Teaching Your Puppy to Play Gently With the Cat

by Scott Morgan
It's easier to teach a puppy to behave than a cat to tolerate.

It's easier to teach a puppy to behave than a cat to tolerate.

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Cats and dogs are not quite the natural enemies cartoons and old cliches might lead you to believe. If raised together, cats and dogs often coexist rather peacefully. But peaceful cohabitation takes research and patience on your part. The best way to ensure gentle play between the species is to understand the instincts each has.

Know the Breed

Puppies who constantly chase or play rough with cats often belong to breeds bred to hunt small game. Beagles, for example, were bred to hunt rabbits and are prone to chasing cats. Some breeds, such as greyhounds, have strong prey drives and may not be safe to leave alone with cats. Some greyhounds live comfortably with cats, others do not. Research the breed or adopt a dog that is proven cat-friendly before bringing a dog into a home with an established cat.

Cut the Chase

For puppies, chase is a form of play. In the wild, play teaches puppies to hunt. Even in a home, a pup's natural instinct is to chase animals that run when he gets too close, even if he doesn't want to hurt them. Curbing your pup's chase drive through obedience training is essential to building good relations between her and the cat. If she's allowed to chase the cat, she will grow up believing it's all right to do so. And the cat will likely grow afraid of the dog.

A Social Cat Helps

In homes where there are no other animals, cats get used to the dynamic and may prefer to stay away from everyone. This may be especially true for nervous or rescued cats. Introducing a puppy to a home with a reclusive or easily spooked cat is not a good idea. The more socialized the cat is and the more he is used to company, the less likely he will be to run from a new puppy -- and the less likely she will be to chase him.

Take It Slow

The cardinal rule of peaceful coexistence between your puppy and cat is patience. Puppies need time to learn commands such as sit, stay or heel, and should be trained to obey these commands before meeting a cat. Speak your pup's name and then say the command. Reward her with a treat when she gets it right. When she masters these commands, you can better trust that she will listen to you when you introduce her to the cat. If the cat runs, your commands will stop your pup from chasing him.

Social Interaction

Playing gentle begins with proper introductions. Keep your cat in his carrier and very slowly bring your dog in, leashed, from across the room. Keep the distance for the first few meetings; a controlled, calm environment is key. Do not let the dog walk up to and sniff the carrier, it will only scare the cat and excite the dog. After several introductions, let the cat come to the dog, who should be on a leash around him until they get used to each other.

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