Do you think about how to train a cat like a dog. Before getting a new cat or dog to the household, it’s important to consider a variety of factors including the animals’ personalities, their age, whether they have any particular medical problems and their previous experiences and reaction to the other species. Many people may be tempted to let their animals sort it out for themselves, but this is not conducive to building positive relationships with one other. It’s much better to manage a controlled introduction process rather than trying to repair a damaged relationship and this is why first impressions really count. When introducing a new animal into the household, it’s important to give them space to settle in. So for a new cat this maybe a sanctuary room like a spare bedroom, where you can give them all of their resources, or for a new dog you may want to section off part of the house.

We also need to be thinking in advance with our dog that they have a good level of training in place and particularly are very familiar with “Down” and “Stay” commands as well as being calm. So the most important part throughout the whole introduction process is scent swapping. To do this, we need to have one clean cloth for the cat and a separate clean cloth for the dog and we want to rub them on the scent glands. So for a cat, you want to be rubbing them around the cheeks and on the forehead, for example, and on a dog we want to be rubbing them on the armpits and along their flanks. Then take the cloths, swap them so the cat now has the scent of the dog on a cloth and the dog has a cloth with the scent of the cat on it. Place these cloths in the environment so that both animals have the choice to approach the cloth or to avoid them if necessary.

And by observing their behaviours very carefully, we can decide how well it’s going. Now, with any type of scent swapping it’s very important to top the scent up, so this needs to be done once a day and then we can progress through to a glass barrier. To do this, you may have a glass patio door for example, or French doors within the house that have glass. And again, it’s important that both animals have the choice as to whether they approach or not, but particularly for the cat. It’s very useful to have other members of the household, so ideally one person for the cat and another person for the dog, just to make sure that both animals stay calm and we can facilitate the process. Over successive repetitions where they’ve may be seen each other through a glass barrier for five minutes at a time, little and often, ideally we can progress through to another barrier, so a baby gate or a mesh barrier for example, just so that they can see each other and start to smell one another but not get to each other.

Again, lots of little repetitions over time, facilitating with treats so that we can really slowly build up to the point when we get to a face-to-face interaction. When we get to the face-to-face, it’s really important that the cat has the most control over the situation. They’ll feel much safer if they are in control and they can runaway if they want to or they can hide. Over a period of successive interactions with each other, the dog can progress with having a short lead, then going on to a long lead and allowing the dog a little bit more access to the cat, to maybe sniff them, but then call your dog back. Give them a treat and praise them for coming back. Owners can progress when using a long lead on their dog to actually letting the dog off the lead if the dog looks like they’re going to be calm and they’re going to stay relaxed and not chase the cat, but equally that the cat also feels relaxed in the presence of the dog and is unlikely to run in the event that the dog is let off its lead.

Monitor both the animals’ reactions to see how they’re getting along during all of these parts of the process. So whether it’s the glass barrier or themes h barrier or even the face-to-face. For the cat, we want to be looking out for signs that they’re relaxed, such as normal-sized pupils, their ears facing forward and a relaxed body posture. For the dog, we want to make sure that they are relaxed, that they’re not anxious and also they’re not too excited by the cat, that they want to chase them or really pulling at the leash to try and get at them. Equally if the dog stares at the cat too much, this could be a problem too. When introducing cats and dogs together, some people may be tempted to put the cat in a cat basket to reduce signs of fighting, for example. However, most cats have got negative associations with cat baskets and this is only going to make them feel more stressed.

In addition it removes their control and their ability to run away or to hide or to get up high, so it’s very important to allow cats to express their natural behaviours and not place them in cat baskets. If owners have any problems introducing cats and dogs together, it’s best to seek help sooner rather than later.

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