Q: We just adopted a gorgeous 2-year-old Bengal Cat, Alice. Alice has her own room where she is getting to know my husband and me before meeting our dog, Bernie. Bernie is a happy-go-lucky 10-month-old St. Bernard puppy. We’re not sure how to introduce our dog to our cat. Bernie has met a couple of cats and although he hasn’t hurt them, he has chased them to play with them. How do we introduce the dog and cat to each other? The good news is that Bernie loves his crate.
A: Before introducing your cat and dog to each other, train your dog so that he is calm around cats. Most humane societies offer dog training classes. You can also find good trainers through The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT; website here).
While your dog learns proper etiquette around cats, keep your cat confined away from the dog and prepare the house for the introductions. Prepare by creating dog-free zones with tall cat trees, high shelves and baby gates. Besides providing Alice a safety zone, baby gates also will keep your dog away from the litterboxes. In addition to adding the safe zones throughout the house, confine your cat to a comfortable, dog-free room. Confining her to the one room keeps your cat safe and provides the perfect opportunity for her to bond with you and your husband.
After your dog is trained to remain calm around cats, begin the introductions. The first step is swapping articles that have the other’s scent on it. Use a couple of clean towels, gently petting your cat with one and your dog with the other. Place your dog’s towel in your cat’s room, although not near her food, litterbox or favorite sleeping area. Place the towel with your cat’s scent on it in an area that your dog frequents. When they check out each other’s scent, reward both with praise and treats.
After your cat is comfortable with her room and with your dog’s scent, let her explore the rest of the house. At this stage, either confine your dog to another room, away from your cat, or outside in a safe place.
The next step is to arrange a controlled meeting between your cat and dog. Confine your dog to his crate, and open the door to your cat’s room so that she can come and meet your dog while he’s in his crate. The first meeting will be short. Set up multiple meetings every day so that your dog and cat become comfortable with each other.
After the crate meetings succeed and the two respond favorably to each other, your cat and dog can meet for the first time without the protection of the crate. Put a harness and leash on your dog and cue him to sit. Open the door to your cat’s room and let her meet your dog on her own terms. Make these first visits short, but gradually extend them when there are no signs of stress, over-excitement or animosity. If the introductions proceed without incident, eventually remove your dog’s leash and harness for supervised visits. Remember: Your dog is stronger and bigger than your cat, accidents can happen, so never leave them together unsupervised.