Fighting Like Cats And Dogs: Dealing With A Cat-Aggressive Dog

Kate Barrington
by Kate Barrington

Why can't they just get along? What to do when your dog doesn’t see eye-to-eye with cats

If you have a multi-pet household, there may be times when your pets simply do not get along. This is to be expected to a certain degree but it can be dangerous if one of your pets becomes aggressive toward another – this is particularly common in dogs when dealing with cats. If you have a dog that struggles with cat aggression, your first move should not be to get rid of the dog – there are ways to desensitize your dog to the cat so you can have a happy household.

There is no need to stress or take drastic measures if you have cats and dogs that don’t get along well. Instead, just focus and take action to create a peaceful home for every one of your fur babies. Here are a few tips that can help you make your multi-pet family a happy one. If you give these a try but you are still struggling to entice everyone to get along, consider consulting with an animal behaviorist who might be able to give you customized advice on what you can do to resolve conflicts and prevent them from happening in the first place.  

How Desensitization Works

Many dog breeds have a natural prey drive, which causes them to become excited when they see a cat – their first instinct is to chase it. While many dogs would not intentionally harm another animal, injuries can occur when the dog becomes overly excited. What the dog considers play could actually be harmful to your cat. The best way to deal with a dog that has these problems is to desensitize him to the cat so he no longer has that excited and uncontrollable response. Desensitization is the “diminished emotional responsiveness to a negative or aversive stimulus after repeated exposure to it”. In short, you can diminish your dog’s excited reaction to the cat by repeatedly exposing him to it in a calm and controlled manner.

This takes time, patience, and practice. But with consistent effort, you may begin to see changes in the way your dog reacts to your cat. And once they are getting along just fine, you’ll know that your efforts were more than worthwhile. So, if you are dreaming of a happy relationship between your cat and dog, check out the recommendations below. By following these surprisingly easy steps, you might begin to note a difference in your pets’ behaviors, with your dog being much calmer and friendlier, and your cat being much less stressed and annoyed, when they are in the same room together. 

Steps to Take

As mentioned above, the thing to remember with this method is that it make take some time for it to work – the key is to expose your dog to the cat in short bursts several times a day over a period of weeks until he becomes desensitized. Follow these steps for the procedure:

1.) Put your dog on a leash – ideally you should outfit him with a head collar as well so you have better control over his head (and thus his attention). When it comes to leashes and collars, always be sure to purchase items that are made of high-quality materials that are durable. You want these products to work well when you are working on this desensitization method. Also, you want to be sure that the collar fits your dog comfortably and the leash is the right length for you to maintain good control over your canine companion. 

2.) Separate your dog and cat in different rooms and give the cat some wet food or something to keep her interested in staying where she is. This might be a nice cat tree that she can relax on, a fun toy that she enjoys playing with, or a comfortable cat bed that she loves napping in. 

3.) Bring your dog down the hallway toward the room where your cat is – stay calm and walk slowly so you do not excite the dog too much. If you can maintain a casual attitude, the odds may be higher that your dog will feel the same. 

4.) When your dog sees the cat, start to slowly walk backward back down the hall away from it – you should always be facing the cat. Again, keep a calm attitude so you can work on keeping your dog calm as well. 

5.) As you move backward down the hall, the pressure on the leash will turn your dog’s head so that he follows you away from the cat. It’s that simple. Just use your own movement to gently redirect your dog to go in the direction that you want him to walk in.

6.) Do not give any commands or use any corrections with the leash – simply walk back down the hall. You may be tempted to say something, but don’t. And, once you try this, you might be surprised by the fact that commands weren’t necessary. 

7.) Repeat this process several times a day until your dog no longer shows a negative reaction to the cat. Some dogs might change their behavior sooner than others, so there is no rule about how quickly things will change. Again, it is all about consistent effort. This takes time, so create a schedule that you can follow and stick with easily. That way, you can do this a few times every day.  

8.) To reinforce your dog’s behavior, give him a treat when he turns his attention to you instead of the cat and when he reacts calmly. Positive reinforcement is a great way to train your pet, so definitely remember this step. 

9.) If the dog starts to get too excited, simply leave the room and try again later. If you try to force things to happen before your dog is ready to change his behavior, you may be disappointed and it’s likely that both you and your dog will get frustrated. Practice patience and just revisit the exercise when everyone is calm again. 

Other Tips and Tricks

Even once your dog becomes desensitized to the cat, you should still supervise all of their interactions together. No matter how well trained your dog is, he can be unpredictable and something could happen to incite a negative reaction. Make sure that your house provides plenty of places for your cat to retreat to just in case something happens and never leave your dog and cat alone in a room together. If you follow these simple steps and take the proper precautions, however, your dog and cat are perfectly capable of living in harmony with one another.

Kate Barrington
Kate Barrington

Kate Barrington is the loving owner of two cats (Bagel and Munchkin) and a noisy herd of guinea pigs. Having grown up with golden retrievers, Kate has a great deal of experience with dogs but labels herself a lover of all pets. Having received a Bachelor's degree in English, Kate has combined her love for pets and her passion for writing to create her own freelance writing business, specializing in the pet niche.

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