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April 8, 2010 10:48 PM   Subscribe

let the cat/dog flame wars begin! My dog wants to eat cats - what should I do?

My dog is a 2.5 yr old yellow labrador retriever, well behaved in general, but still a lab/dog (chases balls incessantly, chews occasional household objects, and overgreets). Loving of children and strangers. Lately, on walks around our nice neighborhood, he has developed a keen interest in cats - so much so, that he strains at the leash when he smells one, and will pull hard and whine if he sights one. The other day, after returning from an excursion, I parked in my driveway and opened both the backyard gate and the car door, expecting him to amble on inside as he has done dozens of times, when he shot off into the side yard (unfenced and along the street) - a hideous yowling followed, along with the shooting streaks of two bodies, which I chased into a corner. My dog had chased some neighbors cat up a telephone pole! I grabbed him by the scruff and dragged him into my backyard while severely reprimanding him. I guess my question is this: what can I do (*other* than aversion training) to make him more accepting of cats? I know that the general rule of thumb is "look out for your own self when larger animals are present", but I don't like cats that chase birds and I don't want my dog to chase cats. any non-dog-cruel solutions?
posted by youchirren to Pets & Animals (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Get a cat?

After living with various cats our dog has developed a healthy fear of the things.

Or borrow/visit someone else's cat regularly.

Of course, you need to introduce them very carefully. And starting with a cat with a good disposition and enough guts to teach your dog a lesson with its claws would help.

Otherwise, I'm not sure what to tell you except keep him on the leash. Dogs chase cats.
posted by mmoncur at 11:13 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a 6 year old lab/Chow mix, that's a rescue from my Dad's next door neighbors, who were ready to send him to the pound, in order to get a dog with lesser tendencies to dig out of their fenced yards, to run free and kill feral cats in their neighborhood.

Good luck if you think you can train high prey drive out of very high prey drive animals, particularly those who have successfully chased and killed many feral cats, squirrels, and birds. My boy hits the end of his leash, still, 4 years after his last kill of a cat, with the same anticipation, and shoulder-jarring force, as he's ever had, whenever a cat crosses our path, on any neighborhood walk. 2 or 3 times a week, he wakes me up at 1:00 or 2:17, or 3:14 in the morning, barking and whining, and jumping about, regarding some transient cat, or stray dog, he's seen through the patio doors.

The last time my dog killed a cat, he was off-short-leash due to my negligence, less than 9 seconds. My boy saw a feral cat that I didn't under the leaves of a peripheral bush in my back yard, lunged, grabbed the cat, shook his head twice to break the cat's spine, and tossed it to me, quivering but dead. And then, I suppose I should be ashamed to report, my boy pranced about a bit, with his tail curled over his body, and his head held high, and alert, I suppose, for other chances.

He's never gotten such a chance again, on my leashes...
posted by paulsc at 11:16 PM on April 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

My dog developed a desire to chase cats because the neighbors cat was coming over and fucking with her through the patio door when we weren't home or when she was sleeping in the yard even when we were home. It was also peeing on her outdoor bed. If your dog has developed a sudden interest in cats that might be the cause?

I figured the neighbors cat had whatever was coming to it, given that it was taunting the dog in the dog's own yard. Unfortunately when the dog finally caught it one day the cat won the fight and got even bolder. That cat was a PITA.
posted by fshgrl at 11:29 PM on April 8, 2010

My cousins' greyounds have a keen interest in cats because, frankly, they're greyhounds, and chasing small things down to kill them is what greyhounds do. I once watched one chase down and flip a neighbour's small fluffy terrier onto its back, biting into a muzzle at its neck and stomach, trying to disembowel it, as if it were a rabbit. They don't go outside without plastic muzzles on.

