Cats and dogs, oh my!
January 3, 2017 10:45 AM   Subscribe

I want to get a kitty! How do I make this work with my housemate's relatively untrained resident dog? Hope me, pet-knowledgeable humans of Metafilter.

My goal for 2017 is to stop talking about getting a cat someday and actually get a cat. Yay!

Currently I live with a housemate and her dog. Housemate owns the house as well. The dog is a 7-year-old cocker spaniel, is generally friendly and moderate to high energy, but isn't particularly well-trained. Housemate got the dog when he was 4 and has had him for 3 years. He doesn't know sit/stay/lie down, he barks anytime anyone comes to the door (including every time I come home), and he has separation anxiety (if housemate leaves him alone in the house, he will claw at the door and howl for hours according to the neighbors). However, he does know to pee and poop only outside.

The dog also has a history of not getting along with cats. He generally chases them, although I haven't witnessed this myself. No one has tried to train him out of this (or any other) behavior. I would certainly be willing to try. This article seems to offer a pretty good plan.

In general I am happy to put time and effort towards training the dog, but I'm only home in the evenings. The rest of the time, housemate takes care of the dog, and she isn't so invested in training him, though perhaps I could convince her. Fortunately, housemate is actively interested in having a cat.

So, questions include...

1) Is it likely that this dog would ever stop chasing cats? What do you think it would take to make this happen?

2) Does this dog need to be trained to sit/stay/lie down before he can be trained to coexist peacefully with a cat? How long might this take? Can I do this myself, with little to no input from housemate?

3) Are gates a possible solution, e.g. cat only gets upstairs of house, dog only gets downstairs? Or will they just be miserable?

4) Is a kitten better than an adult cat for this undertaking? I'm thinking a kitten is less likely to be territorial, but on the other hand, an adult cat who is known to get along with dogs could be useful. Housemate thinks kitten would be better, as all of the dog's previous cat-chasing experiences have been with adult cats.

5) Any other tips?
posted by danceswithlight to Pets & Animals (9 answers total)
My Aussie (who is my profile pic) believes that cats are trifling things, best for chasing and not permissible near food or treats. Yet we have successfully gotten him acclimated to both adult rescue cats and, very recently, a very playful and mischievous kitten.

I personally think a kitten is a better idea because dogs like most animals put up best with the antics of small young animals. But you can certainly adopt an adult cat too.

The key is to do this gradually, and in a positive way. You want to start with a room that is solely the kitten/cats, including a litter box, toys, food, water, and a door that closes. Your adoptee should probably be kept safe there with lots of attention from you for about a week. Next, put up a pet gate with a cat door in it. But leave that closed. Let the cat roam as it wishes -- do NOT carry it to the gate or dog. Everyone will now be pretty familiar with each other's smell and have seen each other. Next, you want to let the cat out by opening the gate door, and letting the cat go through as it wishes. The dog should be leashed and supervised and kept from any aggressive move like smelling the cat for this period. Then, increase the periods of supervised contact. Praise and reward the dog for all good behavior. Eventually the dog and the cat are going to view each other as a fixed part of the environment. I'd keep feeding separately and of course keep an eye out.

In terms of how long an intro takes, I'd say in total two to four weeks will usually do it.
posted by bearwife at 11:01 AM on January 3, 2017

Having got kittens last summer, I can report that they are way more chill around dogs than older cats. The introduction between my dog and the kittens was a million times easier than the introduction of my dog to the older cat I'd been fostering. (The foster eventually co-existed with the dog, but it took a lot of time.) An older cat who is socialized to dogs is also a solution, but IME those are rarer.

Secondly, your housemate doesn't want to train the dog, but maybe you should try before introducing a cat into the mix? At least having a solid "sit" and "stay" will go a very long way to diffusing any conflicts. My experience with a somewhat reactive dog is that you don't simple train "away" from bad behaviours, but need to have good behaviours to substitute in. Some of the value of having a repertoire of tricks and commands with a dog, is that it offers a lot of options for things to distract (and reward them for) from the undesirable behaviour.

I also think training the dog will be difficult if your housemate isn't on board, at least to coordinate and enforce the same rules you are. It's not clear from your post if your housemate and you have had that conversation or not. Do you trust them to split up any conflicts when you are away? Do you trust that they won't undermine your training efforts by providing conflicting rewards/incentives? Dogs need consistency.

