Canine & Feline Integration

Vicky Lawes

I grew up with dogs and when I left home, I had cats.

Since owning my own home I have generally had cats and dogs and as such I have introduced kittens to dogs, puppies to cats and sometimes adult dogs to adult cats.

What I have never done, however, is introduce a kitten to a pack of prey driven, resource guarding and unpredictable dogs; well, this is what I did late 2020 and this is my story.

Early 2020 our resident cat died at a young age, which devastated my husband; what’s that old saying, best way to get over the death of a pet, is to get another?  Right, so mid 2020 I decided the best idea was to get my husband another cat; we have always taken in rescue kittens and cats, but during the years my knowledge of cats has increased ten-fold, as such, I believed the best course of action was to get the type of cat that was more inclined to stay at home and be with us.  The Ragdoll cat fitted our requirements perfectly, thus I sought out a breeder.

In October our kitten arrived.

Our pack at the time consisted of the following,

1 x young German Shepard Dog, female – she had lived with our last cat and was totally obsessed with him, she was loving and frankly wonderful with him – I had no concerns.

1 x older German Spitz Klein, male – lived with our last cat, he is a tiny, pocket rocket with resource guarding tendencies, but a kind dog – no concerns. 

1 x older Romanian rescue, Terrier mix, female – lived with our last cat, fairly high prey drive and certainly not keen on the cat, but generally ignored him and lived her life assuming the cat didn’t exist – no real concerns. 

1 x young Rottweiler rescue, male – came into the home where our last cat was already a resident so adapted well, serious resource guarding issues, would easily kill kitten if grabbed it, or it over-stepped – a little concerned.

And finally, our newest addition, which I must add came after I had paid a rather large deposit for this seriously expensive kitten,

1 x 8 year old, Siberian Husky cross, female – highly resource guarding, prey drive through the roof, seriously didn’t care what I said and like most Husky’s with her own agenda – never lived with a cat and frankly would kill one if given half a chance – decidedly concerned.

So, our kitten arrived, aka Sprout. 

My general philosophy with introducing dogs to cats is to make the cat as uninteresting as possible, thus the dog ignores and harmony ensues, however, I am also aware that a cat is unlikely to be completely uninteresting to a predator, particularly when that cat is very small, very fast and very furry.

I am lucky, in that my house is such that on arrival of Sprout, I was able to keep the dogs and kitten separate to allow me time to plan.  My plan was to integrate the dogs slowly and one at a time to allow for problems to be overcome as they arose.  My first hurdle, however, was not to introduce the first dog to the kitten, but the kitten to a dog.

For the first few days I walked around the house with the kitten in my arms, through the dogs, to enable all dogs to smell the kitten and visa-versa, thus each species knew the other existed and of course to allow kitten to settle in.

Sprout with Thoosa, 4 year old female German Shepherd

The time then came for initial introductions, kitten (Sprout) had been with us for a week and had settled in well. 

My Shepherd was the first dog to be introduced, I knew she loved cats, was kind, reliable and listened to me, so this was the dog that was going to be the kittens first introduction into the world of canines.   We put Sprout on the sofa, so he was face height to the dog and let the Shepherd move in for the first sniff, the kitten went through a plethora of fairly ugly, but unsurprising reactions including spiting, growling and clawing, all of which my darling Shepherd ignored while enjoying still sticking her nose into the kitten.  It took a few days, but once Sprout realised the dog was no threat, things took off at great speed and they became firm friends.

Before moving any further, I allowed all the dogs (one at a time of course) to approach and sniff the kitten through a crate dealing with any negative reactions accordingly, thus all dogs were aware the kitten was not dinner.

Next were my two small dogs, I had to keep in mind that my Spitz was rather guarding around certain objects, so ensured all toys had been removed from the floor.  I allowed integration fairly quickly once Sprout had got over his initial fear of the dogs in general, Sprout took little notice of the small dogs and they him, the Spitz was far too important to bother with such a sprat of a thing so pretty much ignored him.  The Terrier mix was very cool providing the kitten left her alone, which of course he didn’t, but after a few grows directed the kitten’s way when he over-stepped, he soon learned to give her a wide birth – very quickly, all was well.

