Managing aggression between a dog and a cat?
October 23, 2014 10:54 AM   Subscribe

I think my pets have sibling rivalry.

My two year old terrier mix has, over the last few months, become more aggressive towards the cat. (She's known him since she was about 9 weeks old.) Their relationship is often playful - they like to chase and wrestle each other and nap together occasionally. However, she has started guarding her food and the (human) bed from him. If there is any food on the counter, dresser, etc that he can theoretically reach and she can't, she gets very distressed and barks and nips at him when he's near it. When we feed her, she barks, growls and lunges at him when he comes close to her food bowl (which is often, he likes to tease her.) And when she is napping in the human bed with us, she jumps down and chases the cat out of the room whenever he comes in.

We are going to implement a few things to manage this:
-feed her in a separate room by herself
-she will not be allowed on the human bed anymore

But I'm wondering if there's any way to work on their dynamic in general. I have noticed that her behavior worsens when there's upheaval in the household - visitors, we have just returned from a trip, we're packing, etc. So I'm thinking it's about her trying to assert her order in the pack over him. Can I train her that she is not allowed to be rough with him? Should I spray her anytime she starts chasing/nipping/lunging at him?

I do want to take her to a trainer at some point in the next few months but money is too tight right now. Any ideas I can start on in the mean time?

posted by ohsnapdragon to Pets & Animals (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure I'd go with spraying her or otherwise punishing her, as this might cause her to associate the cat, not her behavior, with unpleasant consequences. Instead, I would try to make the presence of the cat a positive an experience for your dog. Does she get treats? Can you only give her treats when she's around the cat and not reacting negatively towards him? You'll probably have to start slowly - maybe reward her for behaving calmly for 5 seconds while in the same room as the cat but far away from each other, and slowly decrease the distance/increase the amount of time she has to be calm before treats appear. Use high-value treats and always pet/reward her for being good around the cat. You want her to be happy to see the cat, because the cat = good things for her, hooray!
posted by DingoMutt at 11:26 AM on October 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

So I'm thinking it's about her trying to assert her order in the pack over him.

Yeah, you need to clearly enforce that she is NOT the boss, because a dog can kill a cat. The hierarchy goes YOU > YOUR CHILDREN (if applicable) > CAT > DOG. Make it clear that you will always take the cat's side. What worked for us (two dogs, two cats) is to make the dog lay in a submissive position (belly up) until it calms down. Also use positive reinforcement - she gets a treat when she is calm. Don't yell or spray her - it just spirals the anxiety she already feels.
posted by desjardins at 11:26 AM on October 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

I have what is probably a non traditional take on this based on what has worked with my dogs/cats over the years.

I have found with my dogs when one of them starts to get bossy towards the other it's because it they think I'm not in charge enough & that their own rank in the family isn't clear. So I make a point of reinforcing the rules across the board for both dogs & gently reminding them gently that they don't have to worry I've got this. Dog A really likes to be in charge & Dog B is submissive so doesn't mind at all. So as long as I remember that & feed Dog A first, let him through doors before Dog B or give him pats first etc & treat him like the boss of Dog B but not of the humans he is happy & doesn't feel the need to boss Dog B around himself to reinforce it and they get on like long lost best friends. If I forget & do something that throws the dynamic off then Dog A wants to reinforce his position. It feels to me like this is what is happening with your dog. He feels he is higher ranked than the cat (I bet the cat doesn't care) but the cat is getting the higher ranked privileges.

A lot of this reinforcement happens naturally if your dog/s feel you are in charge & have the situations sorted. Working on basic dog training even without a trainer will help this. Everyday find time to work on some new tricks, there are a lot of good videos on Youtube, touch is a very good command to teach a dog as it's a great distraction technique if the dog gets too focused on the cat. But even just going over the basics a few times a day, making the dog sit at street corners while out, or sit before getting it's dinner, just simple things like that reinforce the whole I am in charge you don't need to be the boss idea.

The cat should not be allowed to hassle the dog at food time and if anyone should be squirted with the bottle it should be the cat then or just separate everyone at feeding time. The dog will learn to share the bed, but when the cat comes in make sure the dog gets the attention & pats and prime spot etc or ban both pets from the bed/bedroom. Giving the cat more privileges will make things more complicated.

I love cats, but don't be too quick to assume it's the victim here, a no pet on the bed rule is probably going to make things easier than allowing the cat up & not the dog, if you make the cat the "boss" over the dog with things like food where only the cat can reach, sleeping spots only the cat has how ever unintentional, then the dog has reasons to challenge the cat to reinforce it's position.
posted by wwax at 11:45 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't think a nippy terrier warrants rolling, and even if in this case it did, anyone who needs to ask your question probably doesn't have the timing for a move like that.

Teaching a place command and the drop would be useful so you can send terrier to her place or ask for a drop.

Google for both - if you can learn from video, YouTube has plenty of place and drop tutorials.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:49 AM on October 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I forgot the required photos: Doggy Doggy Kitty
posted by ohsnapdragon at 11:59 AM on October 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think you have the right instincts here, but I don't think punishment (spraying with water) is a good idea. I think that will just make the dog more fearful/anxious.

The cat should not be bothering the dog during meal time, and vice-versa. If you can't feed them at the same time, then separating them when one is eating is a good idea. One of my dogs guards meals, his own and human meals, so we don't leave food out. If they don't finish their meal, we pick it up and throw it away immediately.

Not letting your pup on the bed, because she is guarding the bed, is also a great instinctual response.

If you want to re-establish that You own the House, the Dog, and the Cat in a positive way that rewards good behavior, you might want to think about Leading the Dance. Note that this stuff doesn't have to be implemented forever (for example, for practical reasons I let my dogs go out the door first for walks) - it's a training tool that is implemented for a short time, then put aside until it's needed again. This is dog-specific, I don't know what the equivalent is for a cat, but at a minimum the cat does not get to "tease" the dog any more.
posted by muddgirl at 12:04 PM on October 23, 2014

Oh, I forgot another solution to our food-guard-dog - the kitchen is completely off-limits to both dogs. We put up baby gates (although that may not keep out a cat?).
posted by muddgirl at 12:05 PM on October 23, 2014

Our more aggressive dog is trained to "leave it" - drop whatever it is he's doing and look at me for further instruction. When we introduced my cats, we gave him a treat every time, so he associated leaving the cats alone with getting something yummy. We mostly don't need to treat him any more, and he's just fine with the cats (including the elderly crotchety one who takes a swing at him at random every now and then.)
posted by restless_nomad at 1:13 PM on October 23, 2014

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