Answers From Experts September 2002 Issue

Cats and Dogs

How to get them to get along; how to keep them apart.

I am in love with a fantastic man and his eight-month-old Dalmatian, Lexi. My dog Bailey and Lexi are becoming fast friends, despite their age difference and Bailey's limited patience with the puppy. The problem is that Lexi lives in relative harmony with two indoor cats. Bailey has never quite understood cats, except as something to forget her training over and chase down the street, through an alley, across a yard, or under a bed. I am afraid she will never understand or overcome her instinct to chase the cats. Is there a way to transition a cat-unfriendly eight-year-old dog to live with two younger cats?

-Lori Spar
San Diego, CA


We asked our Training Editor, Pat Miller, to answer these questions. Miller is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is also the President of the Board of Directors of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, and recently published her first book, The Power of Positive Dog Training. For more information, see "Resources."


What great news that Bailey and Lexi get along! At least you don't have to deal with dog aggression getting in the way of your new relationship. There are a number of things you can do to help Bailey live in peace with her new feline family members. It will be easiest if the cats are 'indoor only' kitties. It is much easier for a dog to learn to leave cats alone inside the house than outside, where the sight of small prey-type animals rocketing across the grass tends to trigger the prey instinct. My dogs live in perfect harmony with our indoor cats, but are happy to chase a stray feline full speed across the backyard.

Indoors, have Bailey on a leash or tether when you introduce her to the cats. Be prepared with lots of fantastic food rewards - canned chicken is my favorite for this type of challenge, since many dogs absolutely adore the stuff. Ask Bailey to sit or lie down quietly at your side, and have someone bring the cat into the room in a sturdy cat carrier. Set the carrier on the far side of the room and feed Bailey non-stop bits of chicken, until she decides that you are much more interesting than a boring old cat in a carrier.

Repeat this exercise many times over several days, until Bailey's response to the arrival of the cat carrier is to happily look at you with her "Where's my chicken?" expression. Now start walking her around the room, on leash, keeping her attention focused on you with chicken rewards. Move closer to the carrier as her response tells you that she will continue to stay focused on you. Occasionally have her lie down and stay, gradually moving nearer and nearer to the carrier until she will lie quietly next to it.

Now you are ready to introduce the cats sans carrier. Again with Bailey leashed, sit in a chair and have your partner tempt one of the cats into the room - as far away from Bailey as possible. Be generous with the chicken to keep Bailey calm and focused while the cat moves around the room. When you think she is ready, start walking her on leash in the presence of the uncrated cat.

When she can clearly control herself and remain calm in the cat's presence without effort, you are ready to try it off-leash. Go back to the cat-in-carrier exercise, but this time have Bailey sitting next to you, unleashed. Do the chicken thing, and be careful to keep your own body language the same; if she senses that you are stressed about not having the leash, her behavior is likely to change. When you are comfortable with her response sitting still, again start walking around the room, plying her with chicken. When she passes that step with flying colors, do the same thing, off-leash, with the cat loose in the room.

When Bailey is well-controlled around the cats under supervision, you can begin to relax and let her interact with the cats normally. If she is too rowdy with them, use a tether as needed, giving her more free access to them after a good hard workout, when her energy level is lower. Continue to use treats to reward her for calm behavior around the cats.

At the same time, make good use of baby gates, by closing off several rooms so the cats have plenty of safe zones where they can get away from Bailey. Put their litter boxes and food in the safe rooms, so they have easy access to them.

You have a close relationship with Bailey. You may be suprised how quickly she learns to behave herself when she realizes that chasing cats in the house is not a desirable behavior, and being calm around them earns lots of great rewards.

Outside, however, your best hope is that the cats get smart and learn not to hang out in Bailey?s yard. Or keep the cats indoors - where they are safest and live longest.

Best of luck with your extended family!


Dog driven to distraction by stray cat
Beginning a few months ago, a cat has taken over our yard. In certain areas the odor of cat 'spray' is so strong it brings tears to my eyes. The cat has taken to sleeping on our back porch or front door mat. My dog is so distracted when we go out she has difficulty 'doing her business.' I don't believe the cat is a stray but I have no idea who owns it. It is always at our house so it must only return home to be fed.

Can anyone suggest what I can do to keep the cat off our grounds without hurting it or my dog? I am at my wits' end.