              So then came time for the Rottweiler to meet the kitten,                       far more caution was needed here.      

We were now, I think, about 2/3 weeks in, the Rottweiler was well aware of Sprout and vice versa, so all I had to do was to find out what the Rottweiler would do when allowed to get close, without a barrier between.  A muzzle was in order.  Thus, muzzle went on and a lead, just to be safe, and Rottweiler was allowed into the room with kitten loose.  Again, kitten was put on the sofa so head height to Rottweiler – we all held our breath and let interaction commence. 

Rottweiler was a total star, what a good boy he is.  We continued with daily integration with Rottweiler and kitten (Rottweiler muzzled) for about 3 days, I also ensured that the kitten played around the Rottweiler so we could see what reaction was received.  After the kitten had done his worst, we removed the muzzle and repeated the whole exercise.  A week later, the Rottweiler and kitten were integrated, and we were a very comfortable family.

Spout with Neo, 4 year old male Rottweiler

We lived like this for a month or so, 4 dogs and 1 kitten. 

But, we had a 5th dog, a rescue Husky cross.  To be honest I was exhausted and because the Husky liked being in the hall or the dog room, I didn’t feel pressured into doing anything too quickly, so for a few months let life move on, we just kept the kitten away from the Husky, in hindsight it was a good idea, because when I did start the process, the kitten was a lot bigger and was more likely to have survived any roughness he may have received.

The Husky was another kettle of fish altogether, she had only been with us for about 5 months, was older and wiser, she would catch voles and such when out with just a flick of her head, and she hadn’t had the training and lifestyle the other dogs had.  My biggest advantage with the other dogs was that they listened to me, I could stop any behaviour in an instant and they were biddable, the Husky not so much, although she listened to me to a degree, she was self-sufficient and stuck to her own agenda, generally I had to be one step ahead and rather clever in my dealings with her.

Anyway, I could put it off no longer.  So out came the reliable old muzzle and lead and on they went!  We had already done the ‘through the crate’ with her as I mentioned, but we had not had kitten and Husky in the same room loose.  The first meeting was a little fraught I must admit, I was jumpy, even though Husky was muzzled, if she had jumped on the kitten, it wouldn’t have done him much good.  A few days were spent with them in the same room as and when I had time, Husky muzzled and on a lead.  The lead then came off, and again, as with the Rottweiler, we encouraged the kitten to perform all his tricks to see what the Husky did, dashing about, patting her tail, chasing toys, appearing and disappearing from under the sofa and so on.

Initially Husky was a little nervous, rather than curious as the others had been, which was not ideal, no one wants a nervous dog around a tiny kitten, but that’s what we had; so, we took our time, and encouraged them to be in the same room with us often over the next week or so. 

I must point out, during all these integration times, the kitten was never alone with any of the dogs, he was either with us and dogs, with us and no dogs, or alone.  My dogs are good, but they are still dogs, predators and never totally predictable.

Sprout with Shadow, 8 year old female Husky cross

Progress was made and before we knew it, Husky was ignoring the kitten pretty much completely, she was not bothered, and any prey reactions shown initially had disappeared. 

So, we are now 3-4 months in, and we pretty much have harmony.  Sprout (kitten) is approaching 6 months old and is very comfortable with all the dogs and vice versa.  Feeding times are kitten free, as this would be a mistake, Sprout is fed upstairs so there can be no cross-over of food interest, I suspect this will change over time, but I am in no hurry. 

So here we are, all rubbing along nicely (for now).  I feel a great sense of achievement in what I have done, and I feel I’ve made some good choices and decisions which have paid off.

Ultimately, the results I have had are largely a result of my dogs listening to me and I know and understood their breeds inherent drives, which allowed me to approach each dog in the way needed to complete the process, without these factors, I dread to think what may have occurred.  I believe that although each dog took to the cat well, it was my approach that dictated results, I have no doubt that at some point, the Rottweiler, not given the correct direction, would have grabbed the cat, maybe not with intent to hurt, but that would have been the result.  And without giving the Husky time to adjust and accept, the kitten would not have survived his first encounter with her.

