Dog breeds that are good with cats and with stairs
November 20, 2017 9:02 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I would like to get a dog. We're both fond of pretty much all kinds of dogs, but there are a couple of practical considerations. First, we have a cat, so we're looking for a gentle dog with a good sense of humor (the cat is pretty funny.) Secondly, our house has lots of stairs. The dog would need to be able to handle stairs, certainly in the prime of life and, hopefully, when older, too. Given that we may need to carry the dog up the stairs in its senior years, though, maybe we should look for one that weighs no more than, say, 50 pounds.

We're inclined to get a puppy, which will pose less of a threat to the cat, and which the cat can train. Also, in order that the puppy's eventual adult disposition be more predictable, we're inclined to get a purebred. (We're well aware of the arguments against buying a purebred dog, and agree with many of them. But we want to do whatever we can to maximize the chances of happy co-existence between dog and cat. For the purposes of this posting, I'd appreciate it if we could leave out the pure- vs. mixed-breed debate.)

What breeds would you recommend?
posted by saywhat to Pets & Animals (15 answers total)
I've generally found Cavalier King Charles Spaniels to be excellent family pets who get along with children, cats, and adults. Normally I'd recommend a golden retriever or a labra/goldendoodle, but they would be a bit heavy to carry around as they age and 50% of the goldens I've had were afraid of stairs.
posted by xyzzy at 9:25 PM on November 20, 2017 [5 favorites]

I have a rescue Lab who is goofy and great with cats. She doesn’t mind stairs in her middle age and is about 60 pounds, not too heavy. Highly recommend. Obligatory photos here. Her disposition is amazingly tolerant and gentle.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 10:45 PM on November 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

We're inclined to get a puppy, which will pose less of a threat to the cat, and which the cat can train. Also, in order that the puppy's eventual adult disposition be more predictable, we're inclined to get a purebred.

I have a friend who had the sweetest golden retriever in the world. Who was terrified of cats. I had a chow mix who loved to play with the cat I already owned when I got him, and who learned to be appropriately submissive to the cat. And I have a friend who owns a few goofy pitbulls and bossy cats.

What I'm saying is that there is no guarantee when you choose to add a pet to the family, regardless of the breed. This is a fantastic reason to look at adopting a slightly older animal, one whose temperament is known and can be best matched to your needs, whether or not they are pure breed.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:26 AM on November 21, 2017 [19 favorites]

Breeds don't really dictate that much about your dog in regards to its specific personality. It's true, you can get some ideas from a breed, but I have had many dogs that act totally opposite what their breed would dictate.

That being said, I will try to tell you what might not work in hopes of helping you narrow the search a bit.

When it comes to stairs, I would suggest a larger dog over a smaller dog. We have stairs, and our smaller dog has more problems with them so far. Our last dog (Australian shepherd mix) was able to make it up them until he was about 14. Dachshunds typically have back problems, so they might specifically be a bad choice. If you are going pure breed, look into typical ailments. Most pure breeds have issues, but working dogs tend to fair better. So flock dogs and herders tend to do better with aging.

As for working well with cats, it again will be more about the specific dog than a breed. You might want to shy away from sight hounds as they tend to have a very strong prey drive. The advantage of getting a rescue is you can know all these things before you get the dog.

There is nothing wrong with going pure breed, as long as you do it right. The problem with pure breed is trying to be cheep. You should work always work with a registered breeder and you should be able to meet the pups parents to make sure they have a temperament you think will be good for your house. Also keep in mind a pure breed will cost about 2500 - 3500 before travel expense.

