Puppy fever - is there a cure?
March 31, 2008 10:55 AM   Subscribe

Hive mind, I have a dilemma. I love dogs and have since I was tiny. I long to own a dog the way some women long to have a baby (ick). I haven't had a dog companion since I was a kid, but I now have just about the best lifestyle I think I'm going to have: we own a home, will have a fenced-in yard (as soon as I can get the contractors to finish the fence; soon, I hope), and have plenty of love to lavish on a pup. But I want to provide the very best possible home, so I'm having some trouble with this decision.

First, we have two cats that we love, and like most folks without kids, they are our fur babies. I very much don't want them to be too distressed about a new pet; I understand there will be adjustment, but both kitties are in their middle age, and I just want them to be happy for the rest of their lives. I really don't want to wait until they're gone to get a dog, though. Can dogs and cats live happily together? My reading says yes, usually. There have been some previous AskMes to this effect, so if anyone has gone through this already and can offer advice, I'd be grateful.

Secondly, I worry that with our work schedules, we'd be leaving a dog alone for too long. We both work the usual 8-5, though we don't get home until 6:00 on average. However, I am committed to walking a dog every day, in any weather. Also, we have a dog door that lets out into the soon-to-be-fenced yard. We're pretty active in the warmer parts of the year; we live near a long bike trail, and walk and ride our bikes most sunny weekends. We're hoping that having a dog will encourage us to get even more exercise.

So, sorry for the length, but I guess this is a general advice question. What breeds should we consider? I'm expecting to find a young-ish rescue pup, from puppy age up to maybe 2 years old. I don't want a hyper dog like a Jack Russell, for our sanity and the cats'...a big couch potato that likes a daily romp would be better. Should we avoid very young puppies? Or would it be better to get a baby that will learn that the cats are to be respected? Or, would we be best with a somewhat older dog that's been cat-tested?
posted by TochterAusElysium to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I would go for an older dog that accepts cats. Training a puppy takes lots of time being at home, and your work hours would make that more difficult. Also, a mid-age dog would have the right energy level to be calm, relaxed and happy while you are away, and yet have enough energy for weekend activities.

I truly believe you can find a dog with no separation anxiety (and do not create it in them once you get him or her) who loves cats.

Not to mention that all the cute puppies get adopted first, older ones can be sadly overlooked.
posted by Vaike at 11:04 AM on March 31, 2008

Can dogs and cats live happily together?

Yes, we've done and and are doing it now.

we'd be leaving a dog alone for too long.

Although it seems a confining, we crate our dog when we're not home, including work days. She does fine with it. The crate is her "den" where she prefers to spend her downtime anyway; she'll lay down in there even when we're home.

We adopted an adult goldern retriever that was most interested in our cat as a meal. In very short order, they were sleeping next to each other. Dogs are pack animals and strive to please the other members of the pack. It may not recognize the cat as a member of the pack, but once it understands that the pack leaders do not want it attacking the cat, it will lay off.

We've had good luck adopting adult dogs into households with existing cats, and adopting adult cats into households with existing dogs. Maybe someone else can cover the puppy/kitten aspect.

Don't overthink it. Just do it.
posted by Doohickie at 11:04 AM on March 31, 2008

Consider dividing the house with baby fences or the like so that the cats can decide when they want to be around the dog and have a "safe area" to retreat to when they don't. I'd think that would help quite a bit with the adjustment period, if you could arrange it.
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:10 AM on March 31, 2008

you also need to make sure you get a breed that doesn't have as much of an issue being left alone. doggie daycare a few days a week is also a great thing. my dog LOVES the days he goes.
posted by violetk at 11:19 AM on March 31, 2008

Dogs and cats can indeed live together, as I learned recently. I have 2 six year old Dobermans (that had NEVER been around cats), and my fiance brought 2 cats into the relationship. For the first 2 weeks of him moving in, it was a bit chaotic, but I think made moreso by my nerves than anything else. Our solution? We put the cat things (food, litter, etc) in a room and put a baby gate up with about a foot underneath it. It gave the cats a quick retreat if the dogs got testy, and the dogs couldn't go under/over the gate. I do suggest seperation when you are not there though, just until you are SURE the dogs and cats are on friendly terms.

And kudos for considering a rescue. Both of my dogs were rescues for a reputable breed-specific rescue. They were ~1 when I adopted them, and it was perfect for my situation - they were house-trained, crate-trained, and out of the "puppy phase". I highly suggest the rescue route - if you decide on a certain breed, look for breed-specific rescues in your area. Petfinder is a great source for this.

