He just wants to play. All the damn time.
January 24, 2010 11:43 AM   Subscribe

How do I convince my puppy to stop trying to play with the cats?

Our 13 week old puppy is well on his way to becoming a good dog. He walks well, is housebreaking nicely, and mostly minds us.

But he will not stop trying to play with the cats. It's clearly not aggression. Ears forward, tail down. Play bows. Little "play with me" arfs. When they express their displeasure, he lies down. He's clearly submissive to them.

But the cats are not amused. They swipe at him, and sometimes connect. We've been letting it go, because we figured that the cats would teach the dog that they weren't interested. But, the dog interprets the cats' defense as play. To the point where he actually sometimes imitates it.

The problem here is that it's impossible to get the dog to calm down for any significant period of time. Even after I've taken him for a bike ride, and he's been panting ragged and just wants to sack out, if a cat trots by, he's immediately alert and tracking them. It's crazy. Even if he's run for miles in a day, he always has more energy to go after the cats.

I've tried every type of correction I can think of. Redirection with food works only as long as the food's in his mouth--once he swallows, back to the cats. Redirection with toys doesn't work at all. Offers to play tug of war are ignored; so is fetch. Keeping him in a leash and snapping it only serves to stir him up more, until he's bounding around playing with the leash. Cesar Milan-style neck and butt pokes are totally ignored (although he usually heeds them at other times); unless we poke him especially hard, at which point we become the targets of play.

I just want to be able to watch an episode of Lie to Me without having to put the dog in his pen, or fight with him the whole time.

[Answers involving making a "cat zone" and a "dog zone" of the house are neither feasible nor welcome.]
posted by Netzapper to Pets & Animals (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How about "wait it out"?

If your cats are just hitting the puppy, they may actually be trying to play themselves. Cats tend to be assertive. If they aren't hiding or clawing the puppy's eyes out, they might be fine with it. (We have a cat/dog playgroup in our house.)

How are the cats doing otherwise? Are they stressed? Or are they otherwise eating, pooping, drinking and going on with life?

My first response would be 'do nothing'. They're not going to develop an understanding between them if you interfere, it's just delaying the inevitable moment when Puppy realizes Hey, those things are sharp!

It sounds like it might be possible that it's stressing you out more than them, in which case I can only offer you what I have learned as the parent of a toddler: deep breaths and bourbon.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:00 PM on January 24, 2010

Dog needs to get his ass handed to him by the cats...also, this is what puppies do generally. Took a year or so of growing up and the big cat chewing the puppy up for our dog to learn the routine.
posted by iamabot at 12:02 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding the idea that the cats may be playing. Our two cats often box with each other. When one isn't interested, sometimes the other will try to get one of the dogs to box with him.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:10 PM on January 24, 2010

Response by poster: It's not so much the actual play that bothers me. What's becoming a problem is that when one of the cats drives him off, he's still in play mode. So even if I've gone to the effort of tiring him right the fuck out (say, ten minutes after we finish a forty-five minute bike ride), he'll be back in rambunctious annoying mode where we have to maintain constant vigilance that he doesn't chew on USB cables or shoes or whatever. Or, it'll be midnight, and the dog's all sleepy and logy, ready for bed. We'll go to bed, and he'll be sleeping fine... and then a cat hops up on the bed, and suddenly we're in for half an hour of the dog jumping around on the bed tearing at the comforter. And when he's playing, he interprets all correction as play.

But, if the cats, for whatever reason, don't show themselves, he's 100% angelic.

(And, the cats are doing just fine. They don't like the dog, especially, but they're tolerating him just fine.)
posted by Netzapper at 12:16 PM on January 24, 2010

Oh another thing I should have added: our dogs don't have great memories. If one gets a claw across the nose, he'll refuse to play with cat for a day or two, but then apparently forgets that it hurt last time.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:16 PM on January 24, 2010

he'll be back in rambunctious annoying mode where we have to maintain constant vigilance

Not to be flip, but have you ever had a puppy before? This is what they do. :)

You could try crate training. Reserve the crate for naps and quiet time, and he should get the idea that when you put him in the crate, he needs to calm down. Maybe you can give him a special crate-only chew toy that he can work out his energy on.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:18 PM on January 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Make sure the cats have a place to go to get away from the dog. When I had a cat, and got a dog, the cat got a space for food and litterbox that the dog couldn't get to. Maybe clear off a dresser, and put a cat bed up high enough so they can escape. Cats are good at self-defense, and understand about stupid young'uns, but they need a place to get away.
posted by theora55 at 12:20 PM on January 24, 2010

Best answer: Redirecting with food? Is it being mistaken for rewarding with food? Is any attention a reward? And what breed? Is it one with a strong herding instinct or play drive? And how evil are your cats? That all factors in.

