How to Dog: Cat People Edition
July 24, 2016 4:29 PM   Subscribe

How do we successfully have a dog? I, my housemate, and our three cats have four days to learn.

My dad passed away in April, and after much discussion with my brothers, it turns out I am inheriting his dog, Sadie. On Thursday. She lives in Louisiana and is being shipped to us in Massachusetts via United Airlines' PetSafe program.

On Thursday, in case I didn't mention.

My dad's one big worry as his health declined was making sure his "puppy" would always be safe and happy, and I am determined to do my best. However, it's been well over 20 years since I lived with a dog, and my only responsibilities for the dog at that time were:

1) Don't pull on her ears; if you do, don't complain if she bites you.
2) Don't try to ride her like a pony; if you do, don't complain if you fall off, bonk your head -- and THEN she bites you.

So, I do have those fundamentals to move forward with. But beyond that, dog ownership is a strange land shrouded in myth and legend. My housemate and I have talked about getting a dog - we both love dogs! - but this is happening far in advance of when we expected. Also this is a 6 year old dog, not a puppy. Also, we planned to do it after my bossypants 16 year old cat gives his last earsplitting command. At the time of this writing, he is as healthy as a really healthy cat half his age, still licking soup every chance he gets, and still wearing his bossiest pants.

Our concerns are:
1) We don't have a fenced in yard

2) We have 3 indoor/outdoor cats currently living more or less in harmony (16 M, Xander: benevolent dictator, speaks fluent English; 7 F, Maia: Active and territorial, loves older cat, hates younger cat; 5 M, Gnome: giant, sweet, clumsy and reallyreallydumb) who have never lived with a dog. (Note: All cats shown with Xander, as "with Xander" is their favorite location.)

3) Sadie is a jack russell terrier (at least visually, probably not purebred), and we have read some things on metafilter and elsewhere that make us worry a little about the safety of the cats

4) One of us has mobility challenges; the other one of us is a great walker, but currently recovering from breast cancer and the treatment thereof.

On the positive side:
1) We live in a single family home in a great dog neighborhood and have a very large yard that can be fenced in at some point in the future; we also have access to dog parks if needed.

2) I work from home so she won't ever really be alone in the house for long periods unless we go out (and let's be real; we don't really go out, unless there's a new Avengers movie in the theatres.)

3) We have a great neighbor who is willing and able (and eager) to help with the walking sometimes, plus a built-in house sitter if we need to go away for a few days

4) We are mentally and financially, if not emotionally, well-equipped to handle the challenges of dog ownership (we think).

5) The dog in question (Sadie) is a very good, sweet natured dog, excitable but extremely friendly, and has lived with cats in the past without eating them. She will probably remember me (at least she has always seemed to when I visited once every year or so).

6) We are committed to making this work.

So, our ask is: Please tell us what you think we need to know about adopting an adult dog! What sort of things should we buy, what products do you recommend, what tried and true methods of integrating cats and dogs can you share with us (are there any?! do we need to worry about the cats being eaten??!)

Any and all tips and information will be welcome - we are babes in dogland here! We know even less than Jon Snow!)
posted by kythuen to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sadie is probably housetrained at your dad's house but your house will be unfamiliar. Depending on her temperament, she may pee inside soon upon getting there and will have to be taught how to ask to go outside at your house.

A tip the dog shelter gave us when we brought a new dog into a cat house was to introduce the animals at a 3rd/ neutral location so no one gets dominant about the house from the get-go.

Sadie's at least part terrier so be prepared for her to try and "dig" at the carpet or whatever if she gets anxious.

Good luck and have fun! Dogs rock!
posted by thewestinggame at 4:37 PM on July 24, 2016

The cats will probably hate her on sight. At least one of them will give her a swipe across the nose at some point, and hopefully she will learn to give that one a wide berth.

The cats may or may not mellow out a bit after some time.

I'm not sure there's much you can do about this, cats being cats, except to make sure the cats have places to escape to that the dog can't get to (high ledges, or rooms with baby gates).
posted by kjs4 at 4:53 PM on July 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

