“Fighting like cats and dogs” doesn’t have to be the norm. Help your dog befriend a cat by understanding why they chase them in the first place and how you can stop this behavior.
As natural hunters, dogs chase cats out of instinct. It’s the similar instinct they feel whenever they see a squirrel or any animal smaller than them. Since dogs are bred initially to provide protection and to help with hunting, this behavior is ingrained in them no matter how much domestication they go through. This trait also gives them the desire to chase anything that moves. Though it is out of instinct, it does not mean that it always comes from aggression or ill intentions. Sometimes, dogs are just too friendly and all they want is to say hello to another furry companion like cats. However, due to their size and overwhelming friendliness, cats tend to interpret this the wrong way, and instead, they feel threatened.
It’s only natural to assume that dogs and cats have entirely different behaviors. Cats are known to be more skittish, aloof, and prefer independence, whereas dogs are friendly, overly affectionate, and prefer companionship. Although, it goes without saying that this is simply an observation and not a fact. Even with the polarity in their behaviors, cats and dogs can still be friends. It is not unheard of for them to live harmoniously under one roof (plenty of TikTok videos can prove it!).
Both dogs and cats can be the best of friends but before they build that relationship, owners must first need to understand why dogs chase cats in the first place. Owners should also be knowledgeable when it comes to introducing a new dog to a cat and vice versa. Lastly, responsible owners should be able to correct aggressive behavior when applicable.
Why dogs chase cats
Other than the obvious reason that dogs chase cats out of instinct, below are more specific reasons why your pup likes to chase cats.
Type of dog breed
The type of dog breed is also a factor to consider when it comes to this behavior. Other than the hunting instincts, some dogs also have inherent herding instincts.
Herding dogs or Herding Group were a part of the Working Group breeds up until 1983. According to American Kennel Club, breeds that are part of the Herding Group “share an instinctual ability to control the movement of other animals.” These dogs are trained to gather, herd, and protect livestock.
This type of behavior is related to why dogs like to chase cats because, in simple terms, these dog breeds just really love to chase other animals. Even AKC acknowledges that Herding breeds are known to “gently herd their owners, especially the children of the family” so it’s no surprise that they will try to “gather” cats nearby.
Here are some dog breeds that are part of the Herding Group:
- Australian Shepherd
- Bearded Collie
- Belgian Malinois
- Belgian Sheepdog
- Border Collie
- Cardigan Welsh Corgi
- German Shepherd
- Old English Sheepdog
Dogs can be territorial if they see another animal step foot into their space. They also feel territorial if their food, toys, or valuable items are touched by another animal.
According to ASPCA, territorial behaviors in dogs are natural instincts and even stem from survival. Moreover, their instinct to guard their territory “are behaviors that have been engrained in dogs for centuries because having these resource improves their odds of survival.” These instincts most likely elicit aggressive behavior like growling, snapping, and biting.
If your dog shows aggression when introduced to a new pet, their behaviors must be corrected through proper training.
Introducing a new dog to your cat: Warning signs
When introducing a new dog to a cat, it is important to pay attention to their body language. Best Friends Animal Society specifically mentioned that dogs with a “strong prey drive” have an inclination to seek out and chase other animals they see as prey. They will become focused on the cats and may start barking or whining at them. If this happens, pull them away from the cat.
It is also important to keep the two pets apart before fully introducing them. Start by keeping them in separate rooms or using a baby gate. The process should be slow and steady.
If your dog appears to be fixated on the cat (like too fixated, to the point of seeking it out like a prey), try desensitization. You can do this by slowly increasing their exposure to one another, and when the dog starts to fixate too much on the cat, distract them and divert their attention to something else. It is also advisable to keep the dog on a leash during these exercises and have another person with you to avoid any problems.
Introducing a new cat to your dog: warning signs
The same methods can be used when introducing a new cat to a resident pet dog. Keep them separated first and slowly introduce them until both are comfortable. You’d know when cats are not comfortable with the dog because their ears will pin back, the tail will wag, the back is arched, and lots of hissing.
To help the process, you can try swapping scents. Switch up their sleeping blankets or beds so they can get used to their smell. Paws also recommend switching the cat and the dog’s living area. While the dog is confined in one area of the house, allow the cat to roam free so they can familiarize themselves with the new environment.
How to stop dog aggression towards cats
Redirect the behavior
Once you start to notice that your dog really loves to chase cats, you should immediately correct this behavior. You can do so by telling him a firm no and by putting him in a separate room to calm down.
Use a collar or leash
As you slowly introduce the two, it will help to keep the dog on a leash during the face-to-face meet-up. The leash allows you to control the dog in case it suddenly acts aggressively. An e-collar will also help during the training process.
Apply the muzzle technique
If leashes and e-collars are not enough, try using muzzles. This will be particularly beneficial when both the cat and the dog are outdoors because even though the dog looks comfortable with the cat indoors, that can change when they are outside. Somehow the great outdoors triggers their natural instinct to hunt and herd. So if you’re still not comfortable with leaving the two alone, a muzzle can eliminate most of your worries as a pet owner.
Control their attention
When you see that your dog is fixated on the cat, try redirecting their attention. Teach them the ‘leave it’ command and whenever they obey you, reward them with treats and praises.
Teach basic commands
Basic commands like “no” and “leave it” are great to have when it comes to this situation. Other commands or training that can divert their attention and help them calm down are also useful.
Pay attention to the cat too
The cat can also have its own attitude issues so pay attention to them too. Though cats are harder to train, you can provide them with items that can help them feel safe. It’s good to have a tall cat tree so they can have an escape route.
Experiment with more interactions and learn from successes
Not every method will work so just keep trying until you find one that works. This American Humane article will give you a better insight into the introduction process.
Cats and dogs don’t have to be mortal enemies; they can also be best friends. To do so, pet owners should keep in mind that each pet has its own personality. Therefore, their individuality should always be considered when introducing a new pet to the house. Some dogs may appear cautious and aggressive while others may appear super friendly and welcoming. The same goes for cats. It all comes down to having patience and discipline. Your dog and cat can be best friends in time as long as you do your due diligence in making sure they are safe and comfortable with one another.