Help me say, "cats aren't toys!"
September 11, 2006 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Help! The dog's decided cats are fun to chase.

Our puppy (5-month old Shepherd mix) gave our two cats lots of room for her first month of residence. But suddenly, she's decided that it's a hoot to chase the cats, bark at them, and try to entice them into a wrestling match.

She's in an obediance class already, and I'm hoping that repeated, consistent messages that it's not ok to harrass the cats will eventually get through, but it's pretty rough right now and I'd like more perspective and suggestions.

One other thing: the cats do have a dog-free retreat (the dog's not allowed in the basement), but keeping everyone seperated when the cats come upstairs is problematic. And anyway, the goal is to get everyone to learn to be in the same room...
posted by COBRA! to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Can you just let the dog harass the cats and see what plays out? My parent's Maltese and cat now wrestle and play and pretty much ignore each other.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:32 PM on September 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


The only way I've seen this successfully executed is if the cats win the fight when the dog's still a puppy, and are allowed to HURT the dog to the point where he's wary around them. Sorry, my ex-GF is an expert dog trainer and has never managed to train her boxer out of thinking that small furry things are fun to chase and kill, even after he killed most of her familys' cats.
posted by SpecialK at 1:32 PM on September 11, 2006


Can you just let the dog harass the cats and see what plays out? My parent's Maltese and cat now wrestle and play and pretty much ignore each other.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:32 PM CST on September 11


That's what I was hoping for; but Cat #1, who fights back with great vigor, doesn't have her front claws and can only punch the dog in the head repeatedly. Cat #2 has his claws, but always reacts by running. It sucks.
posted by COBRA! at 1:37 PM on September 11, 2006


I'd let them get it out of their system, too. My sister's dog was fascinated by her cat when they first met and was always harassing him (trying to make friends more than kill him, though) and eventually they reached a truce. Occasionally, my sister comes home and finds them cuddling.

OTOH, what would Cesar Milan do?
posted by clh at 1:46 PM on September 11, 2006


Keep up the consistent "No" message to the pup. Do not let him get away with it or he'll think this is accepted behavior. He'll learn eventually. Also, remember that your cat without claws does have teeth. Just because some cats have claws does not mean they use them. Ours do not and, to my knowledge, never have.

Our Berner was 2 yrs old when we adopted him. He'd never been around cats. He too wanted to play with them. The cats are about 8 lbs. Berlioz is 145 lbs. Both have claws. One runs. One smacks him without claws and hisses when he pushes too far. He's learned to mostly leave them alone. The one who smacks is the dominant of our four animals (2 dogs/2 cats). The one who runs is the omega.
posted by onhazier at 2:01 PM on September 11, 2006


I've found that these things usually work themselves out. You'll probably have to intervene with a "No!" here and there though if the dog gets too boisterous.

We have two cats also and Cat 1 likes the dog a lot and enjoys wrestling and playing. Cat 2 tolerates the dog, allows him to live in her house and has demonstratively made it clear that if he encroaches too much on her space or even looks at her funny, she will punch him in the head repeatedly with both paws. Sometimes she actually does it without provocation. disclaimer: Cats get regular nail trims.

End result is that the dog has a real buddy in Cat 1, keeps away from Cat 2 most of the time, and has learned his place in the animal hierarchy of the house.
posted by jerseygirl at 2:04 PM on September 11, 2006


You're risking your cats' lives, particularly your declawed cat's life, if you let them "play" together. My dog absolutely hates cats, goes nuts and barks like a maniac at every cat he sees when we're out walking, and would chase and kill any cat he could, if I let him, regardless of the hundreds of corrections I've given him about this. For some dogs, cats just push behavior buttons that you can't correct.

Outdoors, I can pretty much tell by listening to neighbors' dogs at night if a feral cat has found it's way into the neighborhood. There will be a directional chorus of barking and baying from where the cat is, to where it is headed, that sometimes ends quickly and finally. And it is a different kind of barking/baying than raccoons or possums stimulate, too; there's, how can I say it, an expectant note in the howls when it's a cat.

I wouldn't count on training to make your pet co-existence dreams come true, unless you're prepared to replace some cats doing it.
posted by paulsc at 2:05 PM on September 11, 2006


OTOH, what would Cesar Milan do?

Get all up in the dog's grill and intimidate it, which might help for the five minutes he's around but is likely to be useless over the long term.

I'd second allowing the cats to put a hurtin' on Mr. Pup, but ya gotta be careful that nobody actually gets too hurt. Especially the cats!