So, as I say, all now one big, happy pack, 5 dogs, 1 kitten, 1 husband and 2 overworked vacuum cleaners.

I hope you enjoyed my rendition and I’m now off to feed the crew, Thoosa the German Shepherd, Neo the Rottweiler, Fihz the German Spitz (Klein), Dotty the Romanian cross, Shadow the Husky cross and, of course, Sprout the very expensive, tiny bundle of fluff, teeth and claws.

Integrating Cats and dogs – Dr. David Sands

Socialising cats and dogs – avoiding conflict

Many passionate animal lovers enjoy keeping both cats and dogs in the home. However, life between these two species doesn’t always run as smoothly as some owners would imagine. Unwanted behaviour can develop when pets have formed separate boundaries to territory and aggression or retreat is the options when a ‘fight-flight’, [adrenaline-response] is triggered.

The conflict scenario is most common when an adopted dog is first introduced into a household that already has existing cats or when a cat is brought into a previous dog-only household.

Some conflict issues dealt with through my clinic have coincided with when people move into a home together.

There can be unwanted behaviours between dogs and cats that have been brought up together, including occasional and unexpected spats that are seemingly unexplainable for some owners. When dogs and cats are apprehensive they will display a mutual distrust during initial encounters and it is not uncommon for rehomed dogs to present an aggressive response, fearful or challenging, towards a cat that has already been established in a home by growling. Cats can growl as a warning although they mostly hiss and spit during conflicts or when they are defending territory.

There can also have been a prior ‘learned chase-response’ in a dog that may have had a previous owner that encouraged aggressive chasing-behaviour in order to deter cats from wandering onto their property. There are dog breeds (including terriers and herding dogs) that will naturally chase cats, since this stimulates instinctive canine predator-prey responses.

Significant changes in homes and territory cannot be ‘explained’ to cats and dogs, and in these circumstances any confused boundaries and alliances with owners can result in confrontational aggression between cats and dogs, or simply withdrawal by cats (even to the extent of them leaving).

Alternatively, some puppies and kittens that are brought up together, and managed appropriately and sensibly, will coexist without conflict. Achieving this ideal means correctly training the dog to respond to instructions and directions, and not to put either dog or cat in situations where disagreement or possessive behaviour is likely to occur. This is often toys or food bowls in areas that both inhabit – especially when owners are not around to supervise.

It’s important to accept that, under fur and cute demeanours, companion pets ARE animals and, genetically, one step away from nature.

Allowing kittens or puppies to pester older counterparts may also result in friction, so be mindful that just because an owner wants them to get along and play together doesn’t mean they always will. Competition triggered through attention from the owner given to one or the other pet can also result in friction between cats and dogs.

We advise owners to offer consistency as regards social hierarchy when giving pets attention. For safety, dogs should be already trained to instructions this can be achieved with clicker and Training discs associated with when the owner interacts with them. Any retraining procedure is likely to work successfully and quickly if it is already introduced and established.

It’s important to accept that animals have all their natural instincts and behaviours either innate (genetic/inherited) or learned – which should be understood in order to manage them safely and appropriately.

If a cat is being introduced to a dog that is known to be generally friendly towards cats, I advise the owner to play a distraction strategy in the initial socialising sessions. This usually involves toy-retrieval or food-searching reward games with the dog controlled on a lead while the cat is allowed to explore in the same room. This usually results in the dog learning that it’s rewarding to ignore the cat.

However, if the dog is known to already present aggression or hyperactivity towards cats, it is important to employ a muzzle [for safety] combined with a Tether system (a training lead attached to a sturdy wall-mounted bracket or to a heavy and immovable object such as a table leg).

Use these aids [avoidance] while distracting a dog as described above within the limits of his tether, should be used as a precaution, so that a dog cannot chase and bite at the cat.

A dog that is displaying positive behaviour towards a cat should be immediately signalled with the clicker and rewarded with special food-treats.