If all else fails, that's a non-cruel solution.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 12:15 AM on April 9, 2010

we had a dog with very high prey drive, as paulsc put it. she was a rescue out of a rubbish dump who i assume had been fending for herself before we found her. she was very good at killing small things.

she'd actually leave her food out and lurk in the shadows, until a bird, rat, or cat came by to investigate, then burst out and kill it with one or two shakes.

we managed to get her to co-exist with a couple of our rabbits, to the point we felt comfortable leaving them together for long periods of time. she never laid a tooth or claw on them as far as i know.

but any wild animal she didn't know was fair game to her, we never made any progress on that front. so in answer to you, no, i don't think it's possible. your dog should be on a leash whenever you leave the house together, and i don't think you can really be responsible for animals that break into your yard...
posted by xdvesper at 1:16 AM on April 9, 2010

Some dogs just don't get along with cats. There isn't much you can do. You just need to make sure that your dog makes it all the way into your backyard before you let him off the leash. If your side yard is unfenced, you should either fence it or never let your dog go there.

I know people who have cats and dogs living together in the same house. The dog is well-behaved around the cats that he lives with, but still chases other cats. There really isn't much that you can do about stuff like this.
posted by twblalock at 3:49 AM on April 9, 2010

Get a cat?

With a high prey drive dog, this is an excellent way to end up with a dead cat. If they are truly high prey drive, there is nothing you can do. Not all dogs of hunting breeds are high prey drive - my greyhound loves all living things like she was a doggy St. Francis - but many are.

I have heard of greys severely injuring animals even through their plastic muzzles, so that is a good first step, but not foolproof.

You may wish to tell people who own cats in your neighborhood that your dog does not like cats, and for their pet's safety they may wish to confine the animals. It is not a perfect remedy either, though, because for some reason people who own outside cats are extremely resistant to controlling their animals.

Short answer: if the dog doesn't like cats, or wants to hunt them to the degree you're describing, there really is not a whole lot you can do to change his 'personality'. The best you can do is be vigilant, which it sounds like you are already doing. The dog is not being a bad dog - he is just being a dog.
posted by winna at 5:02 AM on April 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

what can I do (*other* than aversion training) to make him more accepting of cats?

Keep him away from smaller animals. All the time, every time. winna is right here, constant vigilance is the only way to keep the situation from a sad end.

Don't let him near any cats. It is not worth the risk to the cat to try to reduce his prey drive. Dogs of his size can kill a cat very easily in only a few seconds.
posted by crankylex at 6:25 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

My husky came into the house with 5 cats. She was smaller than they were, they quickly taught her they were boss. She will still chase them, but only to play with them, when they tire of the game they hiss and give her a swat, that's the end of the play.

That said, if another cat comes into her yard it is a whole different ball game. I'm convinced she would catch and damage the cat... if it isn't HER cat, it's considered prey.

Keep your dog on the leash when in public.
posted by HuronBob at 6:32 AM on April 9, 2010

You sure your dog wants to kill them? Our dog would absolutely chase a cat up a telephone or a tree and she loves cats (big wagging tail, play bows, etc.) Certainly more than most cats love her, but she has her own kitty to snuggle up to.

I'm surprised that there are dogs that don't chase cats. I guess I saw too many cat v. dog cartoons as a kid or something but I thought that was normal.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:45 AM on April 9, 2010

I don't like cats that chase birds and I don't want my dog to chase cats.

so... you don't like animals that act like animals, basically. This perplexes me.

That said, we have two dogs (Chow/German Shepherd mixes) and two cats and while occasionally the dogs will chase the cats through the house (as play), they get along perfectly well. This is because I've made it abundantly clear that I am the dominant one in the household and if the dogs get too aggressive with the cats they will be punished (yelled at, forced to lay down, sent to their crate). I don't understand why you don't want to do aversion training; that is really what dogs understand. It's not cruel.
posted by desjardins at 7:04 AM on April 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dogs are predators, sometimes they are going to act like predators, and to some dogs (like yours) cats are prey. You can't really train this out, just learn how to manage your dog and his environment to keep cats safe. Alternately, contact a behaviorist. This isn't something you can fix yourself.
posted by biscotti at 7:20 AM on April 9, 2010

What you want is for him to pay attention to you rather than the cat, squirrel, rabbit, etc. This sounds like the perfect job for clicker training which rewards him for desired behavior. Have you tried that with him? It is very easy to carry a clicker and a pouch of treats on your walks. You can also use clicker training to work on recalls, so he won't run down the street after neighbor's cat, and to help curb his tendency to "overgreet" visitors.
posted by weebil at 7:21 AM on April 9, 2010

Pretty much what everyone else is saying. My dogs - springer spaniel, collie mix and god only knows Heinz 57 - are totally fine and trustworthy with their cat, who lives in the house. If another cat came in our yard they would chase it, just as they chase squirrels and rabbits and possums and whatever else wanders in: it is, after all, their yard. Dogs chase things that run; it's what dogs do and there's no stopping that.

