Why can't we all get along?
May 16, 2004 10:04 AM   Subscribe

HELP! My new dog has a real problem with my cats. The situation seems unsolvable. More inside.

I picked up a new 1 yr-old, mostly spaniel dog at the shelter yesterday. The staff thought she was very timid and quiet, and I thought she'd be good with my four cats. She's not timid at all.

But here's the main problem: She has very serious hunting instincts. When she sees a small animal she either crouches and springs, or she does her pointer imitation: her front paw lifts up, her head sticks straight foreward and her tail straight back, then she curls her lips open only at the back of her mouth, growls deeply, and gets ready to shoot forward like cannonshot.

She's a damn good hunter with, it seems, deeply ingrained instincts. And she's fast.

She has already chased after three of my four cats, nearly catching one in a swift run that reminded me of the time I saw a friend's German shepherd catch a rabbit (leaving limbs, chunks of meat, and rabbit head complete with fluffy ears strewn all about the lawn.)

The cats have given up and and are living in terror upstairs, occasionally peering down from the top of the steps. No matter how much I tell the new dog "NO!" she still chases the cats upstairs whenever they venture down.

She's a sweet, affectionate, wonderful dog, but I don't dare leave her alone with my cats, and my cats can't keep living in hiding.

Is there any solution, other than returning the dog, or trying to get my aunt or someone else to adopt her? I adopted her yesterday, and as the weekend progresses I become more attached to her, and she to her (maybe) new home.

Thanks in advance...

posted by Shane to Pets & Animals (18 answers total)
To begin, the dog needs obedience training. Most dogs do, most don't get it. It can be trained to obey your commands. This will help when you say NO or STOP, the dog will.
That doesn't solve the behavioural issue though.

There is a process towards socializing animals. It's a long and difficult road, I'm going through it now and sometimes it seems as if it's not getting better.

The process generally involves introducing the animals in safe situations. Have someone hold the dog across the room from you, and bring in the cat from the other side (1 cat!). Hold on to it good, the dog is going to bark and the cat is going to want to run. To begin I recommend facing the cat away from the dog as much as possible. It will calm down easier if it does not see the dog.

The person holding the dog needs to reassure it, praise it, keep it seated, give it tiny little easily eaten treats, etc. Tiny little cheese cubes are good. You want something the dog can scarf down.

Do this for, say, 5 minutes to start. Do it 2 or 3 times a day if possible. Every day, really the more consistent the better. Gradually increase the time and decrease the distance. Do not let the dog excercise it's hunting instincts, just keep reinforcing the quiet sitting.

It doesn't work for every dog, but it works for some. Our first dog took to this in no time, in a week or so she was sitting on the couch with the cat. I wouldn't say they're friends but they get along. Our newer dog we're having trouble with. He's very impetuous. We're due to take him for training soon, which may help. We also got him neutered which WILL help. Your dog is female so spaying is probably not an issue, plus since you got her from a shelter I would imagine she's spayed.

Regarding training, which I can NOT emphasize enough, there are 3 basic types.

1. you take your dog someplace, either on regular intervals for several sessions, or for several days of intensive training. You don't participate. They give you your dog back and it's trained. Many of these places will take the dog for another session if it continues to have problems.

2. you go with your dog to something like the above. they train YOU to train the dog. This is better than 1, because the dog will get used to taking orders from you and you'll get used to giving them.

3. Even better, you can hire someone to come into your home and work with you and your dog one-on-one. This might be especially helpful for you because your dog has problems inside your environment, i.e. the cats. The trainer will help you overcome this.

Your veterinarian can help you find a training program that's right for you. Some pet stores, like Petco or Pet Smart, having training clinics and you may find those helpful. The place we board our dogs does training sessions, etc.

Good luck, and please remember that almost all animal behavioural problems can be treated. When I first got my dogs, I set the cat up upstairs with food, litter, treats, toys, etc, basically moved her in up there and kept the dogs downstairs or in our bedroom. Cats are territorial and are not going to like sharing space with the new visitor to start. They need the gentle introduction as much as the dog does. Cats can exhibit various behavioral problems with confronted with new animals (peeing, scratchngi, other destructive behavior.