Telling the dog no is good too, but ya gotta pair that with huge, effusive praise and the most wondrous treats when he stops chasing the cats and comes to see you, or when he's sitting around and does nothing when the cat walks by.

But there's only so much you're likely to be able to do in the face of very strong instinctual urges. If your dog has a strong prey drive, this is going to be something you live with and work with, not something you cure.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:16 PM on September 11, 2006


but ya gotta pair that with huge, effusive praise and the most wondrous treats when he stops chasing the cats and comes to see you, or when he's sitting around and does nothing when the cat walks by.

Along those lines, is it worthwhile to distract the dog if a cat walks into the room and she starts giving it the stinkeye? Like, make a noise in the other direction and give her a treat when she looks that way?
posted by COBRA! at 2:23 PM on September 11, 2006


I use a little from Column A and Column B - my cats have lived with 200lb dogs and don't take a lot of crap, along with Cesar Millan's "tch!" noise and the hand-bite on the chest.

I have just taken in a stray dog who's obviously got some sighthound in her, and her prey drive was highly engaged whenever she saw a cat, even if it wasn't moving. "No kitty!" has always been my training phrase, but first I'm using "tch!" to interrupt her focus, reinforced by the hand-bite, and then "no kitty!" as I push her front feet down off whatever the cat jumped up onto, since that's generally how that plays out.

She has chilled out around the cats pretty well in just a few days, now that she knows the cats and I won't stand for it, and also that the other two dogs in the house ignore them too. It took my boxer longer, but I didn't have my routine down quite as well with her.

If only I could teach my oldest dog to stop stepping on the cats as if they are not there.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:25 PM on September 11, 2006


I would have been much more in the "let it play out" camp before a few weeks ago... when I found out that one of my boys - who my brother took in when I had to move somewhere I couldn't take them with me - was No Longer With Us - a visiting dog managed to grab him and shook him hard enough to cause fatal internal injuries.

The situations aren't exactly alike (and I'm really not up for elaborating) in ways that work in your favor, but the two salient facts are this: the dog only has to catch them once and she can cause a lot of damage even with behavior that between dogs would be just play.

I realize this isn't real helpful - my only contribution here would to be sure there's a LOT of cat retreat locations, not just a basement that the dog hopefully remembers it's not supposed to be in. I just felt like you should hear a reminder that the stakes can be high after all the "just let it work itself out" talk...
posted by phearlez at 2:40 PM on September 11, 2006


Along those lines, is it worthwhile to distract the dog if a cat walks into the room and she starts giving it the stinkeye? Like, make a noise in the other direction and give her a treat when she looks that way?

Hell yeah. But it seems simpler and more effective to just call the dog over and maybe command a down than to "make a noise in the other direction."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:52 PM on September 11, 2006


But it seems simpler and more effective to just call the dog over and maybe command a down than to "make a noise in the other direction."

Not with my amazing ventriloquism skillz.

posted by COBRA! at 2:54 PM on September 11, 2006


In the wild, small cats are prey for canines. I used to live in San Diego and house cats get killed by coyotes there all the time if they're outside at night.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:51 PM on September 11, 2006


I got you all beat. My dog used to hump my cat.

This only occured when we were making the cat's dinner and she thought it'd be a good idea to wait at the back door, which was the dog's zone. While waiting, he would often move her into position and hump her, even though he was a tall German Shepard and was thus not actually sticking his doodle into her. After a few seconds the cat would jump up and whack him one. Then he'd stop. And after a few times, he stopped altogether.

In her later years, in the months before she died of old age, we would often find them together in the dog's zone, resting together.

In short, I vote again for letting it all play out and eventually it'll stop.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:58 PM on September 11, 2006


I'm with phearlez. I have a ridiculously smart dog with a serious prey drive when it comes to cats. He can learn a new trick at the drop of a hat. He cannot learn not to go after cats.

When we are out walking, he has great leash manners, until we come across a cat. (And please, people, keep your kitties inside, mmmkay? Much better for everyone.) If I catch his body language, or see the cat before he does, I can remind him to heel and that's that. But if I'm distracted when a cat comes into view, it's not good. I've lost track of the number of times he has stuck his head underneath a car where a cat has sought refuge, and emerged bleeding from being scratched by it.

He never learns.