Oh, and based on what you are interested in, I think a Doberman would be a great choice for you. My 2 are very mellow in the house but love romping outside or going on adventures with mom and dad. They are highly intelligent and very devoted to their family...but I could be a bit biased. ;)
posted by tryniti at 11:20 AM on March 31, 2008

Nthing the suggestion of an older dog. Puppies can be as much work as babies! Older dogs are often much easier.

I grew up with dogs and cats in the same household. It definitely can be (and usually is, in fact) done. What you want to avoid is getting a dog with a high prey drive. Especially given your work circumstances, an older, mellow, couch-potato dog will be your best bet.

A good shelter or rescue (not the warehousing, harried, move-em-into-homes-willy-nilly kind) will work with you to find a dog that is good with cats. If you live near a Petco or someplace that hosts on-site adoptions, talk to a counselor there - explain you need a dog that gets along with cats, and will adapt to a working family. Adoption counselors want to make the best match possible for dog and prospective owner, in order to keep the dog in its forever home. A shelter or rescue is definitely where you want to get your new dog.

Finally, you want to perform gradual introductions of your new dog to your cats. The dog should definitely be supervised at first, and the cats need perches or rooms where the dog can't get to them in order to escape and/or have some dog-free time. And oh yes, you want to make the litterbox "non-dog accessible" in order to forestall the snacking problem (ick).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:20 AM on March 31, 2008

Another happy person that you're going with a rescue dog, and another recommendation that you look into a slightly older dog. One suggestion is that you look into fostering for one of the rescue groups in your area. I don't have any suggestions for your area, but it could be a good way to start getting the cats adjusted to a dog, while not 100% committing to keeping a dog. Let me know if you have any questions about fostering; I can answer as best I can based on my experience.
posted by inigo2 at 11:33 AM on March 31, 2008

hook up with a rescue group in your area and describe everything you just said and see what they say. maybe short term fostering would be a good thing for you to try it out with the cats as most groups could ALWAYS use that.

The right dog and the right cat is what you need - if your cats are older and territorial already, it could turn out to be a nightmare - or they could leave each other alone.

regarding the doggy door - i would mention that to the rescue person that you are thinking about it but i would caution you that most people in the groups will look down on that if they have unsupervised access to the yard, and the outside.
posted by joshgray at 11:34 AM on March 31, 2008

My dog is fine being left alone on the odd all-day-work-day, but those only occur when the dog walker can't make it.

Agreed on the doggy door problem -- I know the rescue group I adopted mine from would consider it a deal-breaker, but that will depend on the group and the breed. Your neighbors won't much like it either when the barking starts.
posted by nev at 11:43 AM on March 31, 2008

Older dogs are great because they are often housebroken. And it is cool to get them from rescue organizations.

I, however, brought a puppy into a household with two older cats. One of the cats became the alpha animal, he was a male, and he was theclearly the boss. He eventually died, and then the dog became the boss.

I have one cat now, and the basement is his territory. For some reason the dog will NEVER go down to the basement, and she is almost 12 now. They live together in a crabby way, it seems fine. Sometimes they even play with each other.

When I got my dog, though, I was home much more. There are breeds out there that can be alone all day and be fine.
posted by chocolatetiara at 12:00 PM on March 31, 2008

can you hire a dog walker to take the pup out around midday? that will probably help a lot. your house is fine, though. the cats will complain, then accept.
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:50 PM on March 31, 2008

A non-puppy is definitely the way to go, and as long as you stay away from super-high-energy breeds (like JRTs), then it really comes down to finding the individual dog that is the right match for you -- breeds have reputations, yes, but it's really the personality of the individual dog that matters most. (I say this as the owner of a quiet, lazy, completely atypical beagle.)