Consistency, consistency, consistency. Dogs love having a schedule, or some semblance of one, and so feeding and sleeping and walks and trips to the park need to be as consistent as possible. Dogs seem to be more reactive to discipline than cats, and will usually work/behave to earn positive attention and praise (and treats!). Dog parks are great, if the dog is social enough for them; if not, a good trainer and a few hours a week at daycare can go a looooooong way in making the dog more social and enjoying their playtime. Be aware that you can teach a dog to do things, and use positive rewards to reinforce that behavior, but that goes back to consistency; if Miss Sadie begs at the table, and you don't want her to, ignore her or redirect her attention until she doesn't beg anymore (this may take several days/weeks, but if you are consistent, she will understand and realize her behavior isn't getting the desired result - table food - and she will do something else). Providing a bed/den/crate will be a good idea, so she has a place to feel safe and secure, and find out what toys she likes; anything that squeaks or crackles is a good bet. I also really like the Tuffy toys, because my pup CANNOT destroy them. It sounds silly, but if you take her to Petsmart or PetCo or Pet Supermarket and let her pick out some toys she's interested in, those will usually be good bets. Then you can get one or two and check the Internet or Amazon for the manufacturer and find similar toys for much less. Also, splashy/kiddie pools are just the best if she likes water. If you load the house with toys and attention, she will be less interested in shoes/furniture/bothering the cats. Get her records and find a good vet and get her in their system soon. I installed a dog door (I have a fenced yard) and Winston (my Boston) took to it within an hour of me installing it. Another thing I do, for myself as much as for him, is pick up his poops in the yard, so we have a clean yard to enjoy. Having a dog, instead of a PUPPY, is soooo much easier. She looks like a fabulous addition! Good luck and puppy kisses to her!
posted by sara is disenchanted at 4:54 PM on July 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh! And puppies loooooove cat poop and cat food, so consider making the kitty food and boxes OFF-LIMITS to the pup, probably for the duration.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 4:55 PM on July 24, 2016 [8 favorites]

AHHH one more thing! If she is chipped, be sure to transfer your new information to the company; if not, get her chipped at the vet appointment!
posted by sara is disenchanted at 4:58 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't worry about the yard. Honestly. I have raised so many healthy happy dogs in apartments. It's fine.

Everyone on Ask will immediately ask about crates and crate training and dens. If the dog has never had a crate, don't start that. Move on. Make sure the dog has a bed or two and she'll be fine.

She'll need to be walked 2x a day, if not 3x a day to start due to stress. Because dog training is habit training, this means you need to get up in the morning and before you even brush your teeth, leash up the dog and take her out to wee. (As you are consistently successful at avoiding accidents in the house, you can give it more time. ) First thing, last thing, and a mid day walk.

Try not to change her food.

Get a long hook and eye for the bathroom door (or whatever door(s) so the cats can get into their litter room but the dog cannot.

Get her chipped and registered at a local vet.

Get a baby gate so you can gate the dog into a room with you and still let the cats flee or stare or hide or whatever they need to do.

Expect the cats to hate the dog and spend a week under the bed and occasionally pee on it to express their discontent. They will come out again and the household will re-arrange into a new pecking order.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:59 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

The hardest thing to remember is that it will take more time for the dog to get acclimated than you. At some point you'll get frustrated that she's not learning her routine, or not acting comfortable, or whatever, and you'll need to step back and be like "oh wait, her world was just turned upside down and she has no intellectual understanding of this, and it's only been a few weeks."

Agree about consistency. You and your roommate need to agree on boundaries, and both stick with them. Dogs don't understand if "sometimes" they're allowed up on the couch, or a treat for the table.

Also, agree about Tuffy toys, they're great.

Find a vet now and get to know them. May be worth it to take the dog in for a checkup (maybe not immediately but soon) to establish a baseline. Make sure she's on flea and heartworm prevention. If your cats are indoor-only and not on flea protection, you'll probably need to start them on that now that the dog can introduce those buggers to the household.

A tired dog is a happy dog. Dogs love walks, and even little dogs have a surprising amount of stamina. Walks are a great way to bond with her, to get her acclimated to the neighborhood, and to tire her out.

Oh and yeah, you don't need a yard with a dog. It's nice, and it cuts down on the number of times per day you have to get dressed and leash the dog up, but it's not essential.
posted by radioamy at 5:01 PM on July 24, 2016

Let me just suggest, should you want to give the cats space (or keep the dog from eating the kitty litter and/or food if he's the type- mine is) a gate with a cat door (assuming Sadie's not quite small enough to get through). I have this one and it works just fine.
posted by charmedimsure at 5:49 PM on July 24, 2016

a gate with a cat door (assuming Sadie's not quite small enough to get through).

We have been discussing dog doors a lot, because we would like to close off the basement to Sadie (kitty litter down there), but there is the very real possibility that anything Gnome can get through, Sadie can get through as well. He's a 21 pound cat, and she's overweight for a jack russell, but probably around 25. We will have to wait and see her in person.
posted by instead of three wishes at 5:54 PM on July 24, 2016

Tire her out. All the time of course, but especially in the beginning. You want to minimize bad behaviors that could lead to bad habits. Also, she'll annoy the cats less, perhaps make friends sooner than later.

