Puppies and kittens raised together often get along famously. Even dogs and cats that meet later in life can learn to live together if they are introduced properly. But, between these two species, there is a common catch: dogs enjoy chasing cats.
Why Do Puppies Chase Cats?
Most dogs feel compelled to chase cats unless they are discouraged through training. Herding breeds and terriers are particularly prone to chasing because that's what they have been bred to do. Quick movements, like that of a fleeing cat, spark their inborn predatory instinct to pursue. Cats, when chased, dart away and perpetuate the problem. Fortunately, most puppies can be taught to respect cats, and the two species can learn to coexist in peace.
In serious cases, when you truly fear the fur will fly, a muzzle for your puppy may be the best option for your cat's immediate safety. A basket muzzle is a good option for keeping the cat safe around a persistently aggressive or rambunctious puppy.
These steps will help teach your pup to accept the muzzle:
- Show the puppy the muzzle. Let it sniff the muzzle so it becomes a familiar item.
- Hold the basket muzzle like a bowl.
- Put a favorite treat inside and show it to the pup.
- Hold the muzzle so the pup sticks its nose inside to get the treat.
- Repeatedly offer the treat from the muzzle 10 to 15 times.
- Finally, fasten the muzzle and reward the puppy with a treat. Then, take the muzzle off promptly.
- Wait a couple of hours and repeat. This time, leave the muzzle on longer and reward often.
- With the pup muzzled, allow it to roam around with the cat. It may still chase, and the cat may hide, but at least there is no risk of biting.
For dogs that salivate at the sight of the cat, make sure the muzzle is worn whenever you can’t supervise the pair.
A larger puppy can still cause a significant amount of trauma to a cat, even without biting. Some puppies may need to be crated or kept in a separate area whenever they cannot be monitored directly.
Most puppies don’t mean to hurt a cat; they just can’t resist the lure of the chase. One way to remove the temptation of a fleeing cat is to keep the cat in one place via the carrier technique. This method should only be used if your cat is confident and won’t be unduly stressed. Shy cats should not be subjected to this situation.
- Place your kitty in a protective carrier while the puppy is in another room. Provide a toy or treat if that helps keep the cat calm.
- Bring the puppy into the room on a leash, offering a steady stream of treats to keep it focused on you. Stop a few feet from the carrier.
- If your pup knows (or is learning) obedience commands, ask it to sit or stay. Reward it with treats for obeying.
- Allow the pup to look at the cat, but offer treats for sitting calmly again or looking away from the cat. The idea is to teach your puppy that it will be rewarded for behaving calmly or ignoring the cat rather than pestering it.
The cookie-cat technique works more quickly. Just as Pavlov conditioned dogs to salivate when they heard a bell, you can teach your puppy to respond to the cat’s presence in a way that makes it impossible to start the chase.
- Ensure the cat’s safety by keeping your dog under leash control to prevent a chase from taking place. Most puppies prefer cat-chasing to any other reward, so don’t allow your pup to start this habit.
- Don’t confine the cat. Allow it to move around at will while you offer the pup treats to keep its focus on you.
- Each time the cat moves or attracts the puppy’s attention, give the pup a treat. You can pair this with the "click" of a clicker if you are also clicker-training your puppy.
- Be consistent. Offer this treat-click reward every single time your cat is present, whether your puppy is calm, excited, looks at the cat, barks, or whines. The equation should be: a cat's presence equals a dog treat.
- Use the leash to keep your puppy safely out of reach of a cat scratch, but don't pull to get the pup's attention. You want the puppy to choose to look at you for a treat, not be forced to do so.
- Continue to reinforce this behavior for at least a week or more. With consistency, your puppy will learn that when it sees the cat, it should look to you for a treat. Chasing won't even be a consideration.
Tips for Moving Forward
After completing one or more training techniques with your puppy, you will be eager to see how well it behaves when confronted with the cat. Don't hurry this process, though.
Keep the Leash Handy
Keep your pup leashed when you're both in the cat's presence so that chasing is impossible (it's more effective to prevent this behavior than to scold after the fact). If you see signs of the pup reverting to the chase impulse, re-start your training method from the beginning. Your pup may just need the reinforcement of a few more sessions to instill the desired behavior.
Experiment with Interaction
Once your puppy has learned its limits, try some off-leash sessions with the cat. Always be sure your feline friend has plenty of hiding places, preferably above the pup's reach. Be diligent about preventing chasing or barking. In time, both the puppy and the cat can learn to accept and respect each other, and perhaps even become furry friends.
Separate While Unsupervised
Make sure your puppy does not have an opportunity to chase your cat, especially if the two are unsupervised. Acclimating your pup to a kennel or carrier is an effective means of separation that allows your cat to remain free in its territory. Some dogs may never be fully trusted with a cat unless their owner is near, but others learn to be gentle with the cat and can be left alone with their feline companion without worry.