My dog still chases/plays with my kittens. I know she doesn't bite so it doesn't worry me terribly, but just to be on the safe side, I keep them apart when both my husband and I are out of the house. More importantly, my husband use the same words for any commands to the dog that I do and we provide her with lots of activity.

Many rescues will work with you to find an appropriate match for your house and maybe even try a controlled test introduction between the cat and the dog. I think if you have success working with the dog, that might be a good route to try in a few months or so.
posted by Kurichina at 11:05 AM on January 3, 2017

4) Is a kitten better than an adult cat for this undertaking?

I would have two concerns about getting a kitten in your situation:

1. Kittens need a lot of stimulation and can and will get into everything, even more than an adult cat. With you only being home in the evening, this could be an issue.

2. Kittens may not be able to defend themselves as well against the dog.

Now, you could get around problem #1 in part by getting two kittens. In fact, a lot of rescues I've seen will only adopt out a kitten under 6 months old if you adopt two kittens. (Some will make exceptions for another cat in the house.)

If you do decide to get an adult cat, just make sure you use a reputable rescue group and let them know about your housemate's dog. They will usually be able to steer you to a cat that has been dog tested. I just recently adopted an adult cat into a household with a dog. The kitty I got was in a foster home with two dogs when I adopted him. (In my case, the dog I have has already coexisted happily with cats, so somewhat different situation in that regard.)

3) Are gates a possible solution, e.g. cat only gets upstairs of house, dog only gets downstairs? Or will they just be miserable?

Gates could definitely help keep the dog out of the cat's domain, but be aware that the vast majority of cats will be able to scale most if not all pet/baby gates. Also, especially if you get a kitten, make sure if you do use a baby gate, that there aren't any spaces wide enough for the cat to get its head/other body parts stuck in. One way to get around the height issue, which is what I'm currently doing, is to use two gates, one on top of the other. However, you want to make sure these gates are very sturdy, and some determined cats could still probably find a way around this. At least to start with, you'll want to keep the cat confined to one room when you're not there to supervise.

I agree with others that you definitely want to train the dog to understand a few basic commands before adopting a cat. "Sit" and "stay" are important. "Come" is also good. Another good one is "leave it", which I use any time my dog is going for something I don't want it to have/get into. This is followed up with a quick diversion like a treat or a toy. But I think the most crucial command will be stay.

In my experience, even basic training goes beyond whatever commands the dog learns. It primes a dog to be attentive to you. The more practice they have, the more likely they are to listen to you in new/exciting situation, like when a cat is present. I would also invest in some special, high value treats. Don't use these too often so that they'll seem really special when you are introducing the dog to the cat. This may sound kind of gross, but I use these freeze dried beef liver treats. They were something our vet used during visits, and the dog goes crazy for them. They're not cheap, though. (I use freeze dried chicken ones for the kitty.)
posted by litera scripta manet at 11:31 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, also, a few other things to keep in mind:

This is disgusting, but all the dogs I've known view a cat litter box as a delicious buffet. (Like I said, super gross.) So make sure you have the litter box somewhere where the dog can't get to it but where the cat can always get to it. The dog will also certainly be interested in the cat's food, so make sure you feed the cat separately. (I recommend a high quality, wet food only diet for your new kitty. Some good brands are Merrick and Wellness.) I wouldn't bother trying to train the dog to stay away from the litter box and cat food. Just make sure it can't ever get to them.

In terms of how long it could take to train the dog and if you can ever successfully train it to stay away from the cat, I would say it's hard to predict one way or the other. I would start training the dog now, a few minutes at a time, a couple times a day. See how that goes. It would help if you can get the housemate to go along with this, but it's probably not a requirement. If you've never trained a dog before, or even if you have, I would recommend getting a book or even enrolling in a training class.

You may never be able to fully train the dog to stop cat chasing, but most cats can also stand up for themselves. But you do want to make sure the dog won't constantly terrorize the cat.

And if you do get a cat, which I think you totally should do if you want one, I would recommend giving the dog extra exercise when you start introducing them. A tired dog is a much more well behaved dog.
posted by litera scripta manet at 11:40 AM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm glad you're aware that the current situation you describe is a totally inappropriate home for a cat. Reputable animal shelters, rescue groups, and breeders will not approve an adoption into a home with an untrained dog that chases cats; just because a cat can defend itself doesn't mean it's OK to put it in a situation where it's required to do so just to exist.

