How Do I Bring a Dog into a Cat Household? “Help!” is right!

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Photo by Michael Robinson-Chavez

A cat is, well, a special being. They like to have their own space and their things “just so.” Every path, every object, every ray of sunshine in its place. So if you’re thinking of bringing a dog into your cat household, you have some planning to do if you don’t want to upset the apple cart…or worse. You don’t want your cat to decide that your house is no longer desirable or safe because no matter how gentle the dog is, a cat’s view of the world is different from ours.

Last month we wrote about how my Human’s son was getting ready to adopt a dog, and we wrote about how to pick the right canine partner for your household. Well now the dog is home with her new Humans and everything is going well; thanks to careful communication and observation, it looks like the match is a good one. But the household had prior tenants: two cats.

Turns out that the scientific proof of domestication is not whether an animal lives with Humans but rather if the animal’s genotype and even its phenotype have changed since living with Humans. We know that not just wolves but also possibly coyotes, wild dogs, and even foxes were the ancestors of today’s dogs and that the phenotypic variations we see in dogs and not in their ancestors, are evidence of domestication. These include different shapes and sizes of skulls, teeth, ears, noses and even coat color. There are also  clear differences in behavior between dogs and their ancestors but the same doesn’t occur with cats.

Cats are our mysterious pets, living with us for 9,000 years without ever being fully domesticated, always in charge of their own surroundings. A cat’s world has a unique order organized by scents and they “read” and “paint” their environment through scent receptors and delivery outlets in their noses, mouths and glands throughout their bodies. And any change in scents sends alarms to the cat because they might be an20150818_163521 indication of impending threat. Cats also measure their environment with their whiskers, long and stiff touch receptors known as vibrissae that send information about the cat’s surroundings to sensory nerves, allowing felines to detect changes in their world. To prevent issues of distrust and fear, then, the introduction of a dog into a cat household must begin by respecting the cat’s space, focusing on areas of grave importance to the cat like the location of food dishes, the kitty litter and favorite lounging spots (no matter how incomprehensible!).

To bring a dog home to your cat, plan in advance and introduce change carefully.  Begin by deciding the best place for the dog to live for the first few days or weeks, as needed. Make sure it is a place that can be closed off with a door or a doggie gate. Ideally, this location will not have “belonged” to the cats before the dog’s arrival but if it did, spend several days or weeks encouraging the cats to stop using that space by removing any water and food dishes, the kitty litter and any toys.  Make sure to place the cat’s belongings somewhere where the dog will not be able to access them and allow the cat several days or weeks (as needed) before the dog’s arrival to acclimate to the new digs. In small homes, however, remember that it is the dog that gets the restricted space; the cat must feel that this is still her home and that you understand and respect that.

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IMG_1036Once the dog arrives, make sure to give her a chance to get the “sniffs” out all around the yard and/or the neighborhood. Bring her into the house only when she is calm and satisfied with her outdoor needs, then immediately introduce her to her new area, keeping her on leash as you do. You can keep your cats closed in a safe location or you can allow them to watch the procedures if they are the curious, calm types. For the next few days or weeks (as needed) allow the cats to decide when and how to approach the dog, with the dog safely behind a gate or by your side on leash.  And at no point during this period, should you leave the dog and cat alone in the house without containing the dog to allow the cat to feel safe and in control of her environment.

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Ideally, you will have selected a dog that is calm around cats but even dogs who initially get excited and even some with a slight prey drive can learn to live with cats. If you are not experienced with these latter scenarios, though, it’s best to pick a dog who can live with cats and who will allow them to approach without scaring them. Once the two start meeting nose-to-nose, watch the interactions carefully: a body pushed forward can be interpreted as showing dominance so if it’s the dog doing the “pushing” and the cat is retreating by moving his center of gravity backward, prepare to intervene if necessary. The cat might decide to swipe at the dog and even scratch her to regain some space, especially if she feels trapped and without a clear escape route. However, a cat scratch can slit the dog’s nose or scratch an eyeball so you may not want your dog to learn her lessons on space the hard way. Also, the dog might react aggressively in defense and that would be a missed opportunity for peace so before that happens, call the dog off the cat’s space. The cat will feel safer knowing that you are helping to enforce the rules of her household!

