Photo by Asaf antman
Can cats and dogs live together in peace? Yes, definitely. Some cats and dogs become best of friends, while the others learn to co-exist peacefully, spending little time with each other. A good-natured, well-trained resident dog usually accepts a young cat as a member of the family rather easily.
In order to help the animals accept and to get used to each other, the owner must know and follow the proper introduction procedure. You cannot lock a cat and a dog in the same room and expect harmony. Patience and persistence will be necessary.

Step by step introduction

1) Create a 'safe room' for the cat where it can be isolated from the dog. A spare bedroom is usually perfect for this purpose. This is going to be a place where the cat can feel comfortable and safe.
2) Take the dog to the door of the cat's safe room. The door must be closed during the first few days. The dog should gradually become acquainted with the cat's scent. Reward good behaviour from the dog's part with treats and verbal encouragement; discourage bad behaviour like barking or growling with verbal correction or a spray bottle. The same applies to the cat; discourage hissing and reward calm behaviour.
3) Arrange scent exchange. Place a towel or blanket in the cat's room for a day or two. Place another towel or blanket in the dog's bed or favourite sitting area for a couple days, too. Then switch the towels or blankets. This will allow the animals to get familiar with each other's smell.
4) Let the animals sniff each other through a baby-gate or a barely opened door. Make sure neither dog nor cat can get over the gate set-up, and neither can fit its head through the opening. Secure the door so it doesn't open or slam suddenly. When you are not at home, or when you are unable to supervise, keep the door closed. Do not proceed to the next step until both the animals are calm when they interact through the door opening. It may take some time, but it is necessary in order to ensure the safety of both the pets. Remember to reward good behaviour and discourage bad behaviour.
5) Arrange supervised meeting of the cat with the dog. Once both the animals are comfortable with each other's smell and presence through the slightly opened door (baby gate), it's time to let them meet each other with no barriers. Ideally, two people are required for this exercise. One person must supervise the dog, and the other person must supervise the cat. Put the dog on a short leash. Sit with the dog and the new cat in the same room. Begin by sitting in opposite sides of the room, and reward calm behaviour in the cat and in the dog. Correct any negative behaviour with a spray bottle, verbal or leash correction. The idea is to promote peaceful co-existence. Repeat these short visits several times a day, gradually giving your dog more leash as appropriate. As the animals become more relaxed with each other, lessen the distance gradually until they can sit side by side without signs of tension and aggression.
6) Allow the animals to interact. Once the cat and the dog are comfortable sitting side by side, let them interact. Supervision is crucial in this step, especially in the beginning. Proceed with caution! Be ready to separate the dog and the cat if there are any signs of agitation or fear (for example, the dog's tail held high and tensed, or hair raised on the cat's back). Keep rewarding positive behaviour and discouraging negative behaviour. When you see the interaction progresses positively, take the dog off the leash, and keep supervising the two closely. If you see problems, and if they don't abate with a few simple voice commands, back up to the previous step for a few days. Gradually make the no-leash sessions longer.
7) Allow unsupervised contact between the dog and cat, but maintain the cat's safe room. This can be done when the dog and the cat have completely accepted each other and stopped showing signs of aggression (fear). Leave the baby gate at the doorway to the cat's safe room. Leave the door open and let the cat and dog keep interacting through the baby gate when you cannot supervise them. As the cat feels more comfortable with the dog, it will venture out of the safe room. Always leave the cat's safe room open and accessible. Make sure the cat has high spots out of the dog's reach to jump on if need should arise.

Important things to remember

  • Think positively. Act with authority and confidence. Be a pack leader. What you feel and think affects your actions, and your animals sense your emotions.
  • A puppy that grows up with a cat has more chances to develop a friendly relationship with it.
  • You have less chances of success if the dog has an aggressive or predatory nature. An aggressive dog can seriously injure or kill a cat.
  • You have less chance of success if your cat is a small kitten, if it is declawed, handicapped, or elderly. A kitten can be injured by an overly playful dog. Declawed, older, or handicapped cats are less equipped to defend themselves.
  • The dog should be well-trained, and respond to commands to come, stay, and sit.
  • Before every step of the introduction process, it is usually a good idea to exercise the dog well, as well as to feed it.
  • Introducing an adult cat to a puppy can be hard on the cat. Puppies are very energetic.
  • Keep the cat's litter box and food bowl out of the dog's reach.
  • Dogs and cats do not communicate the same way and may have trouble understanding one another in the beginning. For example, a dog will lift his paw meaning that it wants to play, but a raised paw to a cat is a threat.
  • Keep the dog on leash during introductions. Use a halter for very young dogs. Try to keep the leash loose if that's possible.
  • Always provide places where each animal can retreat for safety and privacy, a spot that is his or hers alone.
  • Teach the dog the "leave it" command, and use it when you want the dog to leave the cat alone.
  • When you leave the house, separate the animals in secure areas. Give each of them access to water, food, a bed or other resting place, and some toys. The cat should also have access to a litter box.
  • Reinforce good behaviour when the animals are relaxed, the dog isn't barking, and the cat is gentle. It's the key to encourage the animals to repeat that behaviour instead of engaging in undesired behaviour.
  • Do not expect the animals to become buddies overnight. Let them establish the relationship at their own pace. Remember that sometimes dogs and cats will not become buddies but will just learn to co-exist with each other. That's perfectly normal. We don't become best friends with every single person we meet, do we? It's the same for the animals. Sometimes the temperaments just don't match.
  • Be sure to pay as much attention to the resident pets as you used to. Do not give all your attention to the newcomer lest the resident pets feel abandoned.

What if it doesn't work?

Sometimes, even though you've tried your best, it just doesn't work out. Some dogs may be too dangerous to be around cats. In some cases, the opposite is true. If something is telling you it's not meant to end up with peace, respect the message. In this situation, the best thing you can do is finding the newcomer a new loving home. While you are on it, keep the dog and the cat separated.

Read also: Tips on Introducing a New Cat to a Resident Cat