There are many ways you can introduce cats and dogs. These are the six steps I’ve used successfully many times, for a slow & safe introduction of a new cat to resident dogs. “Slow” can be as quickly as one week, or it can take months, depending on the pets being introduced. I worked in pet adoptions for over 12 years, speaking to hundreds of adopters in follow-up calls, as well as introducing many fostered and adopted cats to dogs in my own home. These six steps are the result of all those experiences. I’ve learned from mistakes, so hopefully you won’t have to! The ideal way to do an introduction is with the help of a professional pet behaviorist or trainer. With their help, you can follow my preferred “new cat to resident dogs” introduction method using a crate and taking your time to do a slow, step-by-step introduction. Taking your time is really worth it, for everyone’s safety and stress levels – including yours!
1. Get ready
Getting Rover and Kitty ready can take some time, depending on their prior training and personalities. To get Rover ready, if he does not already know the commands “sit” and “stay”, he should learn them before being introduced to Kitty for the first time.
To get Kitty ready, she will need an isolation room, with her food, water, litterbox and bed. Give her a chance to become adjusted to her new home – depending on her personality, this can be anywhere from 1 day to several weeks. You can spend time with her in the iso room, but Rover should stay outside… no peeking!
- Put Rover away.
- Put Kitty in the crate.
- Put a leash on Rover and bring him into the crate room.
- Command him to either “sit” or “down” and “stay” as soon as he enters, just where he can see Kitty.
- Have him practice his sit, down, shake, etc. for 5 minutes in that location.
- If he ignores your command because he’s too interested in the cat, or barks, growls, or lunges, use your firm “no” and walk him out of the room. Get his attention outside again by practicing a few commands, then try entering the room again.
- Remember to breathe and think calm thoughts, and try to keep some slack in the leash. The “worst” that will happen is Rover or Kitty will lunge at each other, and you will have time pull Rover back – everyone is safe! Pets respond to tension they feel in you. It often helps to say things out-loud in a pleasant tone, like, “Kitty, this is your big brother Rover.”Repeat this step for as many days as you need to, until both Kitty and Rover can be in the same room without tension, fear, aggression, vocalizing, or any other undesired behavior. This can be the first time, or it can take weeks, or months – and rarely, never. There are some high prey-drive dogs or territorial cats that that cannot live freely and safely together.
- If you’ve spent a week or more with trying at least 3 sessions a day, and they are still acting aggressively towards each other or tense staring with no improvement, please consult with a professional behaviorist/trainer. Staring is often a warning an animal is about to attack. Please be very careful if your dog or cat seems “calm” but is actually tense, stiff, and staring.
- With each 5 minute training session, allow them to get a little closer together, with Rover still on leash and Kitty still in the crate. Then leave with lots of praise for everyone being so good! If Kitty becomes frightened, or Rover starts ignoring you, increase the distance between the animals and progress more slowly. Eventually, the animals should be brought close enough together to allow them to investigate each other visually and calmly. Then you can allow Rover to sniff at the kennel and Kitty, as long as he is being calm, and listens to you if you say “sit” or “come.”
- Now increase the length of the sessions together. If Rover or Kitty is agitated in any way, you may have to spend as many days as necessary with the cat in the crate, dog on leash, until they are calm and relaxed. You may find distracting yourself (a book, a DVD) will relax you, and that will help them relax too!
- Once they’ve sniffed each other through the crate with no issues, and you can spend a half-hour in the room with everyone relaxed right next to each other, you are ready for Step 5.
Even after step 6 when you are not home: keep them separated with a physical barrier (crate, door, etc) to be certain they will be safe, for at least an additional 1 month. With bigger or high prey-drive dog breeds, you may always want to keep them safely separated when you are not home. I hope these steps help lead you to a harmonious multi-pet household!
Additional tips: Although your dog must be taught that chasing or being rough with the cat is unacceptable behavior, your dog must also be taught how to behave appropriately, and be rewarded for doing so (e.g. sitting, coming when called, or lying down in return for a tidbit.) If your dog is always punished whenever the cat is around, and never has “good things” happen in the cat’s presence, your dog may redirect aggression toward the cat.
Precautions: Dogs like to eat cat food – keep the cat food high enough to be out of the dog’s reach. And although there are no health hazards to a dog eating cat feces, it is usually distasteful to owners – and so tempting to dogs its hard to train them not to – could you leave your dog alone with a cheeseburger at nose level? The best solution I know of is to place the litterbox where the dog cannot access it, but the cat can easily – such as behind a baby gate, or in a closet or cabinet with a cat door cutout, or the door wedged open (from both sides) just wide enough for the cat.