Also take a few classes with a GOOD trainer right off, too. It's so helpful.
posted by ReluctantViking at 5:56 PM on July 24, 2016

First thing in the AM dog walk tip:ice cube in your coffee so it's cooler; then walk. You will wake up together. In winter, no ice cube.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:59 PM on July 24, 2016

I think so long as the cats can get up high away from Sadie, they will be fine. As all of us cat slaves know, they are pretty good at training people. Sadie is gonna get some smacks but luckily being older she'll have outgrown the OMG OMG CAT! stage and that should reduce the amount of discipline the cats feel they need to dole out. In my experience it's easier bringing a dog into the mix than another cat. Cats see dogs as waaaaaay down in the pecking order and not competition. Just an annoyance.

I love your childhood dog fundamentals. Hee.
posted by kitten magic at 6:07 PM on July 24, 2016

Nthing not to worry about having a fenced yard. I've had dogs all my life and I've never lived anywhere with a fenced yard. As long as you can take the dog out for walks, you will be fine.

The really important thing is to make sure the cats have some sort of safe space away from the dog - maybe one bedroom or somewhere the dog's not allowed but the cats can get into easily. Baby gates are very helpful for this!

Good luck! Sadie looks like she's lots of fun. And if she's lived with cats before and liked them, all the better. It can be done. : ) (My Welsh Terrier and my cat are inseparable buddies. : ) )
posted by SisterHavana at 6:09 PM on July 24, 2016

I don't have advice for you about how to introduce dogs and cats, but as a lifetime cat owner who has suddenly found herself with a dog, I can tell you what I wished I had known at first:

Walks! A tired dog is a well-behaved dog. 3-4 times a day for 45-60 minutes each. It's also good for them.

Middle Aged dogs rock! already house trained and with far fewer tendencies to destruction.

Find a collar/harness which makes you both happy. In your dog's case, she has something she's used to but you need to also be happy with it.

Blowing coat-- I did not know about this amazing blowing coat thing. Hopefully with a wiry haired dog, you will not get to experience this. I could sell dog-hair wigs right now.

Find your dog's high value treats. Huggy do anything for apple slices and now cod skin treats. It makes training *much* easier.

Invest in a trainer, if you can. It helped me just to get less nervous with dog ownership. I only needed four sessions to really feel like I wasn't a total idiot.

Grief. Dogs grieve their old life. Make sure she has room to do this and that you are there to cuddle her and reassure her.
posted by frumiousb at 6:10 PM on July 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've had 2 terriers in a tiny apartment the lack of yard is not a problem. You will have to walk her a few times a day for poop/pee walks & at least 1 long walk (morning is best so they are tired while you're away) 2 exercise walks is better if you can manage it.

Good news she'll most likely be a smart dog, bad news she'll most likely be a smart dog. Being a smart dog means she'll learn her new routine fast, but if you waver even once in allowing her to do something "just because" she'll think if she does whatever she was doing when you gave in again (or enough times or with more vigor) you'll give in again. Stick to your guns, it's not mean dogs love to know where the boundaries are & she will be happier if you stick to them. The trick is lots of praise when they do the right thing & don't linger on the wrong thing.

Pick a pee walk, exercise walk & feeding schedule & stick to it. Set up your leaving the house routines. Keeping the same routine when you are leaving reassures the dog you are returning as you did all the other times you did that routine, and poor Sadie has already lost her first family so she has to learn that you're her new family & coming back for her, so she may have a little separation anxiety. Lots of exercise, treats/frozen kongs on departure & a routine you stick to will help both you & her.

I'd really suggest you go to some dog training classes, even some Petsmart sort of ones if you can afford it, but a lot of good trainers do group classes which are a lot of fun. Not because I think Sadie will need them but because it will be a great way for you & her to bond. I'd even suggest agility classes as you get the double bonus of bonding & tiring her out (and the classes are fun).

She will most likely try to be on her best behaviour at first, dogs take a little while to settle in. Around the 2 - 4 week mark she may try testing the rules a little The good news is when she starts to test the rules it means she's feeling at home more & starting to see you as her person, it's a pain but a good sign, just stick to your routine & lots of positive reinforcement.

Try & find out what brand of dog food she was fed & keep feeding it to her, if you can get sent one of her old beds & some of her toys too that will help. You want to keep the food the same if possible as sudden changes in diet can bring on the runs which doesn't help the potty training in a new house.

If you are giving the cats access to their own area try & make the entrance higher up so they can climb to it & she wont be able to go through. If she chases cats, work on distracting her, calling her to you might work, specially if you have lots of yummy treats on you, or distract her with a toy.

