Happy Cats recently got this very good question from our reader, Zane:
Hello, I’m looking to adopt a feline companion in the next few months. My dog is five, energetic but well-behaved, and a herding breed; she gets along with some cats and others she does not. I was wondering what age and temperament of a cat would get along best with my dog and if there is anything that I can do to prepare my dog for a new arrival. Or, would you recommend that perhaps I should not risk a violent confrontation and not get a cat at this time?Our resident behaviorist and volunteer, Melissa Shandley, has a big dog, Bisbee, who was friends with the cats she had at the time. Then she got two kittens who triggered Bisbee’s prey drive. Melissa took the time to very slowly introduce the kittens, constantly monitoring and controlling the situation. Now Bisbee has two more cats in his clan and everyone is happy.
This is her answer to Zane:
You mention that your dog does not get along with some cats and later you ask about the risk of a violent confrontation. Has your dog ever harmed a cat? If this has happened, adding a cat is a bigger risk and you would be responsible for preventing any harm, physical or emotional, from occurring. Some dogs have a very high prey drive and low impulse control. If this is the case it may not be safe to introduce a cat to your home.
Some dogs just need to learn manners around cats. An adult cat who will stand their ground rather than running away can help a dog adapt. There are training methods for introducing cats and dogs. You may need to consider if you have the time to get educated and are willing to take the necessary precautions to protect both animals during the adjustment period, which could be several months.
Giving the dog a toy can help the dog release some of their excitement and prevent them from getting to physical with the cat. In the YouTube series below, you can see how Nova, the dog, plays with the tennis ball. This helps her have a positive experience before introducing the game to the new kitten, Coffee. When I was introducing Bisbee to two fearless kittens, I encouraged him to search out one of his stuffed animals to mouth and shake. He instinctively does so on his own now when the cats initiate play. This is a good way to allow the cat and dog to enjoy playing together.
Here are some resources to get you started, including those videos. One important thing to point out is the human needs to be calm and relaxed to convey that to the animals. Until their desensitization when the animals can be relaxed with each other, the human needs to maintain control with the dog on a leash or one of them in a crate.
A UK trainer shows the behavior of her high-prey-drive dog Nova with her new kitten Coffee. In just a few days with good safe introductions, she is teaching them to do tricks together (scroll down to the bottom for the first video, “Dog/Cat introduction – Door Frame part 1, Day1”):