It is rarely practical to keep a dog and a kitten or cat separated in the same home. While they are unsocialised – before any initial contact – avoidance is necessary to prevent conflict.

However, there has to come a time when they will be in close proximity and meet and this comes with potential for fearful or aggression responses. Issues can be countered through controlled-socialisation with the use of food rewards for acceptable response behaviour.

Socialisation periods should be undertaken on a regular basis – every few hours if possible – over a settling period of about four to six weeks. If a dog presents an aggressive response towards the cat, attract its attention (squeaky toy or whistle) and then immediately lead-walk the dog away to separate them.

When a dog is aggressive towards a new cat it is important not to react with any sort of emotional attention as this can make the event, albeit unintentionally on your part, more exciting, thereby rewarding thus reinforcing the dog’s behaviour.

Table of Contents

Case study 1

In a case referred to me by a vet, a rehomed, neutered, Japanese Akita bitch aged four was showing predatory behaviour (mouthing, holding and biting), including two instances of attacks on cats within the household. The first attack took place two months after the dog was rehomed, and the second a month into the retraining programme I’d suggested to the client. Both incidents resulted in the cats needing urgent veterinary attention and surgery. During my initial home visit after referral, it became obvious that the five cats were choosing to live upstairs while the Japanese Akita was being confined to a downstairs room.

Treatment

A tailored behaviour modification programme required the owner to introduce and condition her dog to a clicker and whistle (linked to reward) and training discs (linked to the removal of reward) communication system (each to be introduced in a sequence).

Controlled owner interaction, structured walks and play sessions formed part of the programme. The introduction of the tether strategy and dog gates was also recommended to offer the cats freedom to more safely roam around the house.

A month into the three-month programme a second cat was attacked and sustained extensive injuries, necessitating a week’s stay at the veterinary clinic for treatment. This attack occurred even though a tether-system was in place. The cat, perhaps encouraged by the controlled movement of the Japanese Akita during a desensitisation period, walked past and the dog grabbed it. The client was preoccupied on a telephone at the time but insists that in observation there was no prior indication that the dog would attack.

Outcome

The client has since agreed to muzzle the dog when in the home to ensure the cats can avoid injury. This short-term, practical, solution is to be used in the hope that the dog will, in time, become less stimulated by the presence of the cats. The case is on-going, although there is a possibility that the eventual rehoming of the dog to a cat-free household is required

Conclusion

In my experience, once an attack has been presented by a dog towards any animal an instinctive prey-drive, together with any general breed trait, is stimulated, and the chances of a successful behaviour modification programme designed to counter aggression is generally poor. However, some clients are extremely determined – and have the facility – to succeed in changing unwanted behaviour rather than have the dog rehomed or euthanised.

When prey-drive involves chasing livestock, where an immediate solution is required, remote-controlled, citronella spray, collars can be successful in interrupting the response. This is because there can be some prediction of when chase-behaviour is likely to be presented, such as on rural walks, in a situation where owners can be prepared in advance to use interruption methods.

However, when innate prey-drive trigger is unpredictable (such as in the case of a Japanese Akita), it is much more difficult to anticipate the onset of aggression unless owners are prepared to be in a constant state of readiness to act and prevent aggression.

Case study 2

A rehomed Jack Russell Terrier bitch was targeting cats encountered around its home area when being walked on lead.

The owners reported that, on occasions, they were often unaware of a cat being close by until the dog lunged into a hedgerow or pulled at a wall and aggression commenced. In some instances, the dog exhibited continuous vocalisation, including sustained high-pitched yelps and barks.

The owners were keen to be able to counter this unwanted behaviour, not least because it caused them considerable embarrassment during walks.

Treatment

The Jack Russell was put through a rigid programme which again included using dog gates and tethering in the home in order to create boundaries. Alongside training and controlling factors, the dog was denied window access during daylight hours, to prevent target barking and help to reduce her overall hyperactive behaviour.

This particular Jack Russell was highly food-orientated, so proved biddable to retraining. She responded positively to treats associated with the clicker system from an early stage, but was less receptive to ‘non-reward’ training discs in outdoor situations.