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Photo by Andrew Saul

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Photo by Andrew Saul

 

 

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Photo by Andrew Saul

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Photo by Andrew Saul

 

Teaching your dog to lie down can be a very useful tool to immediately help put a nervous cat at ease. Lying down, especially if it’s off the hip, is a sign of relaxation. It is understood across species because an animal will not come off his hip if he intends his next move to be a pounce. In fact, when the household’s cat and dog start just lying about near each other, that’s the white flag that indicates a long-lasting peace is near and even, maybe, a lifelong friendship.

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Photo by Michael Robinson-Chavez

 

 

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Follow Stormy Tales, now in Spanish!

Stories about dog behavior and communication for kids. Libros sobre perros para niños. Check out our books page for sales outlets! ¡Los libros están ahora disponibles en varios centros de venta!

“Do you take this dog to be your … ?” Picking the right partner for you

Photo credit: Michael Robinson-Chavez

Photo credit: Michael Robinson-Chavez

Are you one of those humans that wants someone shadowing you all the time? Or do clingers get on your nerves? What about hair length? Are you into the hippie look or more enamored of baldness? Maybe you like to goof around and want a partner that thinks it’s funny, or maybe you’re quite the opposite and you need calm, serious reflection by your side. You know that picking a human partner for your life requires some thought and shared interests but do you put the same amount of thought into picking a canine partner? You should, because with a few (albeit significant!) differences, living with a dog can be like a marriage and the wrong choice can end in … the shelter!

My human’s son is looking into adopting a dog (yes! overpopulation leads to full shelters and the need for homes!) and that prompted her to write this post.The good news is that you can have “dates” with your dog as you would with friends or “more than friends,” and you can learn a lot about how well matched you are through careful observation. Whether you are going to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue, or buy one (just keep in mind that buying means there will be more breeding and not always responsibly so pick the breeder carefully!), ask to have some time alone with the dog because shelter environments especially can be chaotic and stressful. Are you at your best when you are anxious? Probably not and neither are the dogs stuck behind bars with a thousand barks and visitors cluttering their thoughts.

Once you get to a place where the two of you can interact with less distractions, let the dog sniff around. With over 200 million smell receptors in our noses, we need to sniff in order to get the morning’s news and know that all is well with the world! Once we’ve checked out the scene we can give you our full, undivided attention…or can we? Can you give us yours? That’s what it’s about: can we give each other what we need, are we a match.

To begin with, if you are the very active, sporty Human type, you’ll need to look for a canine partner that enjoys high levels of activity and constantly being outdoors. Not all of us do, believe it or not. And if you are a couch potato then clearly a dog that can’t stay still is not for you. It’s like the classic “girlfriend wants to got out every night while boyfriend wants to sit and play video games” situation; someone is going to end up in the dog house or get the boot! While every dog is an individual, there are some general characteristics that can tell you if a certain breed is for you, including simple things like size. If your family car is a Mini and you’re a family of five and don’t ever intend to upgrade to a bigger vehicle, don’t pick a Great Dane to be your dog and go everywhere with you! Likewise, if you don’t like to go out into nature, the nature-loving Husky is generally not you best choice and if you’re a push over, a working breed like a Doberman is typically going to sense that and want to take over the leadership vacuum. Knowing yourself is an important growth step for Humans and as it turns out, we dogs can help you with that! Be honest about who you are and what you like, and then let’s start dating.