I am not a vet, trainer, animal psyhologist, etc. I just love my animals and have gone through the same thing.
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:57 AM on May 16, 2004

Take the dog back, fer godsake. Haven't your cats earned the right not to be in fear of their lives every minute of the day? I'd think your first priority in getting a dog (which seems an iffy proposition anyway if you have four cats) would be to get one that didn't bother the prior inhabitants. Maybe, by following an intensive program of training, you can lessen or even eliminate the problem -- eventually -- but why should you and the cats have to go through that?

Don't get me wrong, I love dogs -- but this doesn't sound like a good situation. (If you had a dog and had just gotten a ferocious cat who terrified the dog, I'd be giving the same advice in reverse: ditch the cat.)
posted by languagehat at 12:57 PM on May 16, 2004

Back yard + dog chain + dog house

Or, take the bitch back.
posted by mischief at 1:34 PM on May 16, 2004

I third take the dog back, it belongs in a house without cats. The shelter staff can now let potential adoptive families know this. Who knows - a serious cat hater may see the dog and fall in love with it.

Behaviour training would work, it's not worth it. Get a dog that can learn to live with cats, or has no prey drive.
posted by Salmonberry at 1:50 PM on May 16, 2004

Uh, I cut off half my sentence......"While behaviour training would work, the risk to the cats means it's not worth it."

That makes more sense. I think.
posted by Salmonberry at 1:51 PM on May 16, 2004

Thanks, folks. My cats have spent time with two dogs who loved cats, and they also get visits from my aunt's dog who dislikes cats but is all bark and no bite. They actually antagonize my aunt's dog, especially one cat who is resentful of the fact that the dog refuses to be friends with him. My cats are good judges of what they can get away with.

BUT, with this dog, they're terrified. So the cats seem to sense that this dog is a natural hunter, as do I. It's not the dog's fault, of course, just its nature.

3. Even better, you can hire someone to come into your home and work with you and your dog one-on-one.

The shelter provides one free in-home visit from a trainer, probably also as a way to check out what kind of homes they are putting their pets in. So I guess that is an option.

But I'm torn between your comments. I might incline towards taking her back Monday. The longer she's here, the tougher it will be to part, if that becomes necessary. And, right now, the local shelters are full of adopters. The Cleveland City Kennel only has four animals listed on their website, and their answering machine says there is a three-month wait for adoption right now. My local shelter is averaging a one-week turnaround for new pets being adopted, and they have one dog that is not even eligible for adoption yet who has had 30 inquiries. I think it's a husky or something popular. They literally give out numbers to people first-come/first-serve in the parking lot in the morning.

Sorry to be so verbose, but I really agonize over decisions like this.

Thanks again to all. Really.
posted by Shane at 1:54 PM on May 16, 2004

Just a quick note: The shelter told me this dog was "head shy," didn't like her head touched. But as soon as she got in the house and finished sniffing EVERYTHING, she rolled around the floor with me then rubbed her forehead all over against mine. Too cute. It gets tougher to part with her all the time, so maybe Monday morning is the most painless way to go. Rusty, I really appreciate your comments; you sound great with animals. But I have the added fear of leaving the dog alone with the cats while I'm at work, etc.
posted by Shane at 1:59 PM on May 16, 2004

Shane, I think I understand why are you so quickly attached to this dog, but I think everyone above is correct, your cats don't deserve it, and also the dog doesn't need to be put through training sessions getting rid of one of it's traits. I think a different home for it is a win for all.

Maybe next time, you can take your most friendliest outward going cat with you to the shelter, and see which dog handles being around her the best for making your choice.
posted by riffola at 2:19 PM on May 16, 2004

Maybe he can be an outside-only dog?