This prognosis is found in most dogs, however, when they are exposed to this method and this opposite sound-signal to the clicker can be an option to change unwanted behaviour in cases.

In one of several one-to-one sessions, the owners approached a cat that was sunning itself opposite their home. In a slow process, which required much patience on their behalf, the dog was kept on a lead within a metre of the cat for a 10-minute period.

The dog commenced some unwanted vocalisation in the first few minutes but eventually this reduced to an acceptable level and ceased altogether after five minutes. The cat, in this instance, did not react or display any fearful behaviour towards the Jack Russell.

Outcome

Three months into the programme, the Jack Russell’s usual aggressive reaction to cats and previous acute vocalisation behaviour had reduced to low-level interest and, therefore interruptible before hyperactivity could begin.

The drip-feeding of food treats acted as a mind-set change in the form of distraction. Because the dog was responsive to treats (rewards) the system was successful.

Case study 3

A Chow Chow, neutered bitch

British short-hair, entire Tom [kitten aged 5 months]

The Chow Chow bitch, previously socialised with an adult cat in the home, had immediately targeted a kitten introduced into the home following the loss of that cat. The owners had resorted to crating the kitten to allow the dog visual contact.

The owners reported that, following unexpected behaviour from the Chow Chow (the dog was presenting a hyperactive and potentially aggressive reaction) was alarming the new kitten.

They were keen to be able to counter this unwanted behaviour and hoped that a behaviour programme would successfully lead to socialising the two companion pets.

Treatment

The Chow Chow was initially put through a clicker and reward-whistle programme to be untilised for a period of training through positive reinforcement of calm behaviour.

The owners were instructed to introduce a Gripper Lead (® Dogmatic) to develop a Tether-system in the home in order to create restraint. This offered controlled-safety (without their physical interaction) and appeasement to reduce apprehension from the owners being transmitted to the dog.

Alongside training and controlling factors, the dog [controlled] and kitten [free to explore] were to be fed in close proximity to each other.

The Chow Chow was to be offer nutritious, lasting-chews (previously associated with the clicker system) to create calm episodes when the kitten was in close proximity. Scenario sessions were to be introduced in the evening quiet within two weeks of my home-visit session.

Outcome

Only weeks into the programme, the Chow Chow changed its interaction from hyperactivity to calm interest and socialisation began to develop.

The chews [tripe sticks] acted as a mind-set change in the form of distraction. Because the dog was responsive to treats (rewards) the system was successful.

10-step desensitisation

  1. In desensitising methods, the dog should be first contained in a covered crate or indoor kennel in the room where the controlled introduction can be made. Cats should not be in the room at that time.
  2. Place a number of different treats (on saucers or in small containers) around the room.
  3. Introduce one or more new scratching posts and spray these with catnip.
  4. Then allow the cats to enter and explore the room in their own time. If they use a scratching post and take food it is a significant point of progress.
  5. Following this initial period of exposure, where some cats will investigate the sides and top of the crate, lead the dog from the crate out of the room and into another part of the home.
  6. If there has been little aggression in a 15-minute period of exposure, return with the dog after 15 minutes and repeat the process. Introduce the Tether system.
  7. If there has been much spitting and snarling give the cats an extended period to calm down.
  8. To reduce the triggers for problem behaviours, don’t give attention to and avoid eye contact with the cat and dog.
  9. Eventually, providing the initial introduction was problem-free, replace the crate with the tether system (as described earlier) where closer contact can be made.
  10. In the last step, a member of the family should reward (clicker-treating can be used here if desired) the dog for desired, calm behaviour in ignoring the cat while controlled contact outside of a crate is undertaken.

Aversion techniques

In escalating situations, cat-chasing behaviour in dogs may be reduced with the use of remote-controlled spray-collars that are based on aversion principles. This can prevent unwanted injuries to both parties. However, it is essential that you consult a trainer as to these collars’ appropriate and timely use (which is critical to their effectiveness) and to show you how to use one correctly.

Dr David Sands
Fellow of the CFBA, Canine and Feline Behaviourist