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From the book “Stormy Says: Let’s Talk! A kids’ guide to understanding dogs”

 

There are many good resources to start. You can check out Animal Planet’s Dog Breed Selector to see what general characteristics might be a match for you and then, with those guidelines in hand, you can start meeting individual dogs and asking “questions.” That’s right, we don’t use words but we can still communicate and our eyes and bodies can tell you plenty! Here’s a quick list of the “conversation” points my Human likes to have with dogs before she adopts and the best part of that is most of it is based on logic and your preferences:

 

 

1) How long it takes for the dog to pay attention to the Human. This is a test of sociability and it’s based on what you like and want in a partner. Do you want to be the center of your dog’s world or is an aloof or independent partner more IMG_20130224_155127attractive to you? After letting the dog “get his sniffs out,” see if he/she is interested in interacting with you and how much. Get his attention by calling his/her name (if he had it before the shelter and knows it) or by snapping fingers, kissing to him or slapping thighs; whatever works for the dog to look at you or come join you. See how long it takes and if he comes to you willingly and happy, with a wagging tail and open, relaxed mouth. The more interaction he/she gives you, the more sociable he/she is.

2) How does the dog react when you give eye contact? My Human prefers to use soft eyes (you know, a loving look) and see if the dog reacts in kind. If he/she reacts in fear or walks away, that may be a sign of anxiety/concern and it could express itself in anxious behaviors at home. Be sure you are prepared to work with those issues before committing to that dog because returning him/her later will only add to the anxiety and make him/her less adoptable in the future.

3) How does the dog feel about being petted in various places of the body, including the paws? Does the dog move closer, pull away, stand still, wag the tail, relax and open the mouth or stiffen? The reactions here are fairly self-explanatory because they mirror the reactions of Humans’ bodies to being touched.

4) What is the reaction to sudden movements and/or noises? Curious, fearful, defensive, aggressive? You can ask the shelter to allow you to bring an umbrella or cane or even a soda can with a few pennies in it. Move about normally with it (this is not about instilling panic and mistrust!) and see how the dog feels: does the dog panic, does he eventually recover, does he tentatively investigate? And how well do you think you can manage the reactions?

5) How does the dog react to an attempted hug? This one is a doozy because we dogs don’t really like to be hugged. Being approached from above and constricted is about dominance for us so most of us stiffen our bodies, close and tighten our mouths, lay our ears back and widen our pupils, all signs that we are not comfortable. But if there are going to be Humans around that are going to attempt to hug your dog (before you get a chance to educate them about it!) then at least make sure the dog is not going to snap because a dog that bites can have his days counted and it’s not fair if the Human started it! Get the shelter’s permission to attempt a hug if you know what you are doing or, even better, ask them to try it if they agree.

6) What is the reaction to being led on leash? If the dog is going to need some training to this Human device, it’s best to know ahead of time if you are equipped to provide that training with patience and skill.

7) What is the reaction to being presented a toy and/or food and to what degree does the dog attempt to guard it? This “question” should be asked by shelter personnel or with shelter permission only since, again, if the dog reacts aggressively due to resource guarding that’s a whole new can of worms.

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From the book “Stormy Says: Let’s Talk! A kids’ guide to understanding dogs”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8) How does the dog lie down? Is it done readily and does the dog lie off the hip? Observe carefully because lying off the hip is a sign of relaxation and if the dog won’t do it in your presence or at any moment that you can observe, he/she may be very high strung or not completely relaxed around Humans and if you’re not ready to enter into that kind of relationship then you shouldn’t.

To learn more, sniff out TheFamilyDog.com to see how 77% of dog bites on children can be reduced and/or prevented through education and proper communication, and this page on choosing a shelter dog by Petfinder.com This page on dog temperament at the Partnership for Animal Welfare will give you more information on how to get started at the shelter, as will this article on five essential temperament tests by Sarah Hodgson for the Huffington Post. And once you have done your preliminary work, keep learning because marriages take work and attention! To learn all you can about dog adoption, follow the paw prints of Wendy Diamond at AnimalFair.com and to know more about your dog’s thinking processes, join the fun and games at Dognition.com

There are several ways to get a “conversation” going and many good resources to check but the main thing is to use common sense and take your time. After all, when the shelter asks if you take this dog, you want to be able to say “I do” and mean it until death do you part.

 

P.S. (Post Snifftum): the more you learn…