I'm with ROU_Xenophobe on this one- call him over, put him into a down, and maybe even a "dead dog" or a "on your side" or whatever command you use to get him on his side- that position helps my dog settle down faster than just a plain vanilla "down."
posted by ambrosia at 6:33 PM on September 11, 2006


Along those lines, is it worthwhile to distract the dog if a cat walks into the room and she starts giving it the stinkeye? Like, make a noise in the other direction and give her a treat when she looks that way?

Definitely. It's nearly impossible to train out prey drive (especially not with punishment, which can tend to get the dog even more excited), but what you CAN do is make it more rewarding for the dog NOT to chase the cats, and control the drive. As soon as the cat shows up, distract the dog, have her do calming exercises like soft eye contact, "down/stay", "play dead", "settle", give her a massage, whatever, and reward reward reward - the goal at first is to have the dog's attention anywhere but on the cats (a clicker can be really useful for this kind of exercise, at first you're just rewarding the dog for looking at ANYTHING except the cats, working up to actual cued behaviours like down). This is not only redirection and self-control training, it's also a bit of classical conditioning, you're training your dog to associate the cats with good (non-cat-flavoured) snacks and calm behaviours, not exciting, chasing things.

Be sure you also allow the dog to get that prey drive out in a more acceptable way: fetch, frisbee and tug are great.

That said, do not ever leave the cats and dog loose and alone together, either crate the dog or shut the cats up somewhere when you go out. At very least you do not want the dog reinforcing the cat-chasing behaviour, and at worst, it's a very tiny step from "cats are fun to chase" to "hey, I caught one" to "tastes like chicken". Dogs are predators, sometimes they're going to act like predators, and sometimes cats = prey. It sounds like you're on the right track, a combination of redirection/reward and exhausting, prey-drive-oriented play/exercise plus careful management should keep all the animals happy.
posted by biscotti at 7:08 PM on September 11, 2006


I would also have a leash on the dog in the house at all times when she's not crated (not a bad idea for any young dog anyway, it keeps them out of mischief and helps them bond to you), every time she gets to chase a cat she is reinforcing the behaviour, your goal should be for her never to get another opportunity to chase the cats. Let her chase balls or frisbees or toys as much as she can stand, but no more cats.
posted by biscotti at 7:10 PM on September 11, 2006


We've been having this same problem with our dog and our three cats. The best advice I have is to wear the dog out. That means more than just playing frisbee or rope toy. You’re going to have to take the dog out on a really, really long walk every single day, or find someone who can walk the dog for you. (This is what Cesar Millan would say, btw.) A good long walk will wear the dog out, and also establish you as the boss (as long as you make sure the dog walks behind you or at your side, never in front.) You dog will be so worn out at home, that he won’t try to chase the cats as much. Our dog just sleeps after long walks, which the kitties appreciate. Every now and then we can’t exercise him, and then he’s a kitty stalker and chaser all night, until he gets to go for his walk the following day.

You may also want to purchase some kitty furniture to allow the cats to escape the dog while he is in the same room as them.

Good luck!
posted by Nematoda at 7:58 PM on September 11, 2006


Google for Cesar Millan and "pack of lies" to find a recent NYTimes article about him.

Millan's schtick is based on outdated notions of dog and pack behavior (huge emphasis on dominance, very little positive feedback for the dog) instead of what science has taught us about dog behavior and psychology, and seems to be built around getting a showy result for the camera rather than actually achieving long-term training.

He's a small step above "alpha-rolling" or jerk-and-shout training, even though he does suggest some things that make sense (more exercise can help cure many ills).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:34 PM on September 11, 2006


Be sure you also allow the dog to get that prey drive out in a more acceptable way: fetch, frisbee and tug are great.

Actually one of our worries, since she was good with the cats for a month and then started chasing them, was that all of our fetching and frisbeeing was reinforcing the idea that chasing small things is GOOD FUN (but I suppose chasing small things just IS good fun, and it's a matter of letting her know what's ok to chase).

We do keep her crated when we're not around, and she gets two walks a day with lengthy playtimes, and she wears a leash around the house; so lots of that's already covered and does help-- I did have a dream of eventually being able to let her loose during the day while I'm at work, but that looks like a non-starter. Oh, well.

Thanks, everybody, for the suggestions and advice.

