Puppies and kittens brought up together get along famously. Even adult pets can learn to live with “that weird critter” if they’re introduced properly. One of the most common problems, though, involves teaching your new puppy to respect Tabby, and not repeatedly force her up a tree. What can be done when your puppy chases the cats?
Why Dogs Chase
Some dogs feel compelled to chase the cat, or even want to eat her! For herding and terrier types, motion triggers their inborn predatory instinct to pursue. Cats, of course, do not appreciate being turned into a wind-up toy for the dog’s amusement, and in some cases, the “chase” becomes life-threateningly serious. Teaching your puppy to refrain from the chase not only enforces good behavior but also becomes a safety issue.
Muzzle for Safety
In serious cases where you truly fear the fur will fly, a muzzle for your puppy may be the best and safest option. You can pick one up at a pet store and they come in various styles. A basket muzzle is a good option for keeping the cat safe around a clueless puppy. Here’s how to teach your puppy or older dog to accept the muzzle.
- Show the puppy the muzzle. Let him sniff it so it’s familiar to him.
- Hold the basket muzzle like a bowl.
- Put a favorite treat inside and show it to the puppy.
- Hold the muzzle so the pup sticks his nose inside to get the treat.
- Repeat feeding your pup the treat from the muzzle a dozen times.
- Finally, fasten the muzzle and reward him with several treats for tolerating it. Then take it off. He should get no treats unless he’s wearing the muzzle so he associates wearing it with treats.
For dogs that salivate at the sight of the cat, make sure the muzzle is worn whenever you can’t supervise the pair.
Carrier Technique to Teach Puppies Not to Chase
Most dogs don’t mean to hurt the cat, rather they just can’t resist the lure of the chase. Trainers suggest a couple of methods to cure this.
One method is to use a protective carrier for the cat while the puppy is under leash control. Use this technique ONLY if your cat is a confident feline and won’t be unduly stressed. Shy cats should not be subjected to this situation. Here’s how it works.
- Place your kitty in a protective carrier while the puppy is in another room. Provide a cat toy or catnip to help keep the cat calm.
- Bring the puppy into the room and give him favorite treats one after another to keep him focused on you and to reward him for behaving calmly.
- Ask the pup to practice a sit, to follow you on the leash in a heel position or to stay on command. Practice obedience commands your puppy knows very well and reward him for obeying.
- Offer the BEST treats for moving or looking away from the cat. The idea is to teach your puppy he gets better attention and rewards by ignoring the cat than by pestering her.
"Cookie Cat” Technique to Cut the Chase
Here's another technique that 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 for him to chase her.
- Ensure the cat’s safety by keeping your dog under leash control and prevent ANY chase from taking place. Most puppies prefer cat-chasing to any other reward so don’t allow your pup to get his first taste.
- Have plenty of smelly, tasty treats handy. These should be irresistible and something the puppy ONLY gets for this exercise.
- Don’t confine the cat at all. Allow her to move around at will while you keep the puppy’s attention on you as much as possible by teasing with the treats.
- Each time the cat makes an appearance, moves or otherwise draws the puppy’s attention, give a tiny taste of a treat—partner this with the CLICK cue of the clicker if you’ve clicker-trained.
- Be consistent. Offer this treat-CLICK reward every single time whether your puppy is calm, excited, looks at the cat, barks or anything else. The equation should be: CAT’S PRESENCE = DOG TREAT.
- Use the leash to keep your puppy safely out of paw-reach of the cat, but not to force his attention. You want the puppy to choose to look at you for the treat, not be forced to do so. Given time, his puppy brain will connect the dots and figure out that when he sees the cat, he should look to you for a treat—and he can’t chase when he’s accepting that yummy treat!
- Continue to reinforce this behavior for at least a week or more. With consistency, most dogs will get it within only a few sessions.
- Make sure the dog stays leashed and the pets separated when not supervised until you're confident the new canine response has become ingrained.
Once your puppy has learned limits, you can try some off-leash sessions with the cat. Always be sure your feline friend has plenty of “second story” territory like the backs of chairs and cat trees or shelves to stay safely out of nose reach. In time, both the puppy and the cat can learn to accept and respect each other, and perhaps even grow into a furry friendship.