Case in point - our Bastard Hound cannot resist our cat, even after two years of negotiating terms with him. The terms being he hates her and she cannot resist him. The mean and evil cat was here first, and he does not care for dogs at all, and has no qualms about showing it at the least provocation, often leading to bloodletting. Chasing small animals (usually just to smell them) is the dog's thing, and she's still pretty young (though at four she's slowing down), and well, Basset Hounds aren't the sharpest pencils in the box - and so for us, the combination is alternately stressful and amusing, and our money's on the cat.

And playing only revs the dog up, rather than calming her down. It is possible that your dog needs a bit of sensory deprivation, like a nice boring crate, and some time in it. Or more time with the "down" and then "stay" command. And the latter means you need to see him through it, until he gets that you mean it every single time. Even I'm too lax for that.

What works for us is ordering the dog to her personal space (her stinky old hair-covered chair), then rewarding her with food or good attention when she's sitting there, which (we hope) reinforces the cat's supremacy and calms things down. The reward is for being quiet and on the chair, and that's pretty clear even to her walnut-sized and possibly defective brain. Having her stay there long enough means she often falls asleep. Then, life is good. So, on preview - what A Terrible Llama said - as with toddlers, you might need deep breaths, bourbon, but I'll add - and time-outs.
posted by peagood at 12:21 PM on January 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Cesar Milan-style neck and butt pokes are totally ignored (although he usually heeds them at other times); unless we poke him especially hard, at which point we become the targets of play.

Incidentally, now is a good time to evaluate how you see authority and how it's earned. Personally, I think it's by being sane and in charge but between that guy and Ferber (he's a cry-it-out baby philosopher) figuring out where you are on the continuum of "how do I figure out whether or not I'm in charge and how do I communicate that to others" is a whole Western pop-psychology thesis.

My take is: being in charge is wildly overrated. Being in charge isn't the same thing as being respected. It's possible to rule by fear, but you won't be respected.

Some people love that shit, though.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:26 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think it would be helpful to train the dog to be very solid when you issue a down/stay command. I'd start by training it in a boring situation, like in the bedroom with the cats out of the room. Use super awesome treats that you only use when working on the down/stay command. Start doing it randomly when you are on walks or when the dog is off a leash in the yard or something. Continue to consistently use super awesome treats so the dog respects the command. Then start using it around the cats, still using awesome treats. Eventually you should be able to get the dog to lay down and stay when the cats are roaming. I wouldn't use it all the time when around the cats, allow them to still brawl sometimes, but that way you will be able to teach the dog to control the impulse to play with the cats every time they move.
posted by mjcon at 1:01 PM on January 24, 2010

We brought the husky into the house when she was 8 weeks old, she's a year and a half now and things are sort of settled down...there is still the once in a while "chase a cat"/"try to play with the cats" (just as you describe happening with your pack) event, but I just let them all work it out. Dawg hasn't, as I originally predicted, eaten a cat yet, cats have not scratched her eyes out.

Wait it out...

as for the night-time bed thing... I'm guessing this isn't going to be easily solved if the whole fam damnly has access to the bedroom.. At our house dog sleeps with us, cats have the rest of the house for the night. Dog sleeps well, we sleep well, cats play with each other.

nthing, also, making sure cats have a place to escape to, here they have the upstairs and the basement, dawg is limited to the yard and the main floor of the house (let me know if you want to know how to make this happen, wasn't that hard.)
posted by HuronBob at 1:03 PM on January 24, 2010

I get that you can't specify special rooms for the cats, but can you get them a high place that the puppy can't reach? A scratchy, climbable cat tower can be awesome for a cat anyway, and then they know they have somewhere safe to go -- and when they're there, the puppy probably won't even have them in line of sight.
posted by amtho at 1:08 PM on January 24, 2010

Response by poster: Let me reiterate: the cats are not having any problems whatsoever. The dog sees a cat and approaches (more respectfully now than a couple weeks ago). The cat puffs up and growls. The dog lies down on the floor, and sort of scootches forward toward the cat. When the dog enters a certain perimeter, the cat sits back and makes warning swipes. The dog either disengages, or pushes forward (maybe with play bows and arfs thrown in). If he pushes forward, he gets a paw to the face, and either bounces backwards to repeat the process; or, he disengages and terrorizes us (or our possessions).

