How can we stop our dog from antagonizing our cat before meal times?
November 28, 2008 12:13 PM   Subscribe

How can we stop our dog from antagonizing our cat before meal times?

Our household consists of a 5 year old rescue cat, who previously lived well with dogs, and a 6 year old Border Collie McNab rescue, who previously lived well with cats. We've only had the dog for about a week and a half and, while he's well behaved and a great dog 99% of the time, we're noticing he's getting more and more aggressive before we feed them. At meal times, they both come racing into the kitchen, but the dog will herd/chase the cat either away from her dish, or out of the room completely. This morning he chased her out and snapped at her. The dog does not seem to be particularly protective of his food when he's eating it. We have started feeding the dog in his kennel so the cat can have some time to finish her meal. That addressed the eating of the cat food by the dog, which he would do if there was opportunity, but not the pre-meal aggression.

Any recommendations before this gets out of hand? The dog and cat food is currently housed in a cupboard near the cat's dish. We thought about moving the food, since maybe the dog is associating that area with his food. We are also considering installing a cat door on our laundry room door, so the cat can eat in peace. Should we just put the dog in the kennel and then bring his food to him? I'm not sure if these steps will just help the symptoms rather than the problem. I have also heard of letting the cat eat a little bit out of the dog bowl before the dog does, which is supposed make the cat appear higher in the pack.

The dog and cat get along fine when there's not food involved.
posted by slowfasthazel to Pets & Animals (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Have the dog down/stay while the cat eats first, then put the dog's food out and release him from stay to eat. I do this with my lab and three cats, it keeps the dog in line and keeps him out of the farterific cat food.
posted by jamaro at 12:59 PM on November 28, 2008

First, you can't make the cat "appear higher in the pack". Many dogs will never consider a cat part of their pack in the first place, and even if they do, pack order is decided among similar-status pack members, not by the humans, even if the humans consider themselves "alpha", and behave accordingly. Pack order between animals is not something you can or should impose, it causes far more stress and likelihood of fighting/injury, since humans do not actually understand pack dynamics very well.

Your idea to have the dog crated and then bring him his food is what I would do as a second choice. Feed the cat somewhere else (out of sight of the dog). Definitely do not feed them in the same room. You know mealtimes cause stress, minimize the stress by minimizing the opportunities for over-excitement, feeling of competition, and opportunity for contact. Feed the dog in his crate, or (my first choice) when possible, use the meal as training rewards with a clicker while the cat eats somewhere else, out of sight. With a new dog, this is what you should be doing anyway, IMO, why waste all that food by giving it away when you could be using it to build your relationship with the dog? I try to hand-feed at least one meal a day as training rewards with the clicker with a new dog, my dogs would much rather work with me than eat out of a bowl, because training to them is fun and they get my undivided attention. If you make training rewarding, and use appropriate methods, the dog will forget all about the cat and concentrate on playing this fun clicker game with you instead. There are many excellent clicker training books available ("Click for Joy" is a great one for beginners).

This situation will likely change as the dog gets used to being in your home, whether it changes for the better or for the worst will depend on how you manage things nnow.
posted by biscotti at 1:41 PM on November 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm using an "Invisible Fence" indoor unit with a collar on the new Husky Puppy, with the sensor unit placed next to the cat food. After a couple of days the puppy leaves the cat food alone... it also keeps the puppy away from the cats while they are at the food bowls...
posted by HuronBob at 7:16 PM on November 28, 2008

Shocking a dog who is already aroused by the cat + food scenario is a recipe for a dead cat, or at very least the opposite of what you want when you are trying to reduce the level of arousal.
posted by biscotti at 7:53 AM on November 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: With a problem like this, which only occurs around mealtime, I'd want to take steps toward avoiding it entirely rather than trying any sort of training. It's far easier that way.

Crate the dog for twenty minutes or so before his mealtime, then feed him in his crate. Let him back out about ten minutes after your cat has finished eating. That twenty-minute waiting period will avoid your dog associating being crated with mealtime. Otherwise, you might end up with a dog who gets happy and excited whenever he's crated, which is the opposite of what you want. Crates are chill-out spaces, after all.

Alternatively, you can put your cat up in a closed room, wait a few minutes (again, to avoid making the putting-up of the cat a signal to the dog that mealtime is imminent) and go ahead with Biscotti's excellent suggestion of hand-feeding the meal or using the food as a training reward.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 3:36 PM on November 29, 2008

Our Border Collie does just this. As soon as the can opener comes out of the drawer at feeding time he'll chase he bejeezus out of the two cats he co-habits with. Growls, snaps (nothing serious) and good chase before he'll head back to his bowl to eat. Just dominance behaviour and the cats know to make themselves scarce. But woe betide the Collie (Mac) if he corners the eldest cat (Charlie) during this routine. There'll only be one winner and that cat will be eating dogfood if he so pleases.

They get fed at different times and the cat's food is up on the worktop but it still happens. It's harmless and makes Mac feel like he's literally top dog. The cats, being cats, couldn't care less.
posted by theCroft at 10:14 PM on December 18, 2008

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