Pictures of said dogs linked below

posted by Oceanic Trench at 1:33 AM on November 21, 2017 [4 favorites]

A good rescue organization will do a good job of matching you with a dog who is suited to your needs. I got a purebred miniature Australian shepherd, about a year old, who was exactly what I wanted (blue merle female, blue eyes, not going to get larger than about 30 lbs. so I could lift her if necessary, extremely smart but pretty chill and appropriate for a not-terribly-active household with a cat, sweetest and best dog ever) from a local rescue. I actually initially contacted them about a different dog who was featured on their site but when they heard what I was looking for they said they had another dog who they thought was better suited. They were right; I can't imagine a dog more perfect for me than my girl. Her temperament was known before I got her -- her foster household had several cats that she dealt with just fine -- as was her final size. I've heard stories of dogs ending up substantially larger or smaller than expected (e.g., two 20-25 lb dogs producing a dog who topped out at 9 lbs.) I couldn't be happier with how it worked out, and the fact that it cost a fraction of the price of a breeder pup wasn't bad either.
I'm not going to lie, chances are pretty good I'll try to go with a breeder for my next dog because I anticipate living somewhere that doesn't have a lot of minis/a mini Aussie rescue. So I'm not 100% opposed to going with a breeder especially if you want certain breed characteristics -- for me it's the intelligence and focus of a shepherd and the size of a mini. But if what you're looking for is a general size range and a good temperament for dealing with a cat, you've got a world of options open to you. Think more about what other kinds of traits you want in your dog. A shepherd, wonderful though I think they are, may tend to herd the cat or people. Some cats are fine with it and just ignore them, others get into a spat. Terriers are likely to hassle a small furry creature in their domain and are persistent as hell. Do you want a smart dog that you can train but who has a mind of their own, or a less smart but more obedient dog? Do you want a very active dog or a couch potato?
In your position I might consider a miniature poodle, but I'd be very cautious about their temperament; they've been overbred at some points and there are some pretty awful ones running around, but there are also some fantastic ones. Not particularly aggressive, small enough that the cat can be boss, and easy to carry if you need to. I'd either want an adult or a puppy whose parents I had met and confirmed to be good-tempered.
posted by katemonster at 2:00 AM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

We got a Shetland Sheepdog a couple of months ago while living in a house with lots of stairs and also two cats. We didn't get a Sheltie specifically for these reasons but because we've always loved the breed and their temperament. I can't speak specifically to the breed part but I can advise what it's been like with a puppy and cats!

After the general round of monitoring and introductions, they've been pretty good. The puppy, being a puppy, wants to play. The cats will generally give a boop if she gets too close and then the puppy realises it's better to give them space. The only problem with this is she is a puppy and she gets excited and she wants to play again in a few hours again and she tries again. The cats have been fine and they have safe spaces and higher level spots to get away from her but it's still a work in progress. We are hoping that the puppy will be less...playful, the older she gets.

We searched for a rescue dog for years but the ones that were compatible with cats got snapped up really quickly, so we went down the breeder route - even though it wasn't our first preference. It was really important that the cats comfort came first which is why we wanted to go with a puppy as we felt they would perceive her as less of a threat. Didn't factor in how active a puppy is versus the cats, though!

In an ideal world, I'd recommend an older calmer dog that has already been cat tested. Good luck!
posted by liquorice at 2:15 AM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

All but the smallest of dogs will be able to manage stairs. My golden retriever/ collie mix was fine with stairs until his last 6 months, when he was slow on the stairs, and the last couple days when his heart was failing; it was one way we knew it was time. He wasn't cat-aggressive at all, but the cat *never* tolerated him. There was a weird nook in the kitchen and we put her litter box there, with a low shelf above it, and a door, mounted so she could enter but the dog couldn't. She was able to have her food and litterbox free from the despised dog. She ate his food, because; he coulnd't eat hers. Just make sure the cat has places to go to get away from the dog. And make sure any dog is not cat-aggressive.

I have adopted grown dogs from shelters, and I recommend it. Puppies are a lot of work and genuinely terrific dogs are killed daily. My current dog is a Jack Russell Terrier from a shelter; he was @ a year old when we adopted him. My friend's cat taught him cat manners.
posted by theora55 at 5:30 AM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'd also mention that there are rescue groups for nearly all popular breeds. It may take a little longer since those are usually breeds that are in high demand, but again, this is where adopting an older, known dog will be an advantage. Lots of city shelters also get purebreeds and it's worth calling around.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:08 AM on November 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

A pug meets your stated requirements. However pugs are prone to eye injury, is your cat likely to serve one up with its claws? Eye injuries can be expensive.
posted by crazycanuck at 7:31 AM on November 21, 2017

We have stairs; we looked for a not-tiny dog because of that. (We like dachshunds but decided not to look for one because that seemed like a bad combo.) We wound up with a miniature poodle ("mini" just means "small;" there's no other difference between them and the larger ones); he's friendly with other animals, although we don't have a cat. We suspect he'd like to chase cats, but could learn not to do so with one in the house - and he didn't have one to teach him to leave it alone when he was a puppy. (Non-allergenic was high on our list of requirements, poodle or poodle-mix was what we were looking for.)

