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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, September 30, 2006

Nurturing canine-feline peace process

By Rolan Tripp
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

There is an expression you two are fighting like cats and dogs!

Dogs and cats have gained this reputation as antagonists.

The most common reason is that the cat or dog was not properly socialized to the other species early in life. If they did not learn about each other when their brains were most impressionable (before 8 weeks of age for kittens, and 12 weeks of age for puppies), there is a tendency to see this different species with fear-of-the-unknown distrust.

Another reason for inter-species discord is found in the genetic code of each. In the wild, cats would be natural prey for coyotes and wolves. Selective breeding has retained the "chase instinct," but bred out most predatory behavior in dogs. Therefore, if a cat runs, the thrill of the chase is on!

In dogs that have retained some predatory aggression, the dog may try to capture, kill and even eat the cat. However in most cases, if the cat stops running, the chase is over. However, if cat-chasing is allowed, dogs may continuously seek this fun. This creates a fearful or aggressive rather than a dog-friendly feline personality.

Like everything in life, prevention is easier than correction. To avoid canine-feline wars, prevent household dog-chasing-cat games . Keep a newly adopted cat isolated in one room for a couple days with food, water, toys, bed, and litterbox. Then introduce your existing dog by allowing both to sniff each other under a door until some of the mystery is gone. Praise good behavior during any sniffing and interrupt barking or lunging from the dog. When the dog seems to lose interest or accepts the cat by exhibiting relaxed body postures, you may try allowing the cat to be on high surfaces with you indoors while keeping the dog on leash under supervision.

Allow the dog to see you petting the cat to make it clear that you accept the cat.

If war has broken out, here are tips on how to facilitate the canine-feline peace process:

  • Separate the dog and cat in different areas of the home for a "cooling-off period" ranging from a day to a week.

  • Re-introduce each other's scent with positive associations by rubbing a towel on the dog, and placing it in with the cat. Do the reverse by placing the cat's towel where the dog sleeps. This helps the desensitization process and counter-conditioning. Add calming pheromones found at www.vpl.com.

  • Work on a long down-stay command, and teach the dog to "settle" when inside a kennel or while tethered to a heavy object like a desk leg.

  • Give "off the property" leash exercise to the dog, and indoor drag-a-string exercise to the cat. Exercise reduces stress and tension.

  • Feed the cat inside a kennel placed in a location the dog is unable to reach. Leave the door open with a comfy cat bed inside. This becomes the cat's "safe haven."

  • Progress to feeding both pets at the same time, within eye contact of each other. Keep the dog tethered and the cat inside his or her "safe haven" kennel. Over time, begin to gradually move the kitty kennel closer to the tethered dog, as long as BOTH are relaxed. If either gets tense, move them farther away.

  • During these sessions, give special attention and treats to each while the other watches. The goal is for each to think, "That animal is part of the family plus all the good things seem to happen when we are near each other."

  • When the kenneled cat can be right next to the tethered dog, and the dog loses interest in sniffing, open the kennel to allow the cat to patrol. Each mealtime, reverse, i.e. leave the cat in the carrier, and let the dog patrol. Be there to interrupt barking, or pawing or gnawing the kennel. Praise and give treats anytime the dog ignores or acts relaxed around the cat.

  • If problems persist, seek the services of a qualified professional by contacting the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (www.dacvb.org), the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (www.avsab.us), the Animal Behavior Society (www.AnimalBehavior.Org), or (my site) www.AnimalBehavior.Net.

  • As you begin to trust dog and cat together, test by having them unrestrained with the dog wearing a 10-foot drag line that you can step on if a skirmish breaks out. Make sure the cat has plenty of places to escape from the dog.

    If the dog gets close and the cat swipes the dog's face, support the cat. It means the dog was being inappropriate, and the cat was just teaching proper manners.

    Preserve the peace by delivering ongoing aid to cooperating individuals.

    Determine a special treat that is only given during the peace process. The goal is for each species to suppress their tendency for conflict, in order to receive their just reward for keeping the peace.