Dogs and cats really can be the best of friends! But sometimes when you bring a new cat into your home, even if your dogs already live peacefully with cats, the new cat is so exciting and… she runs when they play chase her, how fun! Well, fun from the dog’s point of view, but certainly not for the new scared cat. Why do cat-friendly dogs suddenly give chase to a new cat? There are many reasons, but more important than understanding the why, is understanding the how! How you can stop the chasing, and help the new cat adjust and fit happily into your home. Below are some tips I’ve used myself, as I have cared for dogs that would, if given the chance, chase new cats. Cats that were shy or scared of them were especially appealing! I’ve had other adopters and fosters tell me these tips really helped too. These are not a substitute for working with a professional pet trainer or behaviorist, but you can safely try these tips – while you keep your dog leashed or crated, and are working with a trainer – to see if they can help you too.
I wrote the tips below for a shy cat named “Twist.” She was adopted by a family with both big and small dogs. The dogs were living with other cats without a problem, but wanted to chase Twist.
*** Note: These tips are for AFTER your dogs have been properly introduced to the new cat. Read our 6 steps for cat to dog introduction here. Any dog, even if they are only “play” chasing, should be leashed or crated when the cat is out, until they no longer chase. Even play chase can turn deadly in a second, and a cat can blind a dog with one good swat. Also, please separate pets when you’re not home. Sadly we know of cats who were killed by dogs even years after living together, when something unexpected triggered a chase.
- Create a Safe Room or Safe Zone for Twist, where the dogs can’t go at all, but where she can get in/out of and see the dogs. Big enough for her food dishes, bed, and a litter box, so she can eat, sleep and take care of business. Perhaps use a baby gate to make one room just for her, or use tall dog playpen gates in one room, with cat trees on both sides so she can get in and out but the dogs can’t.
- Set up “highways” – literally, high paths that only Twist can take so she feels safe moving around. Wall mounted shelves with non-slip mats attached securely or work great for this, and/or using existing furniture (shelving, desks, counters) with the paths marked and kept clear by the non-slip pads.
- A cat-only escape route in every room including hallways, so Twist can get into a safe space to escape if she’s frightened. The places and routes can be a tall cat tree, tall table or bookshelf with a chair next to it, or a closet door wedged open with doorstops on both sides of the door just wide enough for her to enter.
- If she’s most scared of the big dogs, pull furniture away from the walls so she can slip behind. She’ll know the big dogs can’t chase her there.
- Crate the dogs and feed her near by.
- When humans are in the same room supervising, tether (tying) the dogs to something immobile, like a heavy couch, and bring Twist into the room – either in a crate or by playing with her, to let her spend time in the same room with the dogs to get used to them.
- Water spray bottles in every room. Calmly give one or two sprays in dog’s direction as soon as they even think about chasing the cat. Only works if dog’s don’t like the spray.
- Time outs for dogs right after they lunge or try to chase. (Not an angry punishment, just a disappointed shunning.)
- Immediate verbal praise for dogs that ignore or sit and don’t move as cat passes, reinforce with treat reward. (Use verbal cue “leave it” and reward if they do.)
- Practice dog’s obedience commands (sit, stay, etc) with rewards in same area as cat.
- Avoid feeling or expressing anger when dogs are near cat. Anger is a high-energy emotion. If you yell or otherwise get angry, you are actually “joining in” and adding to the high-energy adrenaline of the chase.
- You can use a noise deterrent if that interrupts the dog’s chase intent. Such as a firm verbal “Leave it!” or shaking a can of pennies. Not as a punishment, just an an interruption.
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