Introducing Cats and Dogs

by Rosemary Babb

Here is my method for introducing cats and dogs. This article describes introducing a cat to a dog or dogs. The same procedures will also work, with a few modifications, if you already have a cat and are introducing a dog into your household.


The goals are: to make sure the dog understands that the cat isn’t prey, to prevent the dog getting over-excited around the cat so the dog’s prey drive doesn’t kick in, to help the cat feel and be safe around the dog, and to help the dog and cat have friendly or at least neutral attitudes towards each other.

Getting Started

Our process involved one medium sized Samoyed named Meri who thinks the world is her playground; one large German Shepherd Dog, Nicky, who is convinced, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, that cats want him to wash their faces; and one small, timid, traumatized, declawed cat named Chessie who wanted nothing to do with either one of them. The whole process took a couple of weeks. With a more confident cat, it should go much faster.

Put the dog/s outside while you bring the cat in and get it settled. Temporarily give the cat a room of his own with everything he needs (bed, food, water, toys, litter box, scratching post, etc.) Later you can make other arrangements for the cat if you want to.

A utility room, bathroom or spare bedroom work fine. Ideally, the room should be in a quiet but not deserted part of the house, where the dog doesn’t have automatic access. You don’t want the dog camping outside the door and pestering the cat, but you also don’t want to put the cat in the room and forget him. The cat does need human company and needs to bond to you. If necessary, put some kind of barrier or obstacle outside the door to keep the dog away unless you can supervise him. Or crate the dog.

Put the cat in the room immediately, rather than letting him roam over the whole house. He will settle down much faster.

When the cat is settled, go and get the dog. Let him sniff the cat’s scent on your hands. Bring him in on leash and let him approach the door quietly and sniff quietly. No barking, lunging, jumping, etc. is permitted. If necessary, make the dog do some obedience (heeling, sit-stay, down-stay) outside the door. Make it clear this is not a free-for-all, and you, not the dog, will decide how he behaves around the cat.

When the dog is reasonably well behaved on leash (which may be immediately), let him approach the door off leash. You can keep a leash nearby in case you need it. You can also keep a spray bottle of water on hand if that works with your dog. (Note: Some people put a bit of lemon juice or vinegar in the water. I never have, because I worry about it stinging if it accidentally gets in the dog’s eyes, and also because Meri reacts to the tiniest spritz of water as if someone should call the authorities.)

Use your voice, too, to praise quiet behavior and to correct the dog if he starts acting up. Be sure to praise the dog and give him treats when he’s behaving well around the cat, so he starts to associate the cat with good things.

To help them get used to each other’s scent faster, rub a towel over the cat to pick up his scent, and then rub it over the dog. Do the same thing in reverse. Take a towel with one’s scent and put it in the other’s bed. Use the same brush or comb on both of them.

Next Steps

When the dog is calm around the cat’s scent (again, this may be very fast, or it may take a day or so), the next step is letting them see each other under controlled conditions. That could be through a screen door, through a dog gate, or with the dog in a crate. Unless the dog is crated, he must be on a leash so there is no chance of him chasing or lunging at the cat. If he’s crated and is getting too boisterous, use the spray bottle, or distance him from the cat until he calms down. Then gradually move him closer to the cat at a slow pace so he remains calm, and reward for good behavior.

The next step is to start removing the barriers (e.g., crate) and letting them spend more time together, first with the dog on leash and then trying it off leash if all is going well. Never allow the dog to jump on, chase, or harass the cat. Keep the treats coming.

Leaving the Dog and Cat Alone Together

Don’t leave the dog and cat alone together, however briefly, until the cat is clearly comfortable with the dog (even if they aren’t especially friendly). All hell can break loose very quickly. You want to make sure the dog has grasped that the cat isn’t prey and isn’t just waiting for a chance to pounce on the cat.

Good signs are:
The cat will eat with the dog in the room.
The cat will sleep with the dog in the room.
The cat and dog ignore each other at least part of the time (which means they aren’t intensely focused on each other).
The dog can get close to the cat without getting out of control, and without the cat running away.
The cat has spit at or swatted the dog when he thought the dog was out of bounds, and the dog has backed off. That means the cat can defend itself, at least to some extent. (Both our dogs get their feelings terribly hurt if our small, declawed cat bops them on the nose.)
The cat can run through the room and dog doesn’t get excited.

While all this is going on, don’t let the cat bully the dog, either. Spray bottles work well on most cats. So does making a sharp, loud noise, such as clapping.

When you think it’s time to start leaving the dog and cat alone together, at first just walk out of the room and walk right back in. Then start increasing the length of time you’re out of the room, but stay within hearing distance. If you hear any growling, barking, hissing, scuffling, etc., return immediately.

If you’re going out, you may still want to confine either the dog or cat at first, for the cat’s safety. When you start going out and leaving them alone together, think in terms of escape routes for the cat if the dog starts chasing it. Most rooms naturally have some places the cat can go that the dog probably can’t follow, such as high furniture the cat can jump up on, or furniture the cat can get behind. You can also create some extra obstacles and hiding places for the cat. For example, you can put something heavy in a large box or storage bin and place it so it’s partially blocking a doorway. The cat can easily get around it or over it, but the dog would probably at least be slowed down and have to climb over it or push it out of the way.

We knew everything was OK the day we came home and found Chessie asleep on the sofa, with both dogs asleep within a couple of feet of her.

However, there are dogs that will never be safe around a cat or other small animal. In that case, you just have to keep supervising them and never leave them alone with the cat.

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