Q: I want to adopt a rescued Chow
Chow but I've heard they chase cats. I don't want anything to happen
to my cat! Can I teach them to get along together?
A: Yes, most dogs can be taught to
tolerate cats if their owners are willing to be patient and
consistent. Some dogs take longer to train than others and the
difference is usually due to the dog's level of "prey
Nature designed canines to be
predators - to chase and catch smaller animals for food. Although dogs
have been domesticated for thousands of years, they still act upon the
instincts nature gave them. Through generations of selective breeding,
people have modified these instincts. By decreasing the effects of
some and enhancing the effects of others, we've been able to develop a
wide variety of different breeds of dogs, each meant to serve a
different purpose or perform a certain function.
A dog's instinct to chase and catch
something is called his "prey drive". Throw a stuffed toy
for a puppy and watch his prey drive in action as he chases it,
catches it, then shakes it to "kill" it. Breeds and
individual dogs vary in the intensity of their prey drives. Breeds
created specifically for killing other animals - most terriers, for
example, were intended to kill rats - have very high prey drives. In
other breeds, the prey drive has been altered to suit an entirely
different purpose. In the Border Collie, a herding breed, the instinct
to chase and catch animals has been modified to chase and gather them
together. Prey drive can also be modified by training. Drug sniffing
and arson detection dogs have high prey drives that have been
redirected toward objects - these dogs are taught that illegal drugs
and fire accelerants are "prey". Although we think of the
Greyhound as a racing dog, it was originally bred for hunting, using
its great speed to chase down hares and other fast creatures.
Consequently, it has a high prey drive and is inclined to chase cats.
There are several effective ways to
train a dog with a high prey drive to live peacefully with cats or
other small pets. I prefer to teach these dogs that cats are off
limits altogether and are not to be disturbed. Using a friend or
family member to help you, set up several short daily training
sessions. With the dog wearing a training collar and leash, put him on
a sit/stay beside you. Have your friend hold the cat on the other side
of the room. Your dog will probably be very curious and even excited
at seeing the cat, but insist that he remain in the sit/stay position.
Praise your dog for sitting calmly.
Have your friend bring the cat a few
steps closer. If your dog continues to stay quietly at your side,
wonderful! Praise him for it. If he tries to lunge at the cat, though,
give him a stern, fierce-sounding "NO! LEAVE IT!" along with
a short, sharp jerk on the lead and put him back in the sit/stay
position. As soon as he is sitting calmly again, praise him sincerely.
Continue bringing the cat closer, a few feet at a time, repeating the
corrections as needed and making sure to praise the dog when he sits
quietly and ignores the cat. Have patience - depending on the
intensity of your dog, you might only be able to gain a few feet each
When your dog is able to sit calmly
even when the cat is right next to him, you're ready to proceed to the
next step. Release the dog from his sit/stay and let him walk around
the room with the cat present. Leave his lead on so you can easily
catch him and give the necessary correction if he gives any sign of
wanting to chase the cat. Your supervision at this point is critical -
to be effective, you must be able to correct the dog each and every
time he even thinks about going after the cat. If he's allowed to
chase her, even once, he'll want to try it again and you'll have to
start your training over from the beginning.
Some dogs learn quickly, others may
take weeks to become trustworthy around cats. Until you're sure the
dog will remember his training, don't leave them together
A Siberian Husky owner combined a dog
crate with the "LEAVE IT!" command to help introduce her
cats and dogs. Sometimes the dog was crated with the cat free in the
room, at other times, the cat was crated while the dog was free. The
dog was allowed to investigate the cat but not to harrass or bark at
Another owner uses a technique that's
often practiced to help dogs adjust to a new baby in the household. By
giving the dog extra attention and even special treats when the cat
(or baby) is in the room, the dog soon learns that having the cat
around means very good things are going to happen to him!
Q: I've been following your
advice and it was working pretty well until the other day. Something
startled the cat and she took off running. So did the dog - hot on her
tail! He wouldn't stop when I told him to. What did I do wrong with my
A: Nothing. You just need to do a
little more work. A dog's prey drive - his instinct to chase and catch
- is triggered by movement. Things that quickly move past or away from
him like balls, children playing, joggers, bicyclists, speeding cars
and running cats, get an immediate reaction from your dog because
nature programmed him to chase moving creatures.
As long as your cat was sitting still
or just going about her business, your dog learned to ignore her. But
in motion, she became something completely different and exciting. His
ancient instinct to chase called to him and he obeyed without
as you taught your dog to sit quietly when the cat is in the room, you
can also teach him to ignore the cat when she's running or playing.
Once again, get a friend to help you. With the dog on lead and in a
sit/stay position, have your friend play with the cat and encourage
her to run about. Praise your dog for sitting calmly, correct him if
he tries to chase. As your dog becomes more reliable, he may be
allowed to investigate the cat's play or even join in the game as long
as he remembers his manners and how to respond to your command to
"LEAVE IT!" when necessary.
This article was written and copyrighted by Vicki DeGruy and originally appeared in the Dog Owners Guide, an award winning canine newspaper. Reproduction for other than personal home use is prohibited.
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