Canine Corner: Introducing dogs to cats often a slow, step-by-step process

Many of our clients have multi-pet households, which can be a lot of fun, but sometimes also brings challenges. The prey drive in some dogs is exceptionally strong, so in order to ensure that your cat stays safe, your dog must look to you as his leader and his desire to please you and follow your directions overrules his desire to chase your cat.

Remember these key points:

• These two species will find their own comfort level in their own time.

• Correct any active chasing of your cat (prey drive).

• Make a safe haven for your cat (a "no-go" area for your dog) which enables a gradual introduction and less stress.

• Do not cater to your cat — meaning, if she still wants to eat, she still has to come for food and water like normal.

• When your cat is ready, she will hold her ground and put your dog in his place.

• Build strong leadership. Work with your dog on attentiveness, sit-stay, distance control and walk-to-heel in order to calm him and improve his focus and respect for you.

• If you have any doubts about the safety of your cat, place a muzzle on your dog for the training period.

The key to successful cat-dog introductions is to expose them to one another gradually under controlled conditions. You want to avoid situations where your cat runs away and your dog's prey/chase instinct is activated. If you have an adult dog that has never been socialized to cats, the introduction should be a very gradual process lasting 30-60 days. In either case, train your dog to sit and stay reliably before introducing your cat.

Step 1: Confine your cat to her own room at first. After a few hours, confine your dog in a fenced-in yard, basement or separate room, and allow your cat to explore the rest of the house. Then put your cat back in her own room, allowing your dog the opportunity to become familiar with the cat's scent.

Step 2: Erect a secure baby gate so that your dog and cat are able to see each other but safety still prevails.Open the door to your cat's room a couple of inches. With your dog on a loose leash, allow him to sniff and see through the opening for 30 seconds. Praise your dog for appropriate behavior. Repeat this process a couple of times during the day.

Step 3: Allow your dog to view your cat through the secure baby gate with the door fully open for a few minutes at a time. If your dog is tolerating your cat, leave the room and call your dog to you and play a game with him. Then ignore both animals and engage in some other activity. Your dog must start to lose interest in your cat. After two weeks or so, have your dog gated in the kitchen and on leash for safety, and have your cat walk by. Coax the cat with food, while correcting the dog if he turns to even look at the cat, praising him when he focuses back on you.

Step 4: Eventually work up to leaving the door to your cat's room open, with the baby gate still up, whenever you are at home. Always close the door when you are not present! Some pet owners will always need to keep the dog and cat separated when they aren't around to supervise, but others will find that after a couple of months, the dog and cat are OK together by themselves. If unsure, better safe than sorry. Even after your dog and cat are co-existing, ensure that your cat's food bowl and litter box are out of your dog's reach, and always keep your cat from approaching your dog when he is eating or chewing a bone.

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Colin Glass is the dog behavioral therapist and trainer in Collier County for Bark Busters, the world's largest dog training company. Bark Busters trainers, who have trained more than 500,000 dogs worldwide, are renowned authorities in correcting dog behavior with all-natural, dog-friendly methods. For more information, call 1-877-500-BARK (2275) or visit www.BarkBusters.com.

© 2012 Naples Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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