Behavior & Training
Print|Email|Text Size: ||
Cats and Dogs: The Meet-up
Can cats and dogs get along

You’ve heard the heartwarming stories: Dog meets cat. Cat loves dog. They bond and are best buds forever.
But the real world is a different story, animal behaviorists say. Whether you’re introducing a new cat to a dog, or vice versa, it’s worth remembering that cats are from Mars, dogs are from Venus.
“There’s a reason there are no cat parks,” says Pam Johnson-Bennett, animal behaviorist and author of eight books, including Think Like a Cat. “Cats don’t run up to a strange cat and say, ‘Hey! Let’s play.’” Most cats are essentially solitary and territorial, a phenomenon rooted in their wild ancestry. Felines lay claim to their turf, and will fight invaders fiercely; they need “home” to be a predictable, safe place. What does this mean when it comes to introducing dogs and cats? Following are a few suggestions that can make the meet-up more successful.
Take it slowly. “If I’m a cat, and a new dog is coming through the door, I’m thinking, ‘invasion!’” Johnson-Bennett says. “The cat doesn’t know if the dog is friend or foe.” Restrain the dog on a leash and always provide the cat with an escape route. “Cats need to [be able to] get away,” says animal behaviorist Sarah Wilson, author of the blog, My Smart Puppy. “It helps to use baby gates, just to give the cat a safe place to run to.” A sturdy, well-installed cat tree will give the cat a vertical escape route, which many prefer.
If you’re bringing a new cat home from the shelter, do not let your dog rush up to the cat carrier. Instead, take the cat to his own safe room, if possible, and let him hide as long as he needs to. “I’ve had cats who stayed in the linen closet for months,” Wilson notes. “They came out at night and scoped the territory while the dog stayed in the bed-room with the door closed. And that was fine.”
Animal behavior consultant Chris Shaughness, author of Puppy Mill Dogs SPEAK!, recommends rubbing a washcloth or towel over your dog, then letting your cat sniff the cloth. “If the cat hisses, never scold,” she says. “Just talk very calmly and happily: ‘This is your new friend. Don’t be scared.’”
Catnip and treats will help, especially in the beginning. “I reward the dog every time he focuses on me and relaxes,” Johnson-Bennett says. “The dog understands that he’s going to work with me; he’s not going to go chasing after the cat.”
While over time, most cats and dogs come to accept one another, sometimes they never fully warm up to the idea of co-habitation. “There are some house-holds where the dogs and cats are separate,” Shaughness says. “Again, that’s OK. Animals have their preferences just like we do. We just need to make sure they’re having positive experiences.”

This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 68: Jan/Feb 2012
CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Anonymous | April 24 2012 |

cats and cats or cats and dogs usually come to a mutual cohabitation agreement accepting that they are stuck with each other and will express displeasure whenever opportunity presents itself. It's called tolerance not acceptance and is seen in humans, plants and other lifeforms.

Submitted by Tyrant Cat & Skidgit | September 3 2013 |

Really. Well, excuse me, but I'm callin' BS on that one. As a lifelong cat parent, what I've seen has told me the complete opposite.
I grew up with dogs and cats, but have since settled for living with cats only. About four or so years ago, I fostered a brown tabby who'd been abused by his previous owner--the owner had tried to kill him, even, and left Baxter with a nasty concussion. Baxter was the most skittish cat I'd ever seen, and it didn't help that my ginger tabby was young and had her oats up. Goldie wasn't too happy when Baxter came on her turf, and Baxter was scared of his own shadow. Eventually, though, they became tolerant enough to play together, and finally, after I officially adopted Bax, they became completely inseparable. The slept together, cuddled, groomed each other, played a LOT, and when they had to be in their carriers, they kept quiet so long as they could see each other. Seriously. If those carriers weren't facing in the car, they raised holy hell, but if they could see one another through the doors, they were calm and quiet.
Those aren't the first two I've seen that sort of closeness with, either. Baxter died this past November, God rest his soul, and we finally decided to get another cat to keep Goldie company. As expected, she raised holy hell over it, and stayed angry for about a month. Now, though, Skidd and Goldie are inseparable; they cuddle, sleep in a pile, groom each other, play together, etc. They aren't even a special case, either. My family have had many cats over the years, all of whom have been loyal, affectionate, and very sociable with those they're used to...save two of them, who've had issues.
Honestly, if you're having the problem you referenced, you probably haven't socialized them properly, or have been sending off mixed signals. Also, we've never had a purebred...cat or dog...so I can't speak for the different breeds and how they respond to others. All of our cats have been happy, spoilt mutts, as have the dogs. And yes, we have had at least two instances of cats and dogs becoming best buddies, or as close as a reserved cat can become to a spastic large dog with way too much energy. Spaying/Neutering, proper socialization when young, patience and discipline, and properly introducing a new pet to the household can be vital to peaceful living.
So please, before you start judging cats as disagreeable and spiteful, do your research...they can be just as sweet and sociable as dogs can, and more so than many humans.

More From The Bark

Julie Hecht
Jolanta Benal
Dog Barking
Karen B. London
More in Behavior & Training:
Dogs Take to the New
Zack's Amazing Transformation
Bringing Home a Second Dog
Cautious Canines
Aggression in Dogs
Q&A with Denise Fenzi
Training Dog Trainers
Is Your Dog a Southpaw?
Run for Your Quality of Your Dog's Life
Learn How to Train Dogs at ClickerExpo 2014