(side note on Cesar Millan: I don't like him, but I'm amazed at how ubiquitous he is... he's come up in nearly every dig-related conversation I've had since we got the puppy).
posted by COBRA! at 8:48 AM on September 12, 2006


Oh, wait, side question about this:

I would also have a leash on the dog in the house at all times when she's not crated (not a bad idea for any young dog anyway, it keeps them out of mischief and helps them bond to you)


Like I said, we're doing this... but I've worried that I'm training in some sort of dependance, so that she'll always feel like she has to be on me like glue. Is that a legitimate worry, or something that'll just take care of itself?
posted by COBRA! at 8:52 AM on September 12, 2006


I thought of you last night, COBRA!, when my husband reported that the air horn he bought works very, very well when our dogs are doing the kinds of bad things that go along with selective hearing. I'm a big fan of distracting noises, and I think an air horn trumps even the soda can with pennies inside for highly distracting noises. Annoying, yes, but you probably won't need to use it too many times. All our dogs flinch at the sight of the water spray bottle even though they've each been squirted perhaps half a dozen times in their lives.

Exuberant puppies are one of the tougher cases, but most of them really do eventually get into their thick heads that the cat is not fun, and the food-givers don't need the cat chased, thanks anyway. Even my greyhound learned the difference between his cats and all the other fun-to-chase furry things in the world, even if my cats were outside.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:47 AM on September 12, 2006


We have two huskies and two cats. The huskies are two years old and for a long time seemed unable to stop themselves from instinctively rushing after the cats. We had cat furniture that let them stay high above the dogs. We also made it very clear that it was Not Okay to threaten the cats. I feed the animals meat several times a week and feed the cats first. (Acutally, I feed dominant cat, subordinate cat, dominate dog, subordinate dog in a round robin. The dogs are patient and understand they will get their turn). I was unsure if this would cause an aggressive build-up but it seems to have reinforced the position of the cats as "special- don't touch". We have had obedience training but have observed that the dogs still have a very strong "chase and grab" instinct, which seems over the past two years to have slowly become moderated a little bit with our two cats. They still display a strong "chase and catch" with other small furries.

The dogs and cats have a truce, with the dogs licking the cats and the cats tolerating it and the cats initiate awkward play with the dogs several times each week.

I think the age of the dogs has a lot to do with the dog/cat co-existence, as does the breeding. As our dogs have "matured" they have been able to slightly temper their chase instinct with our cats, bu the instinct is still strong. We micromanage every slightly aggressive action with the dogs towards the cats.

The best thing for the cats was that they had several safe places in each room. We also took every opportunity to reinforce, in every possible way, that the cats were special to us. The cats were able to safely initiate contact at their own pace. Now, even our wimpiest cat rolls in front of our dogs a few times a week to invite play. But, also, our dogs will still occasionally make a shadow of a move to lunge at them. It's an ongoing exercise.
posted by aliksd at 1:37 PM on September 12, 2006


We have a Sheltie/American Eskimo mix (now just over seven months old*) and two cats. We let them adjust to each other mostly on their own with a few "leave it" commands for the pup when the cats started getting distressed. Most of the puppy's rough-housing is an attempt to get the cats to play and they do play with her. At times, though, they do get enough of the dog and take off. The cats have several places they can go that the dog can't.

To sum up - let them work it out for the most part while you are supervising them and make sure the cats have escape routes.

*Kaylee is four pounds heavier than the largest cat and a little bit bigger all over. I mention this because I think size may matter - there's no way she can pick up one of our cats and shake it.
posted by deborah at 4:33 PM on September 12, 2006


I've worried that I'm training in some sort of dependance, so that she'll always feel like she has to be on me like glue. Is that a legitimate worry, or something that'll just take care of itself?

It should take care of itself, and really, it's not a bad thing to have a dog who sticks to you like glue anyway (you do have a Shepherd mix, these are not dogs known for independence, they've been purpose-bred to want to be with, and work with, people), and most dogs find the happy medium once they mature. You want her to have some level of dependence on you, since she IS dependent on you. It makes training easier to have a dog who is accustomed to being with you and wants to be with you, and it also means the dog isn't off reinforcing behaviours you'd rather she wasn't reinforcing.

WRT the prey drive - it's a valid worry to be concerned about reinforcing her prey drive through chasing and catching behaviours like fetch. In my opinion, the dog has these drives whether you reinforce them or not, dogs used to survive pretty much solely because they had these drives, and it's not very surprising to see them especially in a dog who's got herding breed in it (herding is just controlled and honed prey drive). In my opinion, teaching the dog what the appropriate outlets for the drive are (and using it as a training reward, it can be a VERY powerful motivator for some dogs) and allowing the dog to use those outlets can function as a pressure valve, making the dog less likely to want to chase inappropriately.
posted by biscotti at 8:42 PM on September 12, 2006


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