It is really lovely of you to take her on with such determination to do the right thing by her & your Dad. If you can look after cats you will be just fine with a dog. Don't let the whole terrier are terrors thing worry you, it just means they like to keep their brains active. Regular walks, lots of toys & play games with them. They are also super loving dogs with a huge sense of self importance & joy about life. Just remember they always want to know what's in it for them so make it a tasty treat & they'll do whatever you want. . .eventually.
posted by wwax at 6:35 PM on July 24, 2016

I think there's one particular reason to try crating, at least as a temporary expedient, and that is the cats. I'd really want a few days to observe how they get on together before ever leaving them together unsupervised. If she is part-terrier, they have a particularly strong prey drive for smaller animals. Better safe than sorry on this point, in my opinion.

Bless you for taking in this sweet girl. Despite my first paragraph, she will prove to be completely worth it.
posted by praemunire at 7:05 PM on July 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

We have been discussing dog doors a lot, because we would like to close off the basement to Sadie (kitty litter down there), but there is the very real possibility that anything Gnome can get through, Sadie can get through as well. He's a 21 pound cat, and she's overweight for a jack russell, but probably around 25.

what about a cat-climbable baby gate for the basement stairs then?
posted by poffin boffin at 7:14 PM on July 24, 2016

In addition to walks, getting a couple of treat puzzles or toys can keep Sadie mentally stimulated and maybe less interested in cats, though of course, she's going to be somewhat interested in them at first. My Jack Russell mix really likes the Buster cube.

Also, it takes awhile for a dog to adjust to a change of scene and she's bound to be feeling some worry and confusion so will need lots of love and patience (it sounds like you're willing to give both of those, which is awesome for Sadie!) It will be a month or two before you get to really see her settle in and be herself so keep that in mind too if it's tough going at first.

She looks like a real sweetheart and my guess is she will be so happy and grateful to be in a permanent home that she will be little to no trouble. A six year old is about a hundred times easier than a puppy for both you, your roommate And HRH Xander and his subjects. Best of luck!
posted by mulcahy at 8:46 PM on July 24, 2016

Take her to obedience training. Obedience training will train you in how to communicate with a dog and ensure that you have reasonable expectations. It will also help you get into social routines with her, where she can make you call out "Sit!" and then give her a treat merely by putting her butt on the floor. These social interactions will help her bond with you which will in turn reduce her anxiety.

With brand new not very socialized cats I find that grooming the heck out of them tends to domesticate them quite quickly. Once you have gotten the furnace oil out of their fur, and fed them they understand that you are the mother cat. I do not know if this would work with a dog as they are not grooming machines the same way as a cat is, but I would also spend some time making Sadie accustomed to my handling her, and incidentally demonstrating my dominance while I did so in an affectionate manner.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:18 AM on July 25, 2016

Basement cat door: many of these have little magnetic type locks that rely on your cats wearing a collar with magnetic tag in order to allow in only the preferred critter. (Think of keeping out some wild critter like a raccoon. ) While that may be an option, your kitties may not be too keen about wearing collars and may be notoriously good about collar removal.

A good option is a baby gate at the bottom of the basement stairs. Cats are very good at leaping over things.

Be sure and have plenty of high up cat spots throughout the house so your kitties have good refuge from your new family member and they will learn to coexist.

Good wishes and enjoy!
posted by mightshould at 6:27 AM on July 25, 2016

+1 to take a class, if you can. If you're somewhere decently urban, there should be various "schools" around that can offer classes including adult dog manners or something fun like agility. Ask at a well-respected local vet or shelter for recommendations - generally, Petco type classes aren't as good as others but they'll know your area better than I do.

I recommend this not just because it's great bonding (it is) but also because it's awesome to have someone else teach you the fundamentals of training - once you've seen how it works, it's a lot easier to retool it to address whatever else you need (there will be things, there are always things). They can also help you understand things like dog body language better, which is an important skill that way too many dog people lack.

If that's not an option, I'd explore books from authors like Pat Miller, Pat McConnell, and Kathy Sdao - all really great, positive approaches to building a great relationship with your dog. I know that there are also great youtubers - I don't know many, but I've heard good things about Kiko Pup.
posted by R a c h e l at 11:26 AM on July 25, 2016

We have been discussing dog doors a lot, because we would like to close off the basement to Sadie (kitty litter down there), but there is the very real possibility that anything Gnome can get through, Sadie can get through as well. He's a 21 pound cat, and she's overweight for a jack russell, but probably around 25.

If it helps, the cat door part can be locked so you'd have the option, should the dog be able to get through, of closing it or having the cats hop over. My cat could hop over but wouldn't like it, so I'd probably try to have something stable of gate height on the other side for her to land on if I were going to do that.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:15 PM on July 25, 2016

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