Dogs and cats living together and other chaos
January 9, 2021 4:48 PM   Subscribe

We bought a house that came with a dog and several outdoor-only cats (long story, but the house just came with pets). One of the outdoor cats has recently become an indoor cat. I am concerned.

The dog, a very energetic Victorian bulldog, has lived on the property his whole life with different people and, while he has lived with other animals before (including a geriatric cat), nonetheless chases cats. The outdoor cats know he will chase them. Previous dog caretakers/owners insist he just wants to play with them, and that once he caught the geriatric cat and just kinda gummed it / wanted to be buddies, and that this should be fine for the newly indoor cat.

To be honest this sounds like nonsense to me, and I'm worried about the newly indoor cat. She's starting to get brave about exploring the house, and the dog is starting to get less scared of her, and now he's chased her a couple of times.

I have never had a dog before, but my concern is that even if he was just playing, he could still seriously injure or kill the cat. And even if he doesn't, being trapped in a house with a 70 pound dog with big jaws who chases you doesn't seem like a pleasant retirement so much as a nightmare. (This was not my idea, but now the cat is inside, so.)

The dog is about 3, pretty smart, very eager to please, and also had a rooooough first year of life, and is pretty reactive all-around. He also wasn't walked or socialized much, just allowed to run around the property. He's super energetic and excited and reactive on walks (we're working on it), but he doesn't have a crazy prey drive -- when he flips and starts trying to sprint after something, it's usually a smell, not a squirrel or anything. He gets very defensive, and is definitely a guard dog. He's very loved/spoiled now, and gets plenty of attention.

We're contacting a dog trainer about it, but I figured I'd ask here, too. How do you get a dog to stop worrying a cat? What's the right thing to do? This cat is like 10 and has also lived on the property her whole life, just outside.
posted by schadenfrau to Pets & Animals (10 answers total)
I don't have tips on handling the dog, but to promote co-existence, you might consider providing escape routes for the cat. You can get a baby gate with a cat portal in it, to allow the cat to escape when s/he desires. You can also try a platform (e.g. a cat tree) so that the cat can get out of reach of the dog.
posted by smokyjoe at 5:42 PM on January 9 [9 favorites]

Once your dog is leash trained, take the dog for bike-walks. You bike, the dog runs alongside. Stick to the road where there are fewer smells than on the sidewalk. This will help the dog burn off some of that cat-chasing energy.
posted by aniola at 7:06 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]

If you have a contained yard, you could get the dog out to play fetch for an hour or however long it takes to tire him out. Sleepy dog = less stressed out cat.

cat/dog tax please?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:13 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]

The best way to make sure the dog doesn't love the cat to death in case he catches it, at least until the trainer can advise you, is to make sure the dog is on a leash at all times. And make sure you can grab the leash or step on really quickly if he decides to take off.
posted by cooker girl at 8:13 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]

Second the baby gate, we gated off a bedroom so the cats could have a place to retreat from the dog, their food and litter box are there also. We installed it high enough for the cats to get under but not the dog.

Also: only one cat gets chased, because she runs. The other one just rolls over and is therefore not interesting... But I don't know if that interaction could be taught, depends on cat and dog both.
posted by lemonade at 8:16 PM on January 9 [2 favorites]

How many floors is the house? If two or more, confine the dog to the ground floor with a baby gate and put all the cat stuff on the upper floor.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:13 PM on January 9 [3 favorites]

The cat could spend most of her time in tall places that are comfortable and large enough to sleep safely. You will have to put thought into this though: the places need to be near people since she will want to be near people; they will need to have ways to climb up that are reasonable for a geriatric cat; the litter box will need to be safely up there too; there should be padding and enough space that sleeping is easy and safe (no danger of rolling off).

Most older cats seem to like big dog-sized beds that they can sprawl in; keep this in mind.

I just discovered some YouTube videos of Jackson Galaxy (cat guy) and a lady dog behaviorist working on cats and dogs together, including cases where the dog is likely to chase the cat. There is no follow up at the end, so who knows how successful they are ultimately, but it's definitely worth a look for you (and whoever made the decisions you're now dealing with). I think the series is called Cat vs. Dog[s].

Here's one of their videos, but I believe there are other examples that are more relevant.
posted by amtho at 2:34 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

I can't find it right now, but not that long ago, I found a great site (by a dog trainer I believe) that had a very clear step by step guide for training dogs not to chase cats (and other ways to help them coexist). The gist of it was that you have the dog on a leash inside the house, and you allow the cat to just do it's thing. You reward the dog if the dog ignore the cat/doesn't chase it. If the dog does chase the cat, I believe you try to redirect the dog with some other command or something.

"The conditioning method" on this site has a similar idea, though less detailed than the site I came across.

How does this dog do with other dogs? If he's not dog aggressive, it sounds like doggie daycare could be a good way for him to get all this playful energy out. (or a dog park, if you have one near you and you trust the dog's recall, but it sounds like he may not be trained enough for that yet)

My family had a very large dog (Pyrenees) who did a similar thing of chasing the cat, even sort of putting the cat's head in its mouth. But in that case, the dog had been "playmates" with the cat since the dog was a tiny puppy, and this was a cat that was very comfortable disciplining dogs, and the dog would leave the cat alone if the cat gave a signal. Even still, it made me very nervous, just because of the size differences.

My point is, I think you're right to address this even if you don't think the dog would intentionally hurt the cat.
posted by litera scripta manet at 7:55 AM on January 10 [3 favorites]

You can train dogs to ignore cats. Here is advice from Patricia McConnell's blog. I also very highly recommend her blog as a whole, it has a ton of free resources. Good luck!
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 9:54 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I can't believe I forgot the dog tax! He's a very good boy, even if he has a weird habit of falling asleep with his eyes open.

The cat tax is harder; she mostly comes out when she thinks we're not paying attention to sing her song, and if we look at her for too long she runs away again.
posted by schadenfrau at 10:41 AM on January 10 [2 favorites]

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