Cats and dogs frequently become the best of friends, but, as with many relationships, it may not start out that way. All things are made easier if either the cat or the dog has lived with the other species before, but if this is the first time for both of them, fear not. It can work.
The first order of business is to protect the cat from an overly enthusiastic or misdirected dog. All new dogs should be kept on lead around cats until you are 100 percent sure they will not cause injury.
Start work immediately on “Leave It,” “Come,” “Down,” and “Mine.” Do this away from your cat(s) and work that way until your dog is quite responsive. Then start developing more control with your cat(s) around. A well-trained dog is a joy to live with and a much safer companion for your cat.
Even with your dog on leash all the time, make sure the cat has clear escape routes available. Such as well-installed, sturdy gates if the dog is small or doors that are held partially shut by a loop of string going from the doorknob to a nail in the outside of the door jamb or a large hook and eye can work just as well. Either way, the goal is for your cat to be able exit but not your dog. Floor-to-ceiling climbing apparatus for cats is good as well.
Do not attempt to hold the cat. That is an excellent way to get hurt. Frightened cats and cats in frightening situations need to be left alone, whenever possible. Let him handle the situation as he wishes.
If your new dog seems excitable, consider asking a qualified dog professional for some help. Consider using a head halter on your dog, as that gives you control over the mouth. Also putting a small bell on each animal’s collar allows you to hear what is going on when you can’t always see it.
Make sure that during this period, your cat has easy access to her litterbox and food, access that does not require going near the new dog. If she can’t get to these necessities easily, she may decide that your laundry hamper is a fine alternative restroom.
Praise your dog warmly for all gentleness and calm he shows — even if it is fleeting. The vast majority of dogs want to please you, they are just at a loss as to how to do that. By praising them whenever you catch them doing something right, you give them a clear picture of what you want.
When you cannot carefully supervise the dog and cat together, confine your new dog. New dogs should be confined anyway. In a few weeks or so they’ll have it worked out, but until then, you need to oversee the process and help create calm success.
by Sarah Wilson
Author of MySmartPuppy.com handbooks: My Smart Puppy (book with DVD) and Childproofing Your Dog