The cats are eating fine, and seem to have no issues in carrying on their routine despite the occasional canine interruptions. Neither of them are showing any signs of being nervous. And the dog respects that they're higher in the pack order than he is--to the point where the cats can walk up to his bowl while he's eating, and he'll retreat while they filch his food.

The dog is crate trained quite nicely. And he's fine if we put him in his pen. But, with the frequency of occurrence, using a time-out approach means he spends nearly all his time in his pen. That's unacceptable.

The problem is that the dog disengages from the cats but remains in play mode, despite our best efforts. He'll go from contentedly sleeping, to playing with the cat, to bouncing off the goddamn walls... when, without the cat's presence, he would have continued sleeping.

For those who asked: he's a springer spaniel.
posted by Netzapper at 1:21 PM on January 24, 2010

How much exercise does he get? When our dog was young, he got into dorky play mode, but a good long walk definitely mitigated how dorky and for how long.
posted by bunji at 1:33 PM on January 24, 2010

Should have gotten an English Shepherd. :)

"But, with the frequency of occurrence, using a time-out approach means he spends nearly all his time in his pen. That's unacceptable."

The crate should be used for "chill out" time. He is a puppy, so he does want to play A LOT. Most puppies do. Perhaps if you weren't up for this, you might have investigated getting an older dog. Assuming you want something like thirty minutes of quiet for every couple of hours, that's not totally unreasonable to have him in the crate for with a Kong or something.
posted by youcancallmeal at 1:42 PM on January 24, 2010

Response by poster: He gets a 45 minute walk in the morning, a 30 minute full-run bike ride at noon, and another similar ride at night. I would take him for another walk at night before or during "quiet time", but he can walk forever without tiring and it gets dark at around 5pm here now (making another ride untenable).
posted by Netzapper at 1:46 PM on January 24, 2010

Netzapper... the puppy play mode you describe is just going to happen.... bouncing off the wall is what a happy puppy does.

I would suggest, that you get enrolled in a puppy obedience class.....
posted by HuronBob at 1:49 PM on January 24, 2010

Pretty much the only thing that's going to tire out your puppy is another puppy or a larger dog that will tolerate the onslaught. When you think about it, your puppy had all of his siblings to play with before you got him. The first thing those little guys do is start wrestling and then they sleep and then they wrestle and then they sleep... Nothing you do will be able to replicate this. He probably doesn't understand why the cats won't wrestle with him since that's all he knows.

I would just like to take this time to beg you to give him some time to adjust. So many people give up their dogs because they didn't know how much work it would be to own a dog, but it's so rewarding to raise a good dog. It's never going to be a "set it and forget it" affair. If you've never raised a dog before you should get some books about raising dogs. They will clue you into the mind of your puppy and possibly make his transition go a little more smoothly.
posted by wherever, whatever at 3:05 PM on January 24, 2010

Puppies at that age need social interaction more than anything: hours and hours of it every day. It sounds like he's starved for company and desperate for a playmate. Can you take him to a dog park instead of on a bike ride and let him play with other dogs for an hour a day? Enroll him in doggy daycare a few days a week? I have a year old puppy and the most important and bestest thing in the world to her is hanging out with other dogs and playing. It's a huge part of their developmental process and he'll be a better dog if you spend time on his social skills.

btw; he's very young to be going on long runs, you might want to talk to your vet about that. Most breeds shouldn't be doing prolonged running exercise until 5-6 months of age at the earliest. At 13 weeks playing and romping for many hours per day is more what they need with a few short walks thrown in.

Training is great but at 14 weeks he's a very young dog and he needs play time. If he isn't getting it with other dogs or you he'll try the cats and as a last resort he'll play with inanimate objects (like your comforter).
posted by fshgrl at 3:24 PM on January 24, 2010

