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Aggression toward Cats


Dog Behavior Library

The Dog - Cat Peace Process

Prevention is Easier than Correction

Like everything else in life, it is easier to prevent problems between cats and dogs than it is to correct the problem.

The best time to introduce cats to dogs is when both are very young. Both cats and dogs accept other species more easily when they are in their primary socialization periods. Developmentally, this period starts and ends sooner with kittens than puppies. What kittens learn before 10 weeks of age and what puppies learn before 16 weeks of age makes a lifelong impression

In difficult severe cases, this peace process might takes weeks or longer. Trying to push it too quickly will cause the problem to worsen, instead of improve.

Brokering An Agreement

If you already have a home turf war going on, here are some tips on how to achieve peace:


Separate the parties for a "cooling off period" ranging from a day to a week. If possible, this means no eye contact. Also, during the entire peace process, isolate them from each other unless you are there to supervise.


While isolated from each other, introduce each other's scent. Rub a towel on the dog, and place it near where the cat sleeps. Do the reverse for the dog. This exposure to the scent of the other is part of the desensitization process, and starts building a bond.


If the dog is not really sharp on obedience Instructions, join a refresher course to be sure you have a strong positive leadership position and verbal control. Use rewards, interrupt negative behavior, and avoid any physical punishment. Work on the LONG DOWN STAY Instruction. If this Instruction is difficult for your dog, teach "Close Tethering" where the dog is tethered on a 6 foot chain leash with a chew toy, close to a person, and praised for quiet resting.


Give "off the property" leash exercise to the dog, and drag a string to exercise the cat. Exercise relieves a lot of tension.


This is also a great time to teach the dog to wear a head halter like the "Gentle Leader" (available from Premier Pet Products, 800-933-5595). This decreases reactivity, encourages calm behavior, and allows effective control of even a charging big dog. This tool also makes it easy to walk any dog while preventing pulling on the leash.


Get a large molded plastic portable kennel, and feed the cat in it for at least a week. Feed meals not "free choice".  In between meals, leave the door open with a comfy bed inside.


Begin feeding both pets at the same time within eye contact but otherwise from a distance. The dog is either tethered or on a long-down-stay, and the cat is inside his or her "safe place" portable kennel, with the door locked for safety.


In addition to the meals, prepare some REALLY special treats. Use these to reward relaxed postures, and ignoring the other being. Move the kennel closer to the tethered dog, as long as BOTH are relaxed. If either gets tense, move the kennel farther away.


During these desensitization sessions, give special attention to each while the other watches. The goal is for each to think, "The big boss seems to like him, and all the good things seem to happen when he is near by." During the peace process (except during this feeding treat and praise, "happy hour".) Give each pet the "cold shoulder" treatment, so that they become motivated for attention, and associate getting attention with the former enemy.


Once the cat in the kennel can be right next to the dog, and the dog loses interest in sniffing, let the cat patrol while the dog is tethered. Next mealtime, reverse to leave the cat in the carrier and the dog to patrol. Be there to interrupt but not physically punish barking, or pawing or gnawing the kennel. Praise the dog and give treats anytime he ignores or acts relaxed around the cat.


The next step is to have the dog tethered while you play with the cat. Try dragging a string or other toy designed to get the cat to run. If the dog gets excited and tries to pull on the tether, you are going too fast. Back up to previous steps, and try simply holding the cat on your lap, giving special grooming and petting and treats, while the dog watches YOU "accept" this being.


If problems persist, seek the services of a qualified professional by contacting the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (800/248-2862), the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (, the Animal Behavior Society (, or the Animal Behavior Network (www.AnimalBehavior.Net).

As you begin trust them together, begin letting both be unrestrained but with the dog wearing the Gentle Leader and dragging a 10 foot lead to give you some control. Make sure the cat has plenty of places to get up high, away from the dog. If the dog gets close, and the cat swipes the dog's face, support the cat. It means the dog was being inappropriate, and the cat was just teaching proper manners.

The final step is delivering "aid" to peaceful individuals. Determine a "special treat" for each party. Usually, this is a tasty food morsel, but some dogs really like squeaky toys, or a tug of war game (for non-aggressive dogs). The goal is for each to suppress his or her  tendency for conflict, in order to receive his or her very own peace offering.

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