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home : columns : columns May 24, 2016

1/7/2014 5:04:00 PM
Dogs and cats: Learning to get along together
Mia and Tinkerbell get along like... cats and dogs. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee
+ click to enlarge
Mia and Tinkerbell get along like... cats and dogs. photo by Jodi Schneider McNamee

By Jodi Schneider McNamee

Can cats and dogs get along? While there have been many movies that had fun with the idea that the animals are secretly fighting an all-out war, many real-life cats and dogs live in harmony together in the same household.

It is important to understand how cats' and dogs' personalities vary. One of the biggest differences between canines and felines lies in their social patterns and interactions. Cats tend to be solitary animals, preferring to go where they want when they want, and ask for attention at their discretion. Dogs on the other hand are pack animals and the members of their pack or family are vital to them. Dogs value time spent with and close to their pack or family.

Getting a dog and cat to accept one another can be difficult, as anyone who's tried to introduce them knows. There are a few basic steps to getting both pets to call an inter-species truce.

The key to a successful first encounter is slow and controlled introductions. Be alert for potential problems so you can avoid or minimize them. You want to create a positive association about the other, so keep lots of treats nearby. Regardless of whether you are getting a new cat or a new dog, the first introduction between your current pet and your new pet is a very important part of the process.

If you have a dog and are planning to bring a cat into the household, start working on your pooch's obedience before you add your new pet. Fido should be comfortable on a leash, and trained well enough to mind your requests while on a leash.

If you have a cat in the household and are planning to bring in a dog, create a place your cat can retreat to, preferably high off the ground, which the dog cannot reach or climb to. Move the litter box and food and water dishes to a location the dog will not be able to access.

One way for Fido and your feline to get used to each other over the first few days is to rotate which animal has freedom and which is confined, to allow each animal time to investigate the other's scent. Sometimes your pooch should be confined to a crate or another room (or taken to another location if she can't be left alone) to allow your cat time to roam free and investigate the smell of your dog.

For the first face-to-face introduction, make sure your dog is securely leashed. When both pets are behaving calmly (could be awhile) try dropping the leash, but stay nearby and grab the leash if you have to. Unless your dog and cat enjoy each other's company right away and want to harmlessly play with each other (could happen with a friendly kitten and puppy), keep the dog on a leash for a couple of weeks in the cat's presence, and make sure your cat has a way to escape from your pooch.

Don't force interaction and have plenty of treats around for rewarding good behavior.

Unsupervised time together should occur only when your household is consistently incident-free.

One way to get better results in that first introduction is to adopt from a local shelter or rescue group; they can help you find that special dog-friendly cat or cat-loving dog.

When it works, there is nothing sweeter than seeing how a little kitten can hold a big old dog around her dainty little paw - or how a tough, battle-scarred veteran cat will melt at a puppy's charms.

It's not uncommon for dogs and cats to become friends and to enjoy each other's company. Just by taking the time to manage your cat-dog introduction properly, you could be setting up a friendship that will last for the rest of your furry friends' life.

Good luck!

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