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Pet Wise: Important to safely introduce dogs and cats that will be sharing a home

Are you considering the addition of a different animal species to your household? Please do not do so on a whim, especially if it involves cats and dogs.

Always keep in mind that the dog and cat are going to share your living space, love and attention. You could prevent that old expression, “fighting like cats and dogs” from becoming a reality by doing research, providing environmental management and utilizing positive training techniques.

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If you already have or are considering acquiring a dog, please be aware that some breeds are “hot-wired” to pursue and possibly kill small, fast-moving furry animals like cats. A prime example are terrier breeds that were originally bred to rid farms, factories and homes of rodents. The rapid pursuit and kill instinct may be easily triggered in sight hounds such as greyhounds, whippets, and Afghan hounds. Herding breeds may also chase quickly-moving furry creatures like cats. Mixed- breed dogs may also possess strong prey drives as well. If your dog has a history of chasing cats outdoors, the addition of an indoor cat to your household could be unwise.

Before bringing a cat in the home, dog owners are advised to enroll their dog in a basic obedience class taught by a certified instructor who uses positive training techniques (like clicker training and food rewards) The dogs learn the commands to sit, stand, stay, down, heel on leash without pulling you, and come to you on command. The dog also learns manners and socialization skills, and may become easier to control. To “jump start” your training, purchase Pat Miller’s outstanding book, “The Power of Positive Dog Training,” second edition. Study her chapter that addresses how to interpret canine body language because you could prevent a serious injury or death of a cat by “listening with your eyes” and intervening by getting the dog’s attention in a positive manner.

Environmental management

Adapting your home to safely accommodate a cat requires planning, flexibility and sometimes creative thinking.

The cat’s food and litter box must never be accessible to dogs. Cats have different nutritional needs so it may be necessary to place the cat’s food and water bowls on a higher surface like a work table or on a stable cat furniture platform in a separate room. Cats prefer privacy when using the litter box which could be placed in a closet and blocked off with a baby gate to prevent the dog from devouring the contents. The litter box should not be close to the cat’s dining area and be cleaned out daily.

Because dogs and cats are very scent-oriented, rub the cat gently with a soft cloth to collect its scent and do the same with the dog. Place the cat-scented cloth with the dog and the dog-scented cloth with the cat so they become familiar with each other’s aroma! Keep the dog and cat in separate areas of the home. The cat would benefit from having a carrier for car travel and the dog would benefit from having a crate to snooze in when you are not home to supervise your pet s and could prevent damage to your home.

Matching cats and dogs

This refers to matching the personalities and energy levels of the dog and cat. For example, a high-energy dog would not be a suitable match for a shy, skittish cat. The dog that plays roughly or is aggressive, growls, or lunges or excessively barks at cats would do best in a cat-free home. The cat that growls, swats at, runs or hides from dogs would likely prefer not to live with a dog.

If a dog plays roughly, avoid getting a kitten or elderly cat who could be injured. If a cat is playful or rambunctious, a dog that is playful, but gentle could be a good match. If a dog or cat is elderly, laid back, quiet or anxious, avoid a rambunctious companion who may annoy, frighten or bother the other pet.

American Humane stresses that the first introduction between your current pet and new pet is a very important part of the process and provides four steps to help potential pet owners and adopters. Their excellent and detailed guide is at www.americanhumane.org.

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A summary of their article is that both animals should be introduced to each other at your home. If you are planning to adopt a cat or dog from a shelter, request as much background information about the cat or dog regarding its personality (shy, friendly, fearful of loud sounds, easy going, playful, etc.).

For a cat-to-dog introduction, ask a friend who has a friendly cat and brings it to your home to meet the dog, or bring home the shelter cat and conduct the introduction at home. Do not allow a loose cat and unleashed dog to meet each other in an open room for the first time because you may be setting up both animals to fail.

The introduction process

American Humane stresses that the first introduction between your current pet and new pet is a very important part of the process, layout out the proper steps.

· Step 1: Choose a proper location for the first meeting.

· Step 2: Make leashed introductions.

· Step 3: Separate the animals.

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· Step 4: Allow unsupervised interactions but continue to monitor your pets’ behaviors.

To achieve success in introducing pets, remember that you have to closely observe the pets’ behaviors and body language signals, preplan, and follow the steps recommended by American Humane.

Positive pet interaction is achievable if you are patient, methodical, do your research in advance and don’t rush the process.

On a personal note, I have witnessed the charming relationships that developed between my cats and dogs over the years and will always cherish those heartwarming memories.

Recommended reading

“The Power of Positive Dog Training” (2nd Edition) by Pat Miller.

“The Cat Behavior Answer Book” by Arden Moore.

“Cat Body Language” by Trevor Warner.

Iris Katz serves as a member of the board of directors and as an educational facilitator for the Humane Society of Carroll County. Her column appears on the third Sunday of the month.

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