Furthermore, many groups/breeders will require that they meet all the adults in the home before finalizing an adoption; your roommate is going to have to be on board with a new cat and willing to manage the dog's behavior while you're not there.

If you're willing to put in the effort to train the dog first, before you introduce the cat, then of course a peaceful co-existence is possible. But given the level of training the dog has now (minimal), you're talking about committing to months of consistent effort and dedicating many hours of your time working with the dog before it would be safe to bring a cat into the home. Cocker spaniels aren't huge dogs, but one grab-and-shake is all it takes to seriously injure or kill a cat.

Are you sure you want a cat that badly? Would it be better to get some kitty time by spending a few hours a week socializing cats as a volunteer at a local shelter and then adopting one when your living situation is different?
posted by jesourie at 1:24 PM on January 3, 2017 [6 favorites]

So, my dad passed away in the summer and all I got in the will was this gigantic Jack Russell/beagle mix who had never seen a cat before. We already had three cats at the time.

We kind of suck as dog trainers (my housemate a little less than I do), but even so, it's been all right. The dog tried to chase the cats for a few days, but after getting the loud angry "HEY!" and a yank on the collar every time, she started to understand the cats were meant to be friends, not food. At this point we consider her more of a cat monitor than a cat chaser. We leave her alone in the house with them whenever we go out, and we don't crate or lock her in because she will destroy our house or herself in the effort to get out.

We hired a dog trainer to come to our house and teach us how to train the dog, and it's been mostly successful. We can't do the usual "give the dog treats when she sees the cats" thing because the cats are ALWAYS around. They're everywhere, we're totally outnumbered (SEND HELP), so instead we just continue to say "HEY!" if she seems too interested in what the cats are doing. Then we try to get her to substitute her monitor behavior with something else like "go to your spot" or "sit", which works approximately 60% of the time. The rest of the time she doesn't DO anything to the cats; she just hurries over to them and stares, then looks at us and whines about our lax cat rules.

Things that trigger Cat Monitor behavior: Cats scratching the furniture (we have hopes this might eventually train the cats out of scratching furniture, so we can start to live more like adults); cats begging for treats in the kitchen; cats chasing their tails at the top of the cat tree; cats being near us when the dog thinks food might fall from our plates into someone's mouth, and would prefer it be hers.

A few things to keep in mind: These are all adult cats, and have not been shy about nose-swipes if she gets too close. They're smart and wily and while she doesn't freak them out, they do keep an eye on her. A kitten might not have that kind of wisdom. Also, I work from home, so their time alone together is naturally limited. Finally, this dog sleeps like a vampire in its native earth once the sun goes down - so there is no danger of her attacking a cat in the night (or saving any humans from attacks by anything else, for that matter).

And last but not least: Even if you don't get a cat, train the dog at least to sit and stay anyway, because teaching your dog how to sit and stay is how you get friends to come to your house more than once. Nobody wants to be jumped on or barked at, and if you have friends with kids, they DEFINITELY don't want their kids jumped on or barked at. Get the dog right for polite company.
posted by invincible summer at 1:44 PM on January 3, 2017

My sister and BIL adopted a male rescue cat who had been neutered as an adult. He is generally a very sweet kitty, but also kind of terrifying and macho, perhaps because he was neutered later than a shelter kitten would have been. A year later, my sister adopted a young pitbull, who is very sweet and rambunctious. The kitty made sure it was known that he was Boss. We visited them with our large, cat-chasing Aussie and large cat-naive retriever, and kitty was still Boss. It only took one paw swipe to get the message across.

So I literally suggest you seek out a kitty with balls.*

*Male cats neutered as adult still have developed testes, at least in Michigan.

posted by Drosera at 2:04 PM on January 3, 2017

Update: Dog does know a few commands already. He reliably sits and shakes hands. He was doing pretty well at learning to come when I tried it just now (with treats for every success). That gives me some hope that he can learn other commands too, including stay and leave it, and housemate said she's definitely on board with reinforcing any training that I do. So looks like I have a new project :)
posted by danceswithlight at 2:50 PM on January 3, 2017

You should be aware that any cat worth its salt will take one look at the dog barking/growling at it and give it a single pointed swipe the dog will *never* forget.

Ask me how I know.
posted by Toddles at 7:44 PM on January 3, 2017

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