Best answer: I'm still getting my mind around this (I'm trying to think like your dog), so I can help your dog as much as I'd like to help you - so, now I ask, is he getting any socialization with other dogs? The length of time you're exercising is great, if maybe just a little intense for a puppy that young - especially the bike rides (okay, though I've had larger breed dogs like labs, retrievers and rotties before this, and I know I can't do this with a basset hound, because of that I want to throw out a caution about growth plates until he's twelve to fourteen months old and such and suggest more moderate exercise - but I don't know from Spaniels) - but do you have an off-leash area where other dogs and owners congregate for playtime (providing his shots are in order)? It sounds like while your pup is well-exercised, he's in need of companionship and attention in the form of direct interaction. Either from cats, hopefully from other dogs, or from you in the form of more playfulness. It's more desirable than sleep or rest, and more tiring than mindless exercise. Try fetch outside in a yard or park in place of running alongside the bike for half an hour, and make it challenging for him, because he's not mentally tired out. On your walks, do some training like sitting and staying and coming and some obstacles. Dogs often don't know when to quit running, but in the course of play or work, they'll spend time processing what they've done during rest.

And, how old was he when you got him? Depending on when he left his mother, he's missing littermates and some of the kinds of socialization only his mother could give him in the early days, like when it's playtime and when it's quiet time. He's taking the cats' bait because it's just too good to pass up, and I think at this age, it's not the cats' job to tell him, it's yours (reversing my earlier opinion upon second thought). And if in first few weeks he wasn't socialized well with people and cats, you have catching up to do. At thirteen weeks, he's hopefully only been away for two to three weeks. He's lonely for playmates. Which also makes me want to suggest that you talk to your breeder, in case there's spaniel-specific tips. I would imagine for a hunting or sporting breed, there are tailored activities. For example, with Bassets, there are great ways to mentally tire them out to be found online. I read tips about hiding strongly scented treats around the house for sniffing out. For them, a twenty minute walk where they get to sniff things to their hearts' content is like an hour of physical exercise. Which is why garbage night in the nearby Chinatown is her favourite walk. So, I'd also post on spaniel forums for specific breed advice (about the type of exercise too, maybe?). Just like the border collies at our dog park like to herd the other dogs, and the beagles love to howl and dig and the pointer points at the squirrels, you need to find your dog's job and let him do it.
posted by peagood at 3:25 PM on January 24, 2010

Best answer: crate crate crate crate crate crate crate crate

as a former professional dog trainer the answer to 95% of all dog questions on this site is crate training. when he needs to be calmed down, you put him in his crate. that's it. there is no magic solution that is going to fix everything for you. "distracting" him with food and toys is rewarding him and encouraging the behavior your trying to curb. most types of discipline are viewed by your puppy as attention, in other words, rewards. you need to decide what is more "unacceptable" more time outs untill he learns the appropriate evening behavior, or running/chewing/harrasing cats. it'll be awile before you're able to effectively tire him out. puppies have more energy in their little bodies than a busload of olympic athletes.
posted by swbarrett at 4:12 PM on January 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Okay, so the problem is that the cats are getting the dog all revved up, right? I've been here--and recently, too. I've got motion-activated herding dogs and if the cat makes a sudden movement, then they are on their feet and barking. It's very annoying, but easily solved: Go to Wal-Mart and buy a couple of $12 baby gates that are low enough for you to step over, and gate them apart when you want the dog to chill. This will give you immediate control over the situation while you work on your dog's training. Thirteen weeks is still so young. You've got months and months of rambunctious puppy behavior ahead so for right now you want to just manage the situation while your dog is learning better self-control.

Also, a lot of puppy obnoxiousness is caused by sleep deprivation. When he starts losing his self-control, pop him in his crate for a nap and he will almost certainly be better behaved when he wakes up.
posted by HotToddy at 4:25 PM on January 24, 2010

You have to let it go and let them sort out the chain of dominance amongst themselves and hope things don't get too nasty.

We added Crumb (3) to our "pack" back in late October - it took nearly two months before Copper (2) stopped trying to kill him when he tried playing aggresively. (Blue (1) had been through all this before, so he was fine).

So - during some other trip to the vet, she mentioned that puppy's are obnoxious, the other dogs response was/is normal and that everything would eventually sort itself out.

And - it did.

