Having a dog and a cat in the same household can be challenging if your dog tends to get overly excited or aggressive around cats. Dogs have a natural instinct to chase cats, so it requires training and patience to teach your dog to be calm around felines. The good news is that dogs and cats can absolutely learn to peacefully coexist with the proper techniques. Here are comprehensive tips on how to train your dog to be calm around cats.
Start Training Early
It's ideal to start training your dog to accept cats from an early age. Puppies that are socialized young have the best chance of growing accustomed to having cats around. If you already have cats in your home, start introducing them to your new puppy as soon as you bring them home. Keep the interactions brief and positive. Reward your puppy with treats for calm behavior around the cats. However, supervision is still required until your dog matures and establishes good habits around felines.
Use Positive Reinforcement
When training your dog to be calm around cats, positive reinforcement is key. Yelling or punishing your dog for chasing or obsessing over cats will only make them more excited. Instead, remain calm and use treats, praise, petting or a favorite toy to reward relaxed behavior. Any time your dog remains calm near a cat or disengages from a cat on their own, reward them. This will reinforce that calmness gets your dog attention instead of chaos.
Create Safe Zones
It's important that your cats have access to safe and dog-free zones in your home, especially during the training process. Use baby gates to prevent your dog from entering certain rooms or block off hiding spots where cats can get away. This will allow your cats to observe the dog from a safe distance and retreat if they feel overwhelmed. It also prevents terrifying chases around your home.
Use Leashes and Gates
When you're first introducing your dog to cats or training calm interactions, keep your dog leashed, crated or gated in a controlled area. This allows you to easily control their interactions and prevent negative chasing behaviors. With your dog restrained, give a verbal correction if they fixate on the cats, followed by a treat when they relax. Gradually increase the time they are exposed to the cats in a controlled setting.
If your dog starts staring, obsessing or getting worked up around your cats, immediately redirect their attention. Use treats, toys or obedience commands like "sit" or "down" to refocus them on you instead of the cats. Calmly praise and reward your dog once their attention is redirected. This teaches them cats are not to be focused on.
Model Calm Behavior
Your dog will take cues from you, so it's important to stay calm during training. Getting angry or raising your voice can add more excitement. Instead, confidently and gently correct unwanted behaviors. Speak in a soothing tone and model relaxed body language around your cats. Your calm demeanor will influence your dog's behavior.
For some dogs, learning to be calm around cats takes extensive time and training. Some breeds have a very high prey drive. Remain patient and persistent, continuing daily training sessions until your dog reliably ignores your cats. If they regress, immediately correct the behavior and go back to basics using treats, leashes and separation. Don't give up.
Even after formal training, it's smart to exercise caution leaving your dog and cats alone unsupervised. Make sure your cats have access to perches, hiding spots and gated rooms when you're away just in case. Some dogs that coexist peacefully with cats might still exhibit problem behaviors if left alone with them for too long. Better to be safe.
Never Punish Fearful Behavior
Some dogs act aggressively out of fear of cats. Punishing this fear-based behavior will only increase your dog's anxiety and stress around cats, making the problem worse. If your dog's reactivity seems to come from fear, introduce cats gradually and use treats and praise to build positive associations. Help them overcome their fear.
Consult a Trainer
If your dog exhibits aggressively obsessive behavior around your cats that you're unable to control, consult a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist. They can assess your dog's specific issues and the safety risks to your cats. A trainer can then design a customized training plan using desensitization, impulse control and positive reinforcement techniques.
Once your dog is calmly tolerating your cat's presence, try adding distractions during training sessions. Have a family member knock on the door or crinkle a treat bag while your dog remains leashed and your cats are present. Reward them for staying calm and not fixating on the cats despite the noise. This translates to real world settings.
While many dogs can learn to peacefully accept a housecat, some prey drives may simply be too strong, or severe anxiety around cats too deeply ingrained. If your dog injures your cats or seems constantly stressed despite extensive training, you may have to keep them separated for safety. Talk to your vet for guidance.
To prevent scary surprise encounters, teach your cats to avoid jumping out at, cornering or approaching your dog unexpectedly. The dog should always be able to see the cats approaching at a distance. Startle ambushes can trigger a dog's prey drive. Manage your home layout to give cats and dogs visual notice of each other.
Teaching your dog to be calm around cats requires regular training sessions, ample rewards for good behavior, patience, and potentially help from a professional. But in most cases, even high prey drive dogs can learn to peacefully coexist with cats using positive reinforcement, distraction, desensitization and management techniques. With time and consistency, you can have a harmonious multi-species home.