However, dogs who have been around cats all their lives usually have a healthy respect for them. I can totally see my dogs treeing a cat or backing one up under a bush, but the minute it turned and spat they'd back off and bark incessantly. Has your dog ever actually caught anything? Or is he in it for the chase? There's a big difference. My old shepherd mix used to dispatch squirrels in the park on a regular basis, but the dogs I have now are much more about chasing and barking than they are about catching. I've watched them be terrified by a groundhog and puzzled by rabbits who just stop running, so I'm pretty confident that a big outdoor cat would be more than a match for them. Your dog, particularly if he has another encounter with a confident cat and gets a swipe or two across the nose, will still chase cats if he sees them and they run, but he almost certainly won't move in for the kill.

Labs are retrievers. They want to bring something back, not necessarily kill anything. My springer brought me a gosling at the park one morning, scared and damp and totally unharmed. When he dropped it on my command it ran off, jumped in the river and swam away.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:27 AM on April 9, 2010

We have one cat and two terriers. One of the terriers is aggressive toward the cat most of the time, the other is friendly toward the cat most of the time. Yet, there are times when the aggressive one sleeps or rests calmly close to the cat. My take on it is that she (the usual aggressor) is really in to roughhouse play, which she also does with the other terrier. She doesn't really want to eat the cat.

I don't have good advice on how to deal with cats you and your dog may encounter when outside your fenced yard, except for this: Please keep your dog on-leash when you are outside your fenced yard.

Even if it's just that short distance from your car to the front door, you can never know when there will be some distraction -- cat, other animal, loud truck, whatever -- that will get your dog's attention. If this happens, it's so easy for instinct to kick in. Your dog may run to (or from) the surprise, whatever it is. Sometimes there are tragic results; we lost a dog this way a few years ago when she ran unexpectedly into the street in front of our house. Lesson learned, I always keep the dogs on-leash outside our fenced area.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:38 AM on April 9, 2010

I don't have good advice on how to deal with cats you and your dog may encounter when outside your fenced yard, except for this: Please keep your dog on-leash when you are outside your fenced yard.

This. A thousand times this.

People who let their cats be outdoor do understand that they, and their cats, are assuming some risks by letting their cats roam outside but it will seriously sour your relationships with your neighbours if your dog is off-leash and hurts one of their cats.
posted by machine at 7:55 AM on April 9, 2010

Nthing "keep your dog on-leash" and "constant vigilance."

I have a very sweet, but high prey drive, Lab mix. He grew up around cats, we own a cat who he is buddies with, and we've visited my mom (who has three cats) without any incident. But if a cat that isn't "part of the pack" wanders into a yard, or if he spies a random cat when we're on a walk, he definitely wants to chase it. Not sure if he views the cat as prey or as a threat to his territory, but I'm not going to give him a chance to find out (though I suspect that it's more of a territory threat, since he only barks @ the neighbor's cat when it comes into our yard).

One of the things about dogs with high prey drives is that even one slip-up on your part dramatically reinforces the dog's desire to kill small animals. For example, our dog killed a groundhog in our yard. Now he knows that groundhogs are easy (and fun) to kill. The very CONCEPT of a groundhog gets him so eager to go kill one that my husband and I refer to groundhogs as "F. G.s" (Fat Groundhogs) in conversation, to forestall insane barking and running around. The interior of my car is scarred and torn up from the dog TRYING TO DIG THROUGH THE DOOR when he sees groundhogs foraging at roadside. He's managed to kill two more, despite my best precautions -- WHILE HE WAS LEASHED. (He smelled them hiding in bushes, jumped into the bush, and pulled them out with absolutely no prior warning.) This is pretty bad, because my city is infested with groundhogs and it's really not cool to not prevent a dog from killing an animal, when the dog is on a three-foot leash and wearing a training collar. Imagine how awful it would be to have a dog that developed this response to cats. You wouldn't be able to keep it in a city.
posted by kataclysm at 8:44 AM on April 9, 2010

Train your dog to "leave it"
It takes practice. A lot of practice! But, eventually, it will help. Still, I would keep the dog on a leash when out and about.
posted by rachums at 9:06 AM on April 9, 2010

1. Constant vigilance. Even the most well-trained dog has lapses, and when the lapses can involve killing or maiming someone else's beloved pet, then you just have to do whatever it takes to make sure they can't happen.

