Managing successful cat and dog integrations, (c) 2016-2018 Frania
Shelley-Grielen all rights reserved
How do you introduce a new cat to your dog or a new dog to your cat. How long
does it take? How difficult is it? Does it matter if the dog has cat experience or the
cat has dog experience? What about what kind of breed the dog is? Or how old they
are? Or you may have heard that it’s easier with a puppy or is it a kitten?
The answer to managing successful cat and dog introductions can be found in
paying careful attention to a number of key elements: individual differences,
the right environment for each species, behavior monitoring, behavior modification
and time. Here’s a closer look on what to consider and some helpful strategies:
Individual differences: not all cats and dogs are the same and not all past
relationships equal new relationships. Each pet, cat or dog, has a different
personality, level of socialization and history. While it is definitely helpful to know
if a cat has lived successfully with a dog in the past it is also necessary to realize
that that was a unique relationship where that particular cat lived with that
particular dog. You still want to help broker the best possible way to integrate a
cat and dog that are new to each other. It is also worth noting that cats and dogs
that have had positive experiences with each other in the past are more likely to
anticipate positive experiences. And being aware of a history of negative experiences
or no experience means a new situation can be stressful. Either way, factor in
personality and history always, keeping in mind the canine and feline perspective.
The right environment: the physical space has to be set up so that it is eniched
appropriately for each species, allows for comfortable and safe interactions,
exit routes and refuges.
For dogs this means dog beds or places on the people furniture to be used as resting
places. It also means enough toys, including puzzle toys and chew toys to
interact with independently and with people. When a dog does not interact with
a toy or respond to play, ask first what other toys or play might the dog like using
natural behavior to inform your choices and try them out, giving enough time and
enough dog meaningful playtime to see results. For instance, the oral expression of
chewing with dogs leads to prolonged interactions with objects to chew on which
engage the dog in natural behavior and give it a much needed something to do.
Stuffed puzzle feeders such as "Kongs" are almost a must have for every dog to be
fed breakfast or dinner from. The more a dog has to do, the less bored, the less
behavior issues and the less entertaining the cat as distraction will be.
In their natural environment cats are arboreal and use trees and other raised areas
to survey their environment, detect prey and to escape from predators which
translates to a necessary refuge from unwanted canine attention or simply feline
alone time. A well placed cat tower, against a wall and ideally next to a window is a
great way to add raised vertical spaces. A cat bed on top of a dresser is another nice
solution. Think cat, in thinking how easily a cat can access a raised resting space.
Exit paths and access routes should be effortless for the cat the figure out and obtain.
Cats also need cat beds with at least 3 raised sides to curl up in and a cat bed nested
on a cat tower’s enclosed plane is a welcome addition for any cat. Think against walls
and under chairs for floor beds always keeping in mind the cat wants the hide as a
safe refuge and not a place to be trapped in. Cardboard boxes turned on their side can
work too and the raised sides often give kitty a feeling of security, sometimes, even
away from a wall. Seeing what your cat uses, taking in preferred cat locations and
giving a few days to acclimate to a new object, will tell you what they like.
Puzzle feeders for cats allow for natural behaviors and are huge in preventing
boredom. In the initial stages of integration, when cats are dog are separated a
rolling puzzle feeder is a good choice. When cats and dogs are sharing the same
spaces use a puzzle feeder that only the cat can access by placing it on a raised
surface the dog cannot access like a counter top.
The right kind of music is a definite plus for an enriched environment for both cats
and dogs and can definitely assist in a successful integration process. A number of
studies have shown positive effects of classical music on a number of species and are
especially effective in shelter environments and group housing situations. Classical
radio stations are a nice choice to leave on when you are not home (and even when
you are). In addition to the relaxing tones of the music, the announcer’s voices are
calming which adds to the comfort. Some good stations to try are 105.9FM in NYC
or 90.3FM in Westchester and for online choices; Pandora’s “Classical Music for
Both cats and dogs need daily interactive play time with their people. This is
even more important during an integration process. Play is a definite stress reducer,
releases beneficial hormones associated with pleasure, is just plain fun and boots
relationships across the human animal bond and creates positive associations with
the change in the environment.
For cats this means working with a fishing wand toy that can be dragged across
from or away from the cat’s line of vision and allowing the cat to follow and pounce
on the toy. (Avoid laser pointers which can be harmful vision wise and are
frustration inducing with nothing to “catch.”) For dogs, tug-of-war with a
designated toy –nothing else, please- and/or tennis ball chasing, “find –it” or other
fun-for-the-dog games should be indulged in. Hand feeding “off and take it” – more
on this below- can qualify when done correctly.
During the initial stages of integration cats and dogs should be physically separated.
This allows for each species to get used to the new space and inhabitants in the safest
and most comfortable manner. Remember, you are dealing with two new things to
get used to here: new environment and new animals. Dogs are more comforted by
access to their people as opposed to familiarization with territory, so keeping the dog
close to humans is the least stressful for them. For cats, smaller spaces are easier to
adjust to and comfortable with initially, especially with all the new smells, sounds
and sights to conquer.
This means keeping dogs for that crucial first week or so out of cat spaces during the
day. Living rooms, offices and watching TV with us after work are ideal. Installing
the cat in a bedroom along with all necessary cat furniture, toys, litter box and food
allows the cat to familiarize themselves with a new space on a more comfortable
scale. Avoid bathrooms as an initial space if possible, the more time the cat can
spend with humans or the room we spend most of our time in, the more social
support afforded by your presence and our scent. The dog should not have day time
access to this room for at least the first week or two. If there is only one bedroom
which the dog customarily shares for nighttime sleeping, do not disrupt this
practice, rather address comfort and safety through raised, cat accessible resting
spaces and sleeping with the dog attached to a leash attached to you. This allows
cats to feel secure and you to monitor and redirect dog movement.
