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Can cats and dogs live happily together?

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

puppy and siamese catMost dog-cat problems are related to chasing. Even when done for fun, frequent chasing games keep a dog in a heightened state of arousal, which is the opposite of the calm behavior you're trying to instill for daily living.

Now, if your pup is already calm and well-behaved, and if he and the cat are good friends who play together nicely, that's fine if not overdone.

But if your pup tends to be excitable, you're only making his mental state more aroused if you allow him to chase or roughhouse (at least excessively) with the cat. So keep that in mind.

Suppose you already have a cat and you're adding a new pup to your family.

  • If the pup is large and strong, your primary concern is protecting the cat.
  • If the pup is small and/or very young, your primary concern is protecting the pup.  A cat's claws can blind a clumsy puppy or small dog whose face is down around the cat's level.
  • Your secondary concern is establishing the rule that calmness is required  inside your house.

You'll remember from my other articles that when you bring home a new puppy or adult dog, you shouldn't allow him loose indoors. He should be in a crate or pen, or on a leash, until he is 100% housebroken and well-behaved.

Remember, we're not just concerned with safety here. We also want calmness. If a pup can't remain calm when he's crated or leashed and the cat strolls past, how is he likely to act when he's not  crated or leashed?

Keeping your dog under control, in a crate or pen or on a leash, means he can become accustomed to the presence of the cat at the same time as he is learning the rules of your household. The vast majority of dogs will then leave the cat alone simply because you say so.

This is why leadership is so important. Once you have it, raising and training a dog is not difficult because a respectful dog will follow your directions.

puppy sleeping with kitten

Here's another cat-readiness test – put the cat in a crate/carrier on the floor. Attach your pup's leash but drop your end so he can drag it. Stand across the room and wait until your pup is nosing at the crate. Then call him. Does he come?

If you can't call your pup away from a passive cat in a carrier, what are you going to do if the cat is loose and there is a wild chase?

Establishing leadership takes time. Teaching a reliable Come  command takes time. Don't be in a hurry to combine cat and dog. They will have the rest of their lives to live together!

Suppose you have the DOG first and you're adding a cat to your family.... how do you introduce them?

Pharaoh HoundFirst, you shouldn't add a cat to your family until you have enough voice control over your dog that you can say "No" and he immediately stops what he's doing AND  until you can say "Come" and he always comes.

If your pup is like that, introducing a new cat is quite easy. The cat should be in charge. By that, I mean the cat should determine, with her hisses and swipes, how close the pup is allowed to come. When the cat recognizes her own power and the pup accepts it, there should be very few problems.

Can every dog live safely with a cat?

Unfortunately, no.  Some dogs will never accept that the cat is in charge. Typically these are dogs with strong prey instincts. For example, working or hunting lines  of Belgian Malinois, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, American Bulldogs, German Pointers, Airedales, and similar breeds.

Similarly, sighthounds  (such as Greyhounds and Borzois) and northern "spitz" breeds  (furry, curled tail, wolfish/foxy face, such as Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, and Akitas) can also have prey drives that are too strong for cat (or small dog) safety.

Now if such a dog is well-trained and respectful, he might be able to control his prey drive in your presence. But leaving that dog alone with the cat will never be completely safe.

If you ever find yourself crossing your fingers and hoping  that things might be okay, don't leave them alone together! Don't take chances with the lives of vulnerable pets who depend on you to protect them.

What if the CAT is the aggressive one?

If your cat is actually attacking or teasing your dog mercilessly, correct her firmly with a spray of water from a squirt gun or spray bottle.

As your pup's leader, one of your responsibilities is to step in and protect him from other animals. Believe me, your pup notices when you stand up for him. He also notices when you ignore the situation. Don't let him down.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

My best-selling books – now available  FREE  on my website

book coverRespect Training For Puppies: 30 seconds to a calm, polite, well-behaved puppy is for puppies 2 to 18 months old. Your puppy will learn the 21 skills that all family dogs need to know. Click here to read for free.
book coverTeach Your Dog 100 English Words is a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your adult dog to listen to you and do what you say. Click here to read for free.
book cover11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy helps your dog live a longer, healthier life. Get my honest advice about all 11 Things before you bring home your new puppy, because some mistakes with early health care cannot be undone. Click here to read for free.