Pets

Learn the 6 best ways to teach cats and dogs to get along

Author: Canadian Living

Pets

Learn the 6 best ways to teach cats and dogs to get along

A familiar saying would have us believe that dogs and cats can't get along. And maybe that's true – to an extent. "Both dogs and cats are social," says Dr. Gary Landsberg, a board certified veterinary behavourist at the North Toronto Animal Clinic in Thornhill, Ont. "But unless they have contact with each other during their early growth development, they may be fearful, be unable to communicate and not get along."

But with the right know-how – and some patience – you can have them living under the same roof. Here's where to begin.

1. Socialize your pet
A dog's optimum socialization period begins to decline at three months of age; a cat's often ends at seven to nine weeks. If a puppy or kitten is properly introduced and gets used to another species at a young age, it is more likely to adapt and learn the other animal's language.

2. Consider adopting a pet

It helps if the animal you already have has been exposed to the other species. And consider adopting the second pet from either a breeder or a rescue organization. Breeders often raise dogs and cats together. And if it's been done in a controlled manner, a dog will be pretty complacent about cats, and will either like them or ignore them, says Dr. Liana Mawer, a veterinarian at Brandon Hills Veterinary Clinic in Brandon, Man. And a rescue organization has likely prescreened the animals and can tell you what type of home would be best.

3. Give your pets separate rooms
When your new pet first moves in, confine one of the animals to a separate room. This will limit their physical contact while allowing them to get used to each other's smell and sound. Just make sure that the confined animal has everything it needs (toys, litter box, water, perching areas, etc.) in the room and that you're still giving it plenty of attention. Progress to opening the door an inch or so to allow a little contact.

4. Introduce your pets to each other
Once both the dog and cat seem comfortable with the animal on the other side of the door, you can do a face-to-face introduction, with the dog on leash. Teach the dog focus exercises beforehand and do them when it first meets the cat. For example, have the dog sit and show it a treat in your hand. Hold the treat in front of its nose, move it up to your eye, then back to the dog's nose. Give the dog the treat if it looked at you. Doing this keeps the dog's attention on you, not the cat, says Mawer.

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5. Put a stop to bad pet behaviour
Keep a water pistol handy in case a fight breaks out. Let the animals know this is unacceptable by banishing them to separate areas of the house for a time-out. "But you don't want it to be the confinement room or a crate," says Mawer. "You don't want the animals to associate those places with anything negative."

6. Encourage good pet behaviour
When the animals are together, give them both treats. This teaches them that good things happen for one when the other is around. “We want to encourage the cat with as many rewards as possible to be around the dog and not be frightened of it," says Landsberg. "But with the dog, we want to teach it how to behave around the cat."

Once the animals have been introduced and the old guard seems to realize – and hopefully accept – that the new, four-legged creature is here to stay, you need to ensure that they are able to live together peacefully. Here are some tips for keeping the calm.

Give the cat an escape route
Have lots of perching and climbing areas in case it needs to get away or just wants to be left alone. A corner suite is ideal since the cat can monitor its surroundings.

Feed your pets separately
"Even a dog who is good with cats can show food aggression when the cat comes near its bowl," says Mawer. Give each animal space and time for its meals. Either fed them together but elevate the cat's food, or feed the cat in a separate room, adds Landsberg.

Hide the kitty litter
For reasons known only to them, dogs see the contents of a cat's litter box as a snack, but eating a cat's stool can lead to health problems such as diarrhea. For the cat, not having easy access to its litter box can be stressful and lead to house soiling. Have one or two boxes per cat in your home so it has options, and keep them in areas that are accessible only for the cat.

Know each animal's behaviours and tendencies
Each one has its own personality, and over time you will learn to recognize when one has had enough of the other. If they've had aggressive encounters before, anytime they're in the same room, keep them housed separately and never leave them unsupervised.

Don't force them to play together
But you can encourage them through positive associations. Give each animal lots of attention when they're in the same area. And reward spontaneous behaviour, says Landsberg; if the dog approaches the cat in a friendly manner, give him a treat and vice versa. "Keeping things positive and saving the treats and rewards for when they're together is the best way to encourage them to play together," he says.

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Learn the 6 best ways to teach cats and dogs to get along

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