2. Since he just recently developed this interest in cats, then I think you have a very good chance of being able to train him not to whine and pull on leash. One of my dogs has it in for squirrels. If he is off leash, I know there is zero chance that he will see a squirrel and not chase it. But on leash, I tell him to "leave it," and he turns his attention back to me and disengages from the squirrel. He knows that squirrels are not on the menu when we're out for a walk. I started with the technique rachums refers to, then once he understood the concept, took it on the road. Mild distraction like a smell on the ground, "leave it," click when the head turns, praise, treat. Then build up to bigger and bigger distractions, including squirrels.
posted by HotToddy at 9:28 AM on April 9, 2010

You will not be able to train your high prey drive lab to not want to chase cats. Consider it a personality trait.

I had a cat, and then adopted an adolescent lab from the pound. He turned out to have very high prey drive. For the entire 8 years they lived together before the dog died, he tried to kill the cat whenever he came upon her--which I can assure you wasn't often, as she became pathetically accustomed to living in closets, shadows, and the basement. He once caught a cat in our back yard. The cat got away because I yelled "LEAVE IT" (something which I worked on with him all the time, but it doesn't work if you don't see it happening to begin with) but I suspect it had internal injuries and don't know what happened to it. He also killed small injured animals in the back yard at every opportunity.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:43 AM on April 9, 2010

It took one swipe to the nose from one very badass cat that cured my pup of her desire to disembowel Fluffy. Now she treats cats with distant curiosity. Squirrels are an entirely different matter.
posted by msali at 10:04 AM on April 9, 2010

Nthing the many who have noted that you can't easily train out prey drive, and that the best thing to do is keep the dog on leash when not restrained by your fence. There's nothing wrong or bad with a dog that wants to kill cats.

I'd also suggest looking into the following:

(1) What are the local laws about "bad" or "dangerous" dogs? Just to make sure that your dog won't be misclassified as such if it kills a cat that wanders into your yard.

(2) Maybe maybe hire a local lawyer for a brief consultation about what, if anything, your liability would be if your dog killed a cat in your yard, and if there is any significant liability resulting, how you can mitigate it (ie, mentioning to neighbors that your dog chases cats, so keep your cat out of my yard).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:14 AM on April 9, 2010

Our lab is good around cats because he lives with them and because he found out that they're sharp, especially when cornered.

My best friend has a greyhound was was labeled "highly interested in cats" when she adopted her. What we did was put up some gates so the cats could get away and the greyhound couldn't follow and eventually the dog just got used to them. She's interested in them for sure, but it's more of a sniffing or looking thing instead of a "Oh my god BUNNY!!" type interest.
posted by Kimberly at 11:16 AM on April 9, 2010

at the risk of being flamed, I generally am accepting of all pets, but when cats are loose in the environment, they prey upon (admittedly owner(?)-less, but nonetheless...) other animals, so I question why it is that the cats roam the neighborhood at all hours. I don't own any birds, but I don't imagine that my owning them confers any greater right to live. I'm hoping that my dog will get over his curiosity (I don't think he has too strong a "prey" drive. more like a "chase and catch" drive. he doesn't seem at all interested in other dogs, except to run around near them - it is rare for him to chase another dog at all) and am open to trying various tacks.
posted by youchirren at 11:27 AM on April 9, 2010

at the risk of being flamed, I generally am accepting of all pets, but when cats are loose in the environment, they prey upon (admittedly owner(?)-less, but nonetheless...) other animals, so I question why it is that the cats roam the neighborhood at all hours.

