Introducing Dogs and Cats: Helping Your Dog Meet Small Animals

Lea Jaratz

gray cat and Golden Retriever

Every dog has strengths and weaknesses when it comes to social manners and prey drive. It’s normal for most dogs to be curious about cats and smaller animals the first time they meet, but first impressions can make or break the long-term relationship or set them back for a long time. There are a few things you can do to increase the chances that your dog will hit it off with your new smaller friend and build a relationship that lasts. Here are some tips for introducing your dog to your cat – and these guidelines can apply for a pet rabbit, guinea pig, or other pocket pets as well.

Take it Slow

There’s no need to rush introductions, especially if you’re planning on these animals cohabitating for a long time. If you’re introducing your dog to a new cat, it’s best to go at a snail’s pace. Start by keeping them separated by at least a closed door, if not an entire floor. Let them smell each other through the air or under the door, but don’t let them see each other for a few days, or even a week depending on how interested they seem to be in each other.

Alone Time

Give your cat some time to roam around while the dog is outside so that the dog can smell all the good new smells when they come back inside. This also gives the cat a chance to explore their new space and smell their new buddy too.

Use a Divider

Once your dog seems used to these new smells, try letting them see and sniff each other through a kennel door or baby gate. Go a little at a time, increasing by a few minutes every day until your dog is chill around the cat, maybe even ignoring it in the kennel.

Try Face to Face

Now try to let them meet face to face. It might have been a long few weeks, maybe even months, but here’s a chance to make progress. If your dog is not leash reactive, leash him in a large, neutral room in your home, and let the cat out of the kennel. No need to push anyone together or get involved. Just let them sniff each other and keep your fingers crossed. If there are any hiccups (hissing, growling, etc.) go back to doing kennel meet-and-greets. If not, proceed to letting them have more leashed introductions until you feel comfortable letting your dog off leash.

Supervised Visitation

Continue supervised visits for about a month before leaving them alone together, just to make sure no one gets hurt while you’re gone.

Now that you know the protocol, you can try a few tricks to encourage good behavior and set them up for success:

  • If you’re adopting a new cat, try to adopt one that has prior positive experience with dogs. It’s not uncommon for shelters or rescues to have this information in their records so don’t hesitate to ask.
  • If your dog has no prior experience with cats, ask if any friends that have dog-friendly cats will let you visit. I had a dog that appeared predatory to some cats but managed to fall in love with a cat that shared her home with several dogs and it set him up for much better cat associations ever after.
  • Don’t be stingy with the treats. If your dog seems overly focused on the door or kennel where the cat is, distract them with a toy, treat, or some play time. After your dog has a good introduction session with the cat, give them a high-value prize to build a positive association.
  • Tire your dog out before you do an introduction. No dog is at their best when they haven’t had their exercise to burn off that obnoxious energy. Take them for a long walk or play fetch before sniffing time.

Signs to Watch For

If your dog is lunging, growling, or snapping at a calm cat, their prey drive may be too high to make them a safe match with the cat. If you have any concerns call in a professional, and in the meantime go back to the prior step.

A rule of thumb for introductions is to take it slower than slow, and keep a calm, positive attitude. We hope you’ll find your pets are best pals for a long, long time

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