(but if that's no good, it's consoling that there's so much demand in your area--he'll find a good home fast)
posted by amberglow at 3:35 PM on May 16, 2004

shane - I was inclined to believe in the training option, so eloquently put forth by rustybrooks, until I read that your cats are very familiar with dogs already.

I have a 20 pound dog, some sort of terrier mutt.

He believes that the only appropriate thing to do to cats or, indeed, any creatures smaller than him who are not fellow dogs is to kill them.

I've seen him corner a huge rat in a cul-de-sac and take relentless punishment until he could close and grab the rat for the kill. Once, I walked him past a trash can and a rat leapt out. My dog grabbed the rat in middair, and shook it once to snap it's neck.

Once, he cornered and killed a ferret which had escaped from it's cage....without a scratch.


I'm resigned to not having any cats.
posted by troutfishing at 5:41 PM on May 16, 2004

I agree. I think that it's best for everyone concerned -- your cats, the dog, and you -- that the dog not stay. It's not really fair for the cats to have to live in fear and, really, with some degree of danger. It's not really fair for the dog to have to have such an ingrained and powerful instinct suppressed. It's not really fair for you to have to fight nature quite this much and worry about your cats all the time. There are a lot of households without cats; you all deserve to have this dog placed in one.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 6:28 PM on May 16, 2004

I have mixed feelings about getting rid of the dog. You've only had it for a short time, so maybe it wouldn't be too hard to pass on it and look for another. Personally I love my dogs and it would be very hard to give them up. I had to give up a cat once and it broke my heart. I got another one "just like her" in appearance but not in personality. I still miss that cat.

I'd like to take a second to get on a personal soapbox unrelated to this question. I am so glad that you went to a shelter to get this dog. There are so many needy animals out there. For people who are dead set on a particular breed of dog, don't give up! Your chances of finding a purebred in a general shelter are low, but most popular breeds of dogs have shelters and organizations devoted to them. We got our oldest, Oscar, from the DFW Lab Rescue Society. Believe it or not they always have TONS of purebred labs free to a good home. (There is actually a minor charge for neutering, etc). And if you have a spare doggy bunk you can also be a foster parent to a dog in need.

Our dog was found on the street. Someone brought him into to a "meet and greet" event at a pet store while my wife and I were there looking for a dog. They actually rejected him because they didn't have a foster parent he could stay with. Luckily we were there and adopted him from the woman who found him. He is super sweet.

Obligitory dog pictures

Oh, and here is about how well Peaches and Alex (the cat) got along.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:39 PM on May 16, 2004

Hey Shane, I wish I had something to add. I had to chuckle when I saw the biscotti signal. She will hopefully be along to give you advice! Don't give up on the dog just yet, it very well might be worth the training. I wish you the best and please let us know what your final decision is. My basset is doing great, btw! Cancer is in full remission!
posted by vito90 at 10:44 PM on May 16, 2004

Yes, where is biscotti? Doesn't she realize she has a responsibility here? Seriously, though, her advice is always very solid.

Not that it helps that much in this particular situation, but I came across this interesting "Dog Selector" page, where you can input your preferences and find an appropriate breed for you. (Shane, it has a field for compatibility with other pets, and a field for dogs more easily tolerated by allergy sufferers). I put in in my preferences and found that I should get a Labrador Retriever, which is exactly the dog I've always wanted (but can't have: small apartment dweller here).
posted by taz at 12:05 AM on May 17, 2004

I'll jump on the "bring it back" bandwagon. I know that regardless of training, I'd never feel safe leaving a dog with that much hunt instict alone with my cat. Imagine how horrible it would be if something happened.

Taz, that Dog Selector is pretty neat. Lab, Collie, and Golden were all in my top 5, and I've had and loved all of those. no mutts listed tho.
posted by duckstab at 6:02 AM on May 17, 2004

Thanks again to everyone. Seriously. Thanks, Rusty. I feel bad, but I took her back to the shelter this morning.

But dogs are psychic, and I think she spent the weekend knowing she was just on a vacation. She could sense me keeping a little distance, although I DID still get attached.