-Nancy Pollard
via e-mail


Miller responds:

I can sympathize; it vexes me that dog owners are expected to keep their canine companions safely and responsibly at home, while cat owners think nothing of letting their feline friends roam the neighborhood, soiling sandboxes and flower beds, leaving pawprints on car hoods, getting attacked by dogs, and run over by cars. My beloved cats live safely indoors!

If your property is fenced, the most innocuous way to keep cats out is to install a product called Cat Fence-In. It is actually designed to keep cats in the owner's yard, but if you put it up backward it does the opposite. You can find information on this product by calling (888) 738-9099 or by viewing

Other suggestions would be to find the cat's owners and ask them to keep him home, either by following the cat to see where he goes, or putting on a break-away collar (in case he gets it caught on something) and attaching a note.

Sounds to me like he may be lost or abandoned, so you could check at your local animal shelters to see if anyone has reported a cat of his description missing.

The strong smell indicates that your guest may be an unneutered male, so having him neutered might reduce the odor, although that won't make the cat go away.

I know you don't want to harm the cat, but if your investigations indicate that he is truly lost or abandoned, it is kinder to him to capture him and take him to an animal shelter than to leave him to wander and survive (or not) on his own. The average lifespan of an outdoor cat is three years, and their deaths are usually not pretty. Many shelters will loan or rent humane traps so you can catch him without risking bites or scratches to yourself.

I do hope you can find an owner who will be responsible for this guy, but if not, remember that his quality of life without a human guardian is poor at best, and the quality of yours and your dog's is declining as well, due to his presence. I wish you the best, and hope you find a satisfactory solution for your dilemma.


Stop that 'thieving' dog!
Each of my two wonderful Labrador Retrievers has been with me since the age of eight weeks and has been to two positive training classes. Lakota is 12 months old and Nevada is 6 months old. Ever since Nevada came into our family, Lakota began acting in an odd way: He steals items in my presence. He takes things such as potholders, towels, valuable items such as eyeglasses, wallets etc. I have tried everything I can think of to stop this behavior. For example, I have batted him with a towel, which causes him to drop the item. But then he will look for another prize with which to taunt me.

I have tried ignoring him, but I can't do this with valuable items. I have tried a sharp 'No!' at the same time holding his head and making eye contact until he looks away, but I still have to catch him to do this - hence he thinks it's a game. I have tried putting him in his crate for two minutes for a 'time out.' Nothing works, and I am out of ideas.

Lakota is quite smart, and I believe part of his stealing is due to the presence of Nevada, but I am very consistent with giving Lakota my attention, any rewards or treats, and his food before Nevada gets his. Am I doing something to provoke this behavior?

Arlene A. Gorczycki
via e-mail


Many people choose Labradors out of affection for the breed's commonly seen traits: these dogs are often amiable, curious, and affectionate. It's all too easy to forget that Labs are also commonly obsessed with retrieving; after all, they have been bred for hundreds of generations to pick up things and bring them to their handlers.

Lakota's behavior sounds like an effective attention-getting device. I don?t recommend punishment, but rather teaching him to trade. Punishment can teach him to play keep-away - another great attention game. Teaching him to trade may not stop him from picking up things, but at least he will bring them to you and readily give them up. Punishment can also make him not want to retrieve when you do want him to. Oops!

I always have treats in my pocket. When my young Scottie picks up something he shouldn't have, I just ask him to 'Give' and trade him for a treat. Then I put the thing up where he can?t get it again. I also do 'Give' as an exercise several times a day with his toys, so he gets the items back after he gives them to me for a treat. That way he doesn't think 'Give' always means the good thing goes away - and he is more likely to pick up his toys than things he is not supposed to have. Plus, when he does pick up something he shouldn't, he brings it to me for a trade instead of trying to keep it away from me.

To avoid having Lakota pick up things that he shouldn't have, keep things picked up and put away (to the extent possible). Also, give him lots of good things he can play with (like stuffed Kongs), and restrict his activities to areas that are dog-proofed or where you can supervise him closely.

By the way, I prefer not to call it 'stealing.' Stealing implies an ethic that dogs are incapable of. Dogs just do what feels good at the moment. Lakota is just having fun, and doing something to get your attention. Your attention feels good to him.

Comments (0)

Be the first to comment on this post using the section below.

New to Whole Dog Journal? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In