I brought home a black lab puppy to add to my family, and I already had 2 dogs and 3 cats. Andy was a parvo survivor, very mellow, friendly and had relatively good manners. I am not, and never have been a puppy person, preferring to adopt middle aged, senior or special needs dogs. Hence, having a dog that wouldn’t get along with my cats was never a huge concern. I’ve also been lucky that my cats LOVE dogs – they curl up with them, groom them, and in the winter there is usually a huge comingled pile in front of the wood stove.
So, when I brought Andy home not knowing his past history, I was cautious, keeping him on a leash and just waited to see what happened in the house. Well that was a disaster, he ran full speed after whatever cat he could see, who in turn hissed and screamed and ran even faster in the opposite direction. I soon found out that Andy’s way of greeting new dog friends is to start by licking their faces and then continue on to nibbling on their necks and ears until they told him enough. It was ok when he did that to my other dogs, who were similar in size, but it was a bit disturbing to see him running after a cat with an open mouth and clicking his teeth at them.
I started by putting up a few extra-tall baby gates – the metal ones that secure to a wall or doorframe with a small cat door at the bottom. One at the entrance to my office/computer room, one in the hallway separating the kitchen/living areas and the bedrooms (I have a ranch style house). My cats were already used to being confined to my bedroom/bathroom during the day while at work. Even though everyone gets along I believe that it’s better to keep them separated when I’m not home for safety’s sake. So we started there – cats confined during the day, and then at bedtime the cats would have the run of the house overnight while the dogs and I slept. No interaction at all and we started to follow Wag & Train’s cat/dog introduction protocol.
We lived like that for probably 4 weeks. Eventually I progressed to a short (10 min) session of “cat training” before bed every evening where I would put Andy on a leash and would sit on the couch and let the cats walk by if they chose. He was rewarded with premium treats the whole time. Occasionally I would walk him a lap or two around the kitchen (on a leash) and let him sniff the cats who had by now decided seeking the safety of being up on the counter. Andy would jump up to the counter and try to sniff/nip a cat and every time I made him sit and gave a treat.
In the meantime we had started puppy training classes to begin working on good manners and following commands. Also, Andy goes to daycare while I am at work so he comes home nice and tired and he is way less interested in cats when he’s tired.
At about 6 weeks I felt like he realized the cats are part of the household – just like furniture, they’re always here, occasionally the furniture moves but it’s here to stay. He was less interested when they walked by the computer room and one afternoon when I felt he was super relaxed I took the leap of faith and let my oldest mellowest cat out. She doesn’t run, and that was the key. She was sitting on one of the dog beds and I dropped Andy’s leash and held my breath for a second. He walked up to her, sniffed her, she didn’t move, and he walked away like it was no big deal. Whew!
The things that I learned from this experience in no particular order are:
- It takes a LONG time. Manage your expectations. I was told to plan for 6-8 months and that was my goal. It happened after 2 months so I consider that a huge success.
- It can be frustrating and disappointing that it takes so long. There were many days I felt bad when I could hear the cats crying to come out and join the family when I was home all day. I felt very guilty locking them away – my oldest has been here for 13 years and this is her house. You really wonder if it’s going to work out and if you made a mistake.
- It’s a LOT of work. I felt like I spent so much time shuffling pets around. I always had to make sure doors and baby gates were closed. Every morning consisted of getting out of bed and putting a leash on Andy as opposed to everyone just walking through the house by themselves to go outside. Even doing laundry was so much work – making sure cats didn’t get out when I moved laundry from my room out to the laundry room and back. There were many times I thought to myself it would be so much easier if we could just all live together like we used to.
- A tired dog is a good dog. And a lot less likely to be interested in getting into trouble. Doing “cat training” after Andy had been at daycare all day worked well, he was too tired to care much about cats.
- I realized tat the cats were not the only thing going on at the time. Andy was given up by his owners, had been very sick, came to a new home, new people, new resident pets, new routine, etc. all within about a month’s time, so a lot of changes to adjust to. Not only did I want him to adjust to the cats, but there were all kinds of other things that he was being forced to adjust to. The only life he ever knew had been completely turned upside down.
- This is not new, I have always done this, but it’s worth saying – never leave dogs and cats together alone, unsupervised. Even though they live together in harmony, it’s a matter of safety when no one is around to supervise. I always separate them when I am not home.
- Don’t give up. It seemed like this was dragging on forever. I didn’t see daily progress. After a few weeks I could see some progress and it finally came together when timing was right.