How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat - Recipe For Success

How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat

A dog and cat lay comfortably next to one another.

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Dogs and cats have been feuding since the dawn of domestication and introducing these two pets can result in lots of bushy tails, hissing, barking, and snarling! Though cats and dogs have had a comical rivalry for our affection for thousands of years, introducing any two animals can be unpredictable. 

Training two animals to behave together can be extremely difficult, because either animal can accidentally reinforce the other through their reaction, and we have virtually no control over it! Any type of introduction, be it dog-dog, dog-cat, dog-bird, or dog-hamster, should be done slowly and cautiously for the best results. 

When introducing two animals, in this case cats and dogs, your best chance at success is when both animals are young. Obviously if one or both animals are adults you can’t turn back time, but preemptively socializing your pet with many species at a young age can make later introductions much easier. 

When introducing cats and dogs you will be in one of four possible situations; kitten and puppy, puppy and adult cat, kitten and adult dog, and adult cat and dog. Below we address each scenario, so feel free to scroll down to the section that applies to your situation. 

Kitten and Puppy

In most cases this is the easiest training situation. Both cat and dog are young and socially impressionable, and this should be the easiest situation for them to acclimate to one another – but only if done correctly! 

If done incorrectly it can easily form a lifelong aversion to the other animal, and this is also true of puppies interacting with other dogs. We will want to take a number of precautions and be fully prepared when introducing two animals, so we will treat this a bit like a recipe. 

Ingredients:

  • Puppy and Kitten 
  • Extra Human Helper
  • Treats For Both Animals
  • Playpen/Gate

Directions

  1. Choose a time when your puppy and kitten are a little drowsy for introduction. 
  2. Set up playpen or gate, and ensure neither animal can fit through the slots. 
  3. Enlist your second human helper to handle one of the animals. 
  4. Have your treats easily accessible, either in a pouch or in your pocket. Make sure your helper has some treats too. 
  5. Bring your puppy out, and place on one side of the gate or inside the playpen and stay with your pup. 
  6. Begin a small training session with your puppy, and use treats to maintain their attention. 
  7. Have your human helper bring the kitten out, and give them treats as well. 
  8. Allow puppy and kitten to interact through the playpen/gate, allow both to become acclimated to one another and give treats while this is occurring to create a positive association. 
  9. If both puppy and kitten seem comfortable and relaxed, take puppy out of playpen or gate and allow them to interact. Remember to periodically give both treats during the interaction while they appear comfortable. 
  10. If either begins to show signs of discomfort (hissing, fur standing on end, hiding, running, biting/scratching) give another 10-15 seconds (if safe) to allow them to calm down. If they still appear to be in distress go back to step 8. 
  11. If you have a more rambunctious puppy, or a more fearful kitten, it may be necessary to remain on step 8 for a number of interactions before allowing face-to-face interaction. Beware “pushing” either animal too fast, as they may develop fear or aggression towards the other animal if the interaction goes poorly. 
  12. Repeat these interactions at whatever level you and the animals appear comfortable at, and only attempt to move to the next level when everyone appears calm. Don’t rush the interactions or leave the two alone until you feel entirely comfortable and confident that neither will injure the other. 

Puppy and Adult Cat

An adult cat and a young dog is another relatively simple introduction, especially if either one of the animals is laid-back or calm. The younger the puppy the better, and choose a time when both animals are calm before attempting to introduce. As with any other interaction, scary or aggressive conflicts could cause a long-term negative association between the two animals. Ensure that all precautions are taken, and each animal is comfortable before moving on to the next step. As with the previous, here is our recipe for success. It will be similar to the previous with some minor tweaks.  

