Thursday, February 5, 2015

Cats+Dogs=Fun??

Living peacefully with dogs and cats can be hard work! Here are a few tips to help your fuzzy critters to get along.

  1. Management: The more your dog chases your cat, the better he gets at chasing your cat. Avoid giving him this opportunity as much as possible. Use baby gates, doors, leashes, and crates to keep the dog and cat separate when not training.
  2. Train Both Animals: It’s easy to remember to train the dog, but we can, and should, train the cat too. Our first step is simply teaching them that having the other around makes good things happen. Give the cat canned food in a large, open location. While the cat is eating, bring the dog just into visual range of the cat. Feed the dog something he LOVES. I like to use canned food for the dog as well since it’s easy to feed quickly and often very high value. Keep feeding the them both for simply existing in the presence of the other. As they become more comfortable, gradually decrease the distance between the two.
  3. Look At That (adapted from Control Unleashed): Teach this skill with a neutral or mildly exciting object first, such as a familiar person. Any time your dog glances in their direction, mark and reward. Add a cue (“look” or “what is it?”) once they are reliably glancing. Then ask the dog to look at the cat, starting from a distance.
  4. Matwork: Teach your dog to lay down and relax on a mat. When you have a relaxed down on the mat, introduce matwork with the cat around. This is a great way to introduce a moving cat (with a second “cat handler”) by having the cat move between canned food locations. Look at that can also be played on the mat during this time.
  5. Cat Safe Place: Make sure your cat has a safe, dog free place. This should ideally be a completely dog-free area. The kitchen, a basement or a bedroom work great. Make sure your cat has plenty of high places to sleep and eat.
  6. Train With and Without Barriers: Make sure the dog and cat are comfortable not only when they can directly see each other, but also when behind barriers such as baby gates.
  7. Desensitize to Cat Noises: Make sure your dog is comfortable with not only seeing the cat but also hearing him. Use YouTube videos to teach your dog that cat noises mean the arrival of delicious treats.
  8. Teach an Emergency Recall: Management always fails, and when it does you want to be ready. A good recall will allow you to call your dog away from the cat and prevent disaster.
  9. Remove the Leash: You should only consider progressing to off-leash practice when your dog is extremely reliable with everything on-leash. Start with the leash dropped, and then progress to off-leash.
  10. Patience: Getting a cat and dog to get along can take time! Rushing will only make the process take longer. Some dogs and cats will be fine together in hours, others might take months.

Remember, positive reinforcement builds relationships! My older dog, Caleb absolutely hated cats. He couldn’t look at them or even smell them without barking and growling. Then Abigail adopted Mike, a 5 week old hit by car kitten slug who was a dog trainer’s dream. At first, he spent all of his time in a crate or being held. He couldn’t stand, forget walk.  He gradually became more mobile but allowed for lots of time to train Caleb while he did so. Mike LOVED dogs (he grew up with dog trainers, what would you expect?) so he made my job easy.  Caleb eventually got to the point where both he and Mike could peacefully exist loose in the house. Then something happened that could only happen with positive reinforcement training: Caleb and Mike played. Yes, played :)