I hear you, and you certainly should have every right to place your dog in your fenced yard, whereas the other people in your neighborhood shouldn't have any right to use your fenced yard as their cat-playground without your express consent.

But. Neither of us live in our preferred world.

It might be worth booking an hour with an attorney to see what your rights and responsibilities here actually are, versus what you and I would agree they should be, and what sorts of steps would be smart for you to take. Maybe you should tell your neighbors that they let their cats out at their own risk. Maybe doing so would be unwise, as it would indicate that you know your dog is "dangerous" or similar malarkey, even though it should not do so. Maybe your state is one where your maximum liability would be the replacement cost of the cat, maybe your state is one where you could be sued for loss of companionship.

I don't think he has too strong a "prey" drive. more like a "chase and catch" drive.

That chase and catch drive? That right there is whatcha call a "prey drive."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:47 AM on April 9, 2010

at the risk of being flamed, I generally am accepting of all pets, but when cats are loose in the environment, they prey upon (admittedly owner(?)-less, but nonetheless...) other animals, so I question why it is that the cats roam the neighborhood at all hours.

Ignorant people abandon cats all the time, and those cats breed entire feral colonies. And without going too deep into indoor vs. outdoor cats, many people allow their cats to go outside.

This doesn't mean you should take the attitude of, well, they're outside if your dog shows interest in trying to rip them to bits.
posted by crankylex at 11:57 AM on April 9, 2010

I agree with all that if your dog is outside of your fenced yard, it should be on a leash at all times. If he pulls suddenly and strongly whenever he sees a cat, and is likely to yank the leash right out of your hands, try a head halter like a Gentle Leader or a Halti. They work miracles at controlling strong dogs on-leash. Whatever opinion you have about outdoor cats, they don't deserve to meet their maker at the jaws of your dog. (That is supposing the cats are not inside your fenced-in yard.)
posted by chowflap at 1:03 PM on April 9, 2010

generally am accepting of all pets, but when cats are loose in the environment, they prey upon (admittedly owner(?)-less, but nonetheless...) other animals, so I question why it is that the cats roam the neighborhood at all hours. I don't own any birds, but I don't imagine that my owning them confers any greater right to live.

Cats are predators. Cats that are outside have greater opportunity to follow their predatory instincts. This does not make a cat evil but does make the cat's owner responsible for the harm caused by the cat.

Dogs are also predators. Dogs that are outside or otherwise in proximity to smaller creatures also have greater opportunity to follow their predatory instincts. Again, this does not make the dog evil and again, the owner is responsible for the harm caused by the dog. Here's where you come in: other people's cats being allowed to wander freely about does not reduce the responsibility you have to keep your dog fully under control.

You have to train your dog to temper his reactiveness. It's not just an issue of saving the neighborhood cats, it's important for many other situations. Examples:

Dog sees cat across a busy street, yanks leash out of your momentarily distracted hand and gets hit by a car (happened to a friend's terrier) or lost (happened to two other friends dogs).

Dog sees cat while you're on a off-pavement hike, yanks you forward so hard that you lose your footing on loose gravel and fall down. (This happened to me. I was briefly knocked unconscious while the damn dog stormed down the path terrorizing other hikers).

I also have a lab, a 4 year old that is trained as a duck retriever. Like most hunting dogs, he has a very high prey drive. I've clicker trained him to stay down and keep his eyes on me, even if a cat is rubbing itself across his face. I've trained him to not yank on his leash if he sees something he wants to chase, again "eyes on me, not on passing cars/kids/cats/birds/airplanes/fallen leaves." He's still not allowed unsupervised access to my four cats, however, it wouldn't be responsible.

I'm hoping that my dog will get over his curiosity

Your dog isn't going to train himself. Look into clicker training.
posted by jamaro at 1:28 PM on April 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

Please remember, too, that not all cats that are outdoors are outdoor cats. Indoor cats get outside by mistake. And the nuisance roaming in your yard may be the whole world to your elderly neighbor.

Also, your dog is not going to "get over his curiosity." He's not. It doesn't work that way. In fact, it generally works in just the opposite way--a dog's prey drive gets stronger the more he's allowed to exercise it.
posted by HotToddy at 3:49 PM on April 9, 2010

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