Behavior monitoring. Closely monitor interactions. Pay attention to what the
cat and dog are “saying.” Relaxed bodies and lack of intense interest are good signs.
Intense vigilance for either cat or dog by staring or a fixed gaze is not good. Lip
licking or yawning (out of context of eating or sleeping) for either cat or dog is a
stress signal as is looking away. There is bound to be stress initially so as long as this
does not escalate allow for it. Keeping dogs on leashes even when you are at home will
both allow for safety and afford opportunities for alerting us to intention movement
through leash tension.
Look at body tension, stiff and rigid are more about defending territory or mounting
an attack. Vocalizing for dogs or straining at the leash are both signs of frustration
and attention getting. Hissing, growling, flattened ears with cats and whiskers
drawn back are some of their signs that attention is not welcome or of displeasure
with the environment. Seeing this means time for redirecting or relocation to a
neutral, safe location. Always keep in mind; it is way more effective to defuse an
eminent situation from happening rather than dealing with one underway. So
redirecting sooner rather than later is easier and less stressful for everyone involved.
Having a strategy in place beforehand can help with dealing with a volatile
encounter. For dogs that are not particularly responsive to “off” requests, begin
training this now. Take the morning or evening and meal and hand feed. Offer a
piece of kibble placed directly in front of the dog’s nose and say in a soft, calm voice-
“Off.” Your voice will cause the dog to momentarily pause in going for the food. In
the very same second you see that pause say “Good Off!” in a happy voice, you will
see the same pause. Next step is to offer the kibble a bit closer and say “Take it” in a
happy voice. Do not scold or reprimand in any way if you think the dog is not
getting it right. You most probably have a timing issue so work on that by you
trying to do it better. If the dog is not listening at all and going for food you can try
starting with giving a piece of kibble to begin without any requirements and then
begin with the “Off” still not listening try an “uh uh” in a bit of a higher tone but
not more than one or two syllables and when you see that pause to the “uh uh”
reward with “Good Off” and “take it (give kibble)!” Practice, practice, practice always
remembering it is about YOUR timing so the dog can get it right.
Human behavior also needs monitoring in a new cat/dog integration. Remember
that training and interactions need to be positive, consistent and take into account
residents and newcomers. Always, greet your resident animal when you enter a
room or your home first before the newcomer. Avoid at all costs punishment, it is
not as effective as positive methods, makes things worse not better and damages
relationships. Think instead of how you can work on getting the desired behavior
through environment and meaningful direction. If you have made sure that the
cat and dog have safe spaces to retreat to and can get their easily in an antagonistic
situation ask next how can you facilitate that happening? After getting attention
with the name of your pet can you: Offer a feather toy to chase after? Throw a ball
to run after?
Behavior modification: Start with encouraging and praising all the behaviors
you do want, even if they are simple ones. A sleeping, calm dog can be praised for
“good quiet” or “good sleep.” Getting in the habit of praise and reinforcement for
what we want our pets to do offers an opportunity to develop more of the good
behaviors happening more frequently because we are rewarding them. Not to
mention, this builds a better human animal bond.
A dog that is getting ready to chase a cat needs to be redirected before the pursuit
begins. Always keep it positive. Think of redirecting as a sequence of a direction
such as off or no and then what you would like the dog to do instead: “Off Rover”,
“Good Off Rover!”, “Go to your bed/get your ball”, etc. Throwing that ball for your
dog to chase is even better in refocusing the energy. Similarly, a cat that is
getting riled by a dog needs to be redirected. For cats, that feathered fishing wand
toy is a great lure to change the energy in this moment and move them away from
the dog. Not handy? You can softly say “no” and if the cat is tractable and can be
handled; pick them up and place them in their raised resting spaces. Reassure with
one or two strokes alongside the muzzle or behind the ears. If the cat is not tractable
placing an object (not your hands), like a newspaper, pillow or other object to block
the visual stimuli and forward motion between cat and dog are usually the most
effective. If you must use your body as a barrier it should be the lower half of your
body either from the front or the back. Separate fighting animals with loud noises,
if that does not work in 3 seconds, water, if that does not work in 3 seconds, a bath
towel or large denim shirt thrown over one animal is usually effective.
Time and consistency: As much as we would like to sit everyone down and explain
how we all are going to be one happy family we don’t have the words to do that with
our cats and dogs who cannot and do not benefit from them. What we do have is what
we show them by the spaces and experiences we create for them. Based on the quality
and safety of these interactions and given time for them to allow for the belief that
their environment is stable they can come to believe in and trust that one big happy
"As much as we would like to sit
everyone down and explain how we
all are going to be one happy family
we don’t have the words to do that
with our cats and dogs who cannot
and do not benefit from them. What
we do have is what we show them
by the spaces and experiences we
create for them. Based on the
quality and time for them to allow
for the belief that their environment
is stable they can come to believe in
and trust that, that one big happy
Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
Alko, Thomas & Julliette + Isaac
Copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
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"Remember, you are dealing with
two new things to get used to here:
new environment and new animals.
Dogs are more comforted by access
to their people as opposed to
familiarization with territory, so
keeping the dog close to humans is
the least stressful for them. For cats,
smaller spaces are easier to adjust
to and comfortable with initially,
especially with all the new smells,
sounds and sights to conquer."
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