Ingredients:

  • Puppy and Cat 
  • Extra Human Helper
  • Treats For Both Animals
  • Playpen/Gate

Directions

  1. Choose a time when your puppy and cat are calm for the introduction. 
  2. Set up playpen or gate, and ensure neither animal can fit through the slots. Your cat will most likely be able to go over the gate or playpen easily, this is ok.  
  3. Enlist your second human helper to handle one of the animals. 
  4. Have your treats easily accessible, either in a pouch or in your pocket. Make sure your helper has some treats too. 
  5. Bring your puppy out, and place on one side of the gate or inside the playpen and stay with your pup. 
  6. Begin a small training session with your puppy, and use treats to maintain their attention. 
  7. Have your human helper bring the cat out, and give them treats as well. This will be more important with an adult cat, as many will not want to interact with the puppy. It may be beneficial to save one of their meals until this time, so they will remain for longer periods.  
  8. Allow puppy and cat to interact through the playpen/gate, allow both to become acclimated to one another and give treats while this is occurring to create a positive association. 
  9. If both puppy and cat seem comfortable and relaxed, take puppy out of playpen or gate and allow them to interact. Remember to periodically give both treats during the interaction while they appear comfortable. You are welcome to bring your cat back if they leave, but do not overly stress them. 
  10. If either begins to show signs of discomfort (hissing, fur standing on end, hiding, running, biting/scratching) give another 10-15 seconds (if safe) to allow them to calm down. If they still appear to be in distress go back to step 8. 
  11. If you have a more rambunctious puppy, or a more fearful cat, it may be necessary to remain on step 8 for a number of interactions before allowing face-to-face interaction. Beware “pushing” either animal too fast, as they may develop fear or aggression towards the other animal if the interaction goes poorly. 
  12. Repeat these interactions at whatever level you and the animals appear comfortable at, and only attempt to move to the next level when everyone appears calm. Don’t rush the interactions or leave the two alone until you feel entirely comfortable and confident that neither will injure the other. 
 
An adult dog and kitten play with each other.

Adult Dog and Kitten

Depending on the temperament of your dog, this could potentially be a dangerous introduction. Always err on the side of caution, just because your dog does well with other dogs does not mean you should expect the same reaction to a cat or any other species. If your dog has never met a cat, or if you do not know your dog’s history, you should treat your dog as if you are introducing them to a brand new stimulus and attempt anticipate any potential hiccup.

Always be aware that your dog is 100% capable of killing a kitten, and make sure you are confident enough to bet the kitten’s life on your dog not injuring it when left alone. Any baby animal is fragile – the kitten’s small size could result in it being stepped on, and even a small bite could cause extensive damage. If you are not absolutely sure your dog will not harm the cat, do not leave them alone together, and always be aware that if provoked even the most docile dog could cause injury or death. 

The best way to prevent any potential mishaps is to slowly acclimate the two animals to one another and use training to create a very strong positive association between the kitten and good things happening (in this case, treats and affection). Again, the following recipe should aid in your pets’ progress.  

Ingredients:

  • Dog and Kitten 
  • Extra Human Helper
  • Treats For Both Animals
  • Playpen/Gate

Directions

  1. Choose a time when your dog and cat are calm for the introduction. Ensure your dog has been thoroughly mentally stimulated before the interaction, so they are at their most relaxed. 
  2. Set up playpen or gate, and ensure neither animal can fit through the slots. If your kitten can fit through the gate ensure you are watchful that this does not occur, or choose a playpen for the interaction instead. Also be sure your dog cannot knock down the gate/playpen. 
  3. Enlist your second human helper to handle one of the animals. 
  4. Have your treats easily accessible, either in a pouch or in your pocket. Make sure your helper has some treats too. 
  5. Bring your dog out, and place on one side of the gate or inside the playpen and stay with your pup. 
  6. Begin a small training session with your dog, and use treats to maintain their attention. 
  7. Have your human helper bring the kitten out, and give them treats as well. It may be beneficial to save one of their meals until this time, so that both the kitten and dog become accustomed to spending longer periods of time in the same space. Do not attempt this if your dog is food aggressive, or shows any signs of aggression. 
  8. Allow dog and cat to interact through the playpen/gate. Allow both to become fully acclimated to one another, and give treats while this is occurring to create a positive association. Be especially cautious of your dog’s reaction to the kitten, only move on from this step when the dog appears calm and even slightly disinterested. 
  9. If both dog and kitten seem comfortable and relaxed, bring the kitten into the playpen or gate and allow them to interact. Squat down while holding the kitten, and allow your dog to investigate their tail/rear-end. If your dog does well you can place the kitten on the ground. Remember to