(Admitedly we were dog-sitting a neighbours' dog once, and on the first day he scratched Copper (2) in the eye (and he hasn't been able to see the same since), so there is the potential for long-term damage)
posted by jkaczor at 5:20 PM on January 24, 2010

Best answer: Teach puppy the "Go Wild and Freeze" game. It is for exactly this kind of issue and is useful in a myriad of other ways too. You need to train it away from the cat scenario first, so the dog learns the game before you test it against the super-exciting cats.
posted by biscotti at 7:04 PM on January 24, 2010

Let me try to re-direct the conversation: Netzapper, it sounds like you're NOT asking "I'm afraid my puppy will hurt the cats/the cats will hurt my puppy." It sounds more like you're asking "when this happens, the little fuzzbrain gets all excited and WILL. NOT. CALM. DOWN, and then I have to go try to get him tired out again." Do I have that right?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:11 PM on January 24, 2010

Response by poster: EmpressCallipygos, you are correct. The cat/dog dynamic is perfectly fine. The dog-human dynamic, after cat-dog interaction, is what's failing here.
posted by Netzapper at 8:07 PM on January 24, 2010

We brought a very young puppy, Olive (she was 5 weeks) into our one cat (Eli) household two and a half years ago, and the poor dog didn't have any playmates except for the cat. At first the cat was hesitant, but eventually we could tell that they were BOTH playing together, the cat batting at the dog (no claws) the dog play growling and honking and lunging at the cat and they wrestle around. We were sure to stop it if the play ever turned too aggressive (biting hissing, etc), but really that almost never happened. They eventually worked out the power dynamic and now we're a happy family (even with the addition of a second rambunctious kitten (Gatsby) who has taken over play duties from the elder statesman).

As for the bedtime dilemma, I can't see why this puppy isn't in her crate at night. Our dog slept in the crate over night until just a few months ago (about two years). Dogs actually love their crate, if you don't solely use it for punishment. Think of it as the dog's bedroom, her safe place to sleep and be calm, it's her den. We're lucky enough to have a second bedroom that the dog's crate is in, but if you don't have that luxury, I'm sure putting the crate in the corner (or living room or kitchen) would suffice. Now that she's older, she sleeps in our bedroom overnight (under my nightstand), but she goes in the crate whenever we leave the house. It's actually safer for the dog to be crate trained rather than to leave them out and about. Just think of everything that they can get into or wrapped up in or stuck under when you're not there to save them! Plus, for the dog, it's nap time. When we both worked at an office, our dog was in the crate for about 9 hours during the day, and we just played a lot after work and she slept fine over night.

In summation, let them work it out, they're just playing. Your pup is fine, your cat is fine, don't worry so much about it. Crate train the dog to sleep in her crate overnight, you'll all be happier for it. Also, nthing the need for canine companionship and letting up a little on the strenuous exercise!

Enjoy your puppy!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 8:52 PM on January 24, 2010

a 30 minute full-run bike ride at noon, and another similar ride at night.

Don't do endurance with your dog until it is 1 to 1.5 years old as their growth plates haven't closed yet. That said, as long as your dog is ahead of you, she's setting the pace which is good. Biking with your dog is only a problem when they are running beside or behind you as then you are setting the pace and they have to try to keep up with you. Your time is better spent taking your dog to the park and throwing a ball where the dog can slow down and rest when it needs to.
posted by KathyK at 6:01 AM on January 25, 2010

Best answer: Seconding crating the puppy at night. If you have a wire crate I'd put a blanket over it as well. Your puppy will be nice and toasty and won't see cats to wake it up. It's not a total solution, but at least both you and the puppy will be better rested to deal with the rest of the situation.
posted by Kimberly at 3:11 PM on January 25, 2010

Netzapper's wife and Orion's co-owner here:
First off, thank you for all your advice (or at least most of it). We took a lot of points into consideration and we've got a few things figured out.

-We checked in with our vet about the bike riding. Since the pup is not technically a "large breed" or a "giant breed" we are fine to run him alongside the bike for limited periods of time before his bones are finished growing. We are just taking it slow and making sure the dog is leading. We just got a WalkyDog bike leash and he was literally towing my husband on his afternoon run.

-We now have several Nylabones lying around and have started giving him more things like rawhide to chew on instead of us. We are increasing our play time with him with less of a strong focus on exercise (although still there, at least one small walk a day to keep his leash manners intact)

-We are using his pen (via baby gate) with his crate in it for cool-down time when he gets too nippy. Not as a punishment, mind you, but just a time without all the excitement to rile him up. He doesn't really notice the cats as much when he's in there. He also has started sleeping in the crate which has worked out quite nicely.
posted by nursegracer at 6:59 PM on January 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

A Springer Spaniel! They are the most relentlessly springy dogs I have ever encountered. It is in their nature. It could take him years to sober up. Probably should get advice from people familiar with the breed.
posted by y6t5r4e3w2q1 at 4:55 PM on February 2, 2010

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