try to pick a time for this first meeting when the puppy has had an opportunity for play and interaction meaning the little canine will be relatively tired and relaxed.
#3 Keep your puppy confined
It is a good idea for them to be introduced to a puppy confined to an area either within a crate or a behind a baby gate. This will completely remove the potential for any chasing and an actual barrier will provide additional reassurance to the cat(s).
It will very likely be a good idea introductions to remain behind barriers for the first few days in order to optimize harmonious relationships in the later stages.
#4 Give your cat(s) an escape route
This cute little bundle of fur, for your cat, will not only be an intruder but also a strange unpredictable species, which they have already fallen foul of outside by way of being chased.
Your cat’s first thoughts will most likely, therefore, be an echo of the 80s song ‘Now, I know I’ve got to run away’. This means during the first introductions your cat must have places where they can safely run or jump. Access to the cat flap or a door leading outside should be fully accessible. You could also ensure there are high vantage points where a cat may jump giving them an opportunity to look disapprovingly down at the puppy from a safe distance.
#5 The chase is not on – using a leash
Just as your cat should have complete freedom, it is advised to keep your little dynamo of a puppy on a leash when there is a potential for them to chase the cats.
In a house with cats an early part of their training and socializing should be learning that what you don’t want them to do is chase (although your puppy is likely to see this as potentially huge fun). It is important as, as in all training, that you show strong canine leadership, and guide your puppy carefully through these first initial encounters.
In order to set up a sense of control and to signal to the puppy that you are the leader, make sure that when allowing the puppy to exit the area of confinement you leave first, telling your puppy to wait before permitting them to follow you. If your puppy attempts to bundle past you, return them to the gate area and repeat the exercise.
This will enforce for the puppy that you are in control of whatever happens on the other side of the gate and help with any correction that you may put in place for the puppy if he should attempt to chase your cat(s).
If your puppy chases, be corrective on the leash with a clear vocal ‘no’ and show your disapproval by withholding attention. On the other hand reward any calmer interactions by lavishing attention and praise on your puppy.
#6 The Distraction of Toys
Alongside this positive reinforcement try to divert your puppy’s chasing instincts towards. After correcting any chasing of your cats, take this as an opportunity to play chasing games with toys. This means that your puppy will associate chasing non-animate objects with both fun and approval.
#6 Feeding time
When introducing a dog or puppy either to another dog or to cats, then feeding time can provide a potential flashpoint for problems. Although cats generally do not take to dog food, dogs and puppies could quite happily consume cat food which is rich in protein.
At first ensure that the puppy and the cats are fed separately. It would also be a good idea to ensure that the puppy is aware that the cats are being fed first. This will elevate the status of the cats in ‘the pack’ and further promote the notion that the cats are part of the family unit and should not be the subjects of an ignominious chase.
#7 Keeping it Calm when you are Absent
For the first few months ensure that your puppy and the cats are separated when you are not there to supervise. This will mean confining your puppy to a place where they feel safe and comfortable during your absence. For a more detailed guide on how to prevent or mitigate your puppy’s stress when you are absent, please click here.
Good luck and we hope that your dog and cat become the best of pawsome pals (or at least are able to tolerate each other).
For tips on how to introduce a puppy to an established dog, please click here.