A good rescue organization will help you with this. As long as you're completely honest about your situation (these are our work hours, these are our cats, etc.), and are willing to be patient, then eventually you will find your dog. On that note, I'll point you to my previous comment on finding The Right Dog from a rescue organization.
posted by somanyamys at 1:35 PM on March 31, 2008

As far as breeds go, I'd be careful about sighthounds if you are planning to leave the dog at home with the cats all day. A sighthound can be 99% reliable with cats or other small animals for years, but it just takes that one quick scoot across the corner of the dog's vision for the cat to suddenly become prey, not FluffyBunnykins. My greyhound would ignore a cat slowly walking across the yard, but bounced me on my butt with the leash more than once when the same cat decided to dart under a bush [ferals, not housecats, but we never did want to take the risk of the dog having a bad eyesight day].
posted by catlet at 1:45 PM on March 31, 2008

We got our dogs as puppies, that's the only way I would go. They take 9 - 12 months to fully potty train, but then you have a dog who has grown up with you and doesn't have a lot of ingrained bad habits. My friend has always adopted older dogs and apparently they grew up in the shelter from pups, because they are kind of feral and not really assimilated to living in a house with people. I hate being around his wild dogs! I guess if you adopt a dog that grew up as someone's pet you would avoid that problem.

We crate one of our dogs all day (the one who gets in the trash and eats the bread off the counter) and let the other one have the run of the house. The dog we crate often goes into her crate when we are home just because she feels comfortable there. It's like her den. When we have to leave we say "Crate up, Matilda!" and she goes right in.

If you have a secure yard and a good warm doghouse you could leave the dog in the yard. I have been told that doggy doors are not good because the dog will not be as inclined to see you as the alpha if he doesn't have to rely on you to let him in and out. On the downside, my dog always seems to be on the wrong side of the door!

Good luck, and don't overthink this.
posted by Daddy-O at 1:54 PM on March 31, 2008

My greyhound would ignore a cat slowly walking across the yard, but bounced me on my butt with the leash more than once when the same cat decided to dart under a bush.

I'm guessing that's why my grey had been retired and put up for adoption at age two; he didn't chase anything. One day when I was walking him, a baby bunny darted out of the bushes just a few feet in front of us. My grey completely ignored it and continued to sniff the flowers, which always seemed to fascinate him. For the OP, if you adopt from a shelter or rescue group, you can always specify that you want a "cat friendly" dog. Most of them know which of their pooches have been assimilated with cats and which haven't.
posted by Oriole Adams at 3:53 PM on March 31, 2008

I have adopted three rescue dogs over the years and I help out with a rescue, so I would disagree that older rescue dogs are feral -- the majority of dogs in shelters are family pets that people simply became tired of. The average age for people to get bored with their dogs is 2 years old -- a great age to adopt, as they are past the housebreaking and chewing age. It is heartbreaking (and very dispiriting) to hear some of the stupid reasons why people want to give up the sweetest and most loving dogs you will ever meet ("we don't have room now the kids are growing," or "he chewed my slipper"). My own latest dog is a rescue: he is terrified of not being obedient enough and losing his new home, so he sits as hard as he can!
I agree with tryniti: search on Petfinder.com. Good rescue organizations list whether a dog is friendly and good with cats. I also agree with Doohickie, that an amiable dog will very soon make friends with the cats. I'd pick a time when you can be around most times for the first week or so, then you can see how the dog gets on with the cats and intervene to settle any "pecking order" disputes. Our cocker spaniel acquired quite a few nasty scratches trying to make friends with my mother's cat!
Finally, you really don't need to worry about leaving a dog alone during the day. Most dogs just snooze during the day anyway, unless you are doing something particularly exciting (or food-related). We leave ours with the run of the house and they are never freaked (not even when we only had one). Our older dog was scared when she first arrived and chewed the rug, the front door, and the drywall (she was a stray and had been through a lot of hands in a short period of time), but she soon settled down. So you need to hide all the good rugs until you're sure the dog is happy! It doesn't take long for a rescue dog to realize that this is now home and stop panicking. A Kong toy, stuffed with dry food and some peanut butter is a great way to make your dog stop worrying as you leave the house ... :-)
I'd go for it. Tell the shelter or rescue that you have cats -- a reputable rescue organization will work with you to make sure the dog and you are both happy long-term.
posted by sgmax at 8:50 PM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is all very good advice, and just what I needed - thanks to ALL! Interesting info about the dog door, special thanks for that.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 8:53 PM on March 31, 2008

Thanks, MeFi! I took the plunge and here's the new family member! The cats are starting to adjust surprisingly well, a little at a time, and it's only our second day.
posted by TochterAusElysium at 7:44 AM on May 4, 2008

One more follow-up, for those who emailed me asking to let them know how it went with the cats + a dog. The answer: it's going just fine!!
posted by TochterAusElysium at 6:52 PM on June 22, 2008

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