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New Dog, Meet Cat: Prepping the House

May 01, 2016

New Dog, Meet Cat: Prepping the House

Don’t quote me on this, because I have no hard evidence to back this claim, but it seems that more and more of our clients are adopting rescue dogs than ever before . This is wonderful. It does, however, present some unique problems when it comes to assimilation into the home.

A lot of dogs that are rescued come from specific environments where they may or may not have been exposed to the same types of things they’re likely to find in their new homes. This can range from the presence of men, to kids, and other pets.

The family pet that dogs seem to have the most difficulty with in my experience is the cat.

Cats are not to be trifled with. It seems our bumbling canines are at a loss when they come up against those sleek, calculating, sophisticated felines.

So how do you ensure that your dog and cat will be the source of a million adorable Instagram photos in the future?

Careful Introductions are Everything.

Take this part very seriously.  It’s so tempting to just let the chips fall where they may, but the potential fall-out from that approach just isn’t worth it.  It’s not enough to just let your dog see the cat in everyday life.  In fact, you shouldn’t even allow the cat and the dog in the same room together until they’ve had lots of careful, safe, successful introductions first. Long before your dog actually sees the cat (trust me) he can smell the cat and hear the cat. So, before you even bring your dog home you should take steps to make sure this happens on your terms.

First, the smells.

With your cat safely out of the picture (I mean completely out of the picture, not peeking through a stair rail somewhere), let your new dog in to just smell everything. Everywhere the cat has been, and likes to hang out.  Keep it low-key. Praise your dog for just being there. Also, bring out the cat’s bed and let your dog smell it, while you give him really HIGH VALUE rewards.

Then, there are the sounds.

You would be amazed at the amount of noise your cat makes.  You might not know it, but believe me, your dog does. The first culprit is your cat’s collar.  It’s noisy.  I found this helpful blog post on techniques for silencing collar tags.

When your cat walks around in another room, or especially an upper floor, it puts a new dog on edge.  The dog will find it harder to relax with that constant stimulation.  And relaxation with cats around is key. To remedy the noise of cat traffic consider putting a white noise machine at the doorway closest to where the cat often is.  If the cat is always upstairs, put the white noise machine at the bottom of the stairs. If the cat is always in the living room, put the machine at the door to the living room.  You get the idea.

Lastly, consider breaking out those really awesome treats and giving them to your dog when you know your cat is especially active, or even better, especially noisy.  When the dog’s ears perk up like he’s heard the cat, immediately give him a treat.  A couple of quick sessions a day like that and you’ll make awesome progress.

And finally, the visuals.

Throughout this process it’s very important that your dog doesn’t see your cat. Without exception. This is harder than you might think, since, in my experience, cats are contortionist ninja wizards.  They can squeeze their bodies through minute openings you never thought possible. I worked with one client whose dog was making frustratingly slow progress habituating to the cat until we discovered that the cat was pushing his face through a teeny tiny hole in the stairwell shooting death rays at the dog.  Once we covered the hole, voila, the dog started improving!

Oh, and the VERY last thing…baby gates!

In order to prevent an unforeseen mishap, such as your cat slipping out of hiding and running through your dog’s legs while he eats, put up baby gates.  It’s not worth the risk. Plus, when you’re working hard at all the counterconditioning that we’ll talk about in Part 2 of this blog post, you’ll need the baby gate in order to maintain a safe distance.

This should help get you started on the road to a canine/feline love affair.  There’s a lot more to do, but the preparation is the first step.

Oh ya, before I forget.  Because you’re getting a new rescue you’ll need a few things.  Download this Shopping List for the essentials:)

Danielle Hodges, CPDT-KA


Written By

Danielle Hodges, CPDT-KA


(416) 399-3179