Dogs and cats have a long-held reputation for not getting along. Many cartoons from our childhood show dogs having an uncontrollable urge to bark at cats and chase them up trees.
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The dog vs. cat storyline makes for entertaining television. In real life, your dog’s aggressive behavior towards cats can be stressful and even dangerous.
A few things to look out for when your dog is near cats are:
- Growling, barking, or showing teeth when cats are around
- Pulling and starting after cats or a generally high prey drive around other small animals
- Pausing eating or disinterest in treats when cats are near
In this article, you’ll learn how to stop dog aggression towards cats. Taking these steps can help put you and other cat owners at ease.
There are several reasons why your dog may be showing aggression towards your cat, and while some are purely instinctive, many of them involve fear of the unknown. Therefore, your dog may be experiencing any of the following types of aggression:
- Territorial aggression
- Fear aggression
- Food aggression
- Maternal aggression (if the dog has puppies)
- Play aggression
- Predatory aggression
If you are a dog owner, the best thing you can do is to get serious about dog training. Ideally, obedience training starts early when your dog is a puppy but don’t let your dog’s age deter you from trying. You can teach an older dog some new tricks!
Your dog should readily respond to common commands such as “sit,” “down,” and “come.” Training appropriate behaviors around cats and other animals will be much easier if your dog has the obedience training basics down pat.
Know Your Pet’s Personality
If introducing a cat into your home, try to match personalities with your dog. A playful pup might do alright with a wiry kitty, but a more solitary and protective dog might do best with a calmer cat.
It is also a good idea to safely try introducing your dog to other cats before meeting your own. Keep a very close watch and keep your dog on a training lead just in case your dog is suddenly aggressive. The introduction should be safe and relaxed so your dog knows they can be comfortable around cats.
Redirecting your dog’s attention can help curb their instinct to go after a fearful cat. Try practicing redirection with your dog before using it with a cat.
A few simple steps to practicing redirection include:
- Establishing positive reinforcement when your dog listens to you. Figure out what sound or command works for you and your dog. Then establish a reward that works best for your dog to get their attention whenever they hear that sound. It could be verbal praise, a pet on the head, or a treat.
- Try creating impromptu scenarios where your dog has to stop what they’re doing to listen to you. Tell your dog to sit while in the middle of a walk or to come while they’re playing in the backyard. Practice this by giving lots of over-the-top praise or a treat when they listen to your command.
- Eventually, try the command without the treat and just use verbal praise for their obedience.
Equipped with this, your dog is more likely to listen to you when they are tempted to go at a cat.
The phrase “idle hands are the Devil’s playthings” applies to both restless people and pets. A bored dog tends to misbehave more often than a dog that’s busy and entertained.
Carving out time to exercise your dog is a good strategy for managing their aggressive behavior towards cats and in general. Their energy levels will be kept in check, and the quality time with you will help reinforce their focus on you and your commands rather than on chasing whiskers.
A space only for your dog can help calm their instinct to guard or attack. For example, a crate or cozy dog bed can help settle a dog and be used as an escape for your pet or as a physical barrier to aggressive behavior.
A safe space for the kitty is also essential if you are the cat owner. A comforting spot, high up, where the dog cannot reach will help the cat retreat and remain calm as well. As you can imagine, if your cat is on high alert, your dog will pick up on it and match their energy.
Try a Reset
If your dog can’t seem to stay calm around cats, you may want to try a reset and reintroduce them. Similar to introducing your pup to a new baby, this is a good idea if your dog’s family and home life are changing.
A reintroduction starts by separating the pets for a few days and gradually bringing them into shared spaces. If your home allows, keep the dog and cat in separate parts of the house for a few days. Over time, bring them closer while separated by a door or wall.
After another day or two, separate them using a gate or sliding door. Try putting their food on either side of this visible partition so that they become accustomed to being with each other. Then slowly open the door or gate to see if your dog can maintain a calm demeanor.
It is important to supervise this reintroduction until you are sure your dog’s aggression is under control. This takes a lot of patience but might be the best way to make sure doggo and kitty can cohabitate.
If aggression towards cats or, in general, is something your dog continually struggles with, prioritize safety. Avoid instances when your dog might be around cats and when this cannot be avoided, keep your dog on its leash.
Depending on your dog, stopping their aggression towards cats entirely might require extra help. You can also seek trainer assistance with our helpful training tools.