You might skip purebred and go for a blend of known friendly/mellow breeds - purebreds can have lots of problems, and the personality types aren't absolute. I also recommend adult shelter dogs - the staff will be able to help you find one that fits your household, and their personality won't be going through drastic changes as they grow up. A shelter dog also has a good chance of the staff having figured out if they're friendly to cats; they'll at least know whether the dog is friendly to other animals in general.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:29 AM on November 21, 2017

Getting along with cats is about prey drive, training, and exposure. Most dogs can handle stairs. These are important needs for you and your wife, but the approach I would strongly recommend is first and foremost finding a breed suitable for your family, your lifestyle, your activity levels, and needs.

Take a look at the dog breeds (you can go to the AKC site to start) and figure out your preferences on looks and size.

Once you've narrowed the breeds down to what you're attracted to, research the breed. Look for personality, health issues, temperament, energy levels, trainability, good with children, good with other dogs and cats, life expectancy, health issues.

Figure out if the breed is compatible to where you live, what the weather is like, whether you work away from home, and your activity levels and lifestyle.

Once you've narrowed it down to a few breeds that you're interested in, you need to meet the dogs. Find and go to a dog show, see the different breeds and speak to breeders about their breed. You can also speak to owners of the breed.

Then contact a trainer that is well-versed in working with the breed you are interested in. Trainers often have a completely different perspective on breeds for people not looking to join the show world or competition world and can speak to the suitability of the breed as a family pet, how it gets along with other animals, and whether the prey drive is very strong in the breed you're interested in.

Once you've figured out the right breed for you and your fam, you'll need to start the process of researching the right breeder for you. However, that's the subject of an entirely different AskMe, and that deserves a lot of research and attention on it's own.
posted by vivzan at 10:31 AM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

With the prey drive issue, I'd avoid terriers, and possibly hounds. Terriers are tenacious and were built to chase and kill small furry things. Hounds were also built for that purpose (at least chase, possibly kill) but they are less tenacious never-say-die about that last bit. But (and this is a huge but), you'll always get individual dogs of all breeds who love cats out of character with what their breed is "supposed" to be like, and the opposite where they have a feline death wish way out of wack with what you'd expect (golden retriever serial cat abusers are by no means unheard-of). The only way to be absolutely sure is to adopt an adolescent or older dog who has been fostered in a house with cats.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:42 AM on November 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

My pit bull mix is amazing with my cat. I would avoid a hunting dog or a terrier that have the instinct to pick up small animals in their mouths. In my experience, my lab mix growing up (about 75 pounds) did much better with stairs until later in her life than my Boston Terrier (20 pounds and easier to carry) did. Maybe look for a mid-size dog - about 40 pounds full grown?
posted by hrj at 12:10 PM on November 21, 2017

Given the stairs, you don't want any of the dog breeds that are known for hip issues (german shepherds are notorious for hip dysplasia, for example, many tiny/toy breeds have hip issues as well) or back issues (dachshunds). You are also going to want to avoid breeds that are bred to go after small prey (already covered well above), so no terriers or hounds.

Given the above, herding dogs, retrievers, bully breeds are all good bets. If you want a goofy dog that is easy, labs or golden retrievers are an obvious choice. If you want a smaller dog than that, a mixed breed like labradoodles or goldendoodles might be a good option. As multiple people have mentioned, rescuing a goofy dog with a known good cat temperament is also an excellent option, and mixed breeds are generally healthier than purebreds anyway.
posted by zug at 3:32 PM on November 21, 2017

Our purebred Scottie (adopted from the pound, had epilepsy) had no prey drive towards cats, but instead focussed on attacking the vacuum cleaner. RIP Major (and Electrolux)!
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 6:34 PM on November 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

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