She had a nice walk and she begged some table scraps and slept all over the couch, so I reckon I paid for a nice weekend spa treatment for her. See, the $35 adoption fee to the County was non-refundable, and there was a $30 return fee for the paperwork and internet-relisting (I keep thinking "restocking fee"), so I guess I made a donation to a worthy cause, too.

She didn't whine or cry when I left her at the shelter, which is good, 'cuz it woulda broke my heart. She was in good spirits the whole time, and jumped at a bowl of dog snacks on a shelf as soon as she got in the shelter. I told the shelter every bit of info I learned about her (not good with small animals, has hunting instincts, is INCREDIBLY affectionate, is house-trained, etc.), and I probably made some friends at the shelter. I might volunteer there a bit, if they need me.

She'll make someone a wonderful companion.

My aunt and uncle almost adopted her, but my aunt vetoed it. But that dog could SENSE that my uncle really wanted her, and you should have seen her put the charm on BIGTIME and jump all over him. Not to be vain or anything, but it's really rare that an animal runs past me to a stranger, but she pushed her opportunity on my uncle like you wouldn't believe.

So, I'll say it again: Dogs are psychic. They know.

I'll second Rusty's plea to get dogs from shelters. In my case, I'll be looking for a pre-owned dog (who has lived with cats), and the handlers at the shelter talked to me about this. It turns out that some people are buying dogs FROM SHELTERS then turning around and SELLING THEM FOR A PROFIT. Some of these people buy dogs from puppy mills, too.


In my case, I might even look at a Cleveland agency that places senior dogs.

Lessons learned!

Thanks again, all. AskMe is great, and maybe someday we really do need a PetFilter. I enjoy hearing about and seeing pics of others' pets, too. Rusty, those are some great pics of some happy animals.
posted by Shane at 9:57 AM on May 17, 2004

P.S. My basset is doing great, btw! Cancer is in full remission!

Where is my mind? Sorry, I've been distracted. That's great, vito! Congrats!
posted by Shane at 6:38 PM on May 17, 2004

Sorry...been away! In case you're still reading Shane:

Back yard + dog chain + dog house

Bad bad BAD idea, and a recipe for aggression - if you want a pet to keep outside, get a tree. Dogs are social creatures and should not be chained up outside away from people - most reputable humane societies and rescues will not adopt dogs to people who intend to keep them outside on a chain, and with good reason. This is no longer considered an acceptable way to keep dogs.

That said, Shane, if you're committed to keeping this dog, here are some suggestions:
- create a "safe room" for the cats, with a litterbox and food and water, place a baby gate across the door with enough space underneath for the cats to get under quickly, but so that the dog can't.
- crate train the dog and do not EVER leave it alone with the cats, you have a dog with a high prey drive and that can lead to dead kitties. The dog is ONLY out when you are home and supervising for the time being - and I suggest you use the "umbilical cord technique" and put the dog on a leash tethered to your belt for the next few weeks - this way the dog is under your control at all times (it's also useful for training)
- obedience training is vital, and make sure that you train a solid "leave it" cue. Clicker training is a real help for things like this (and all other things, too, to be honest) - sit with a clicker and some really good treats (with the dog on a lead) and every time the dog looks away from a cat and towards you, even if only for a second, click and treat. But remember that the hunting instinct has been specifically bred for in sporting breed dogs like spaniels, and you're working against something that's intrinsically rewarding - my spaniels were completely cat safe and did not view our cats as prey, but they grew up with the cats. It's entirely possible that with time and careful handing and training, this dog will learn to view your cats as "her" cats and will stop hunting them - even if this happens, she will likely always be unsafe with other cats. You can probably do this if you really commit yourself to it - get Jean Donaldson's book The Culture Clash, get a crate and crate train the dog, and do not, under ANY circumstances, leave the dog and cats together unsupervised. Good luck.
posted by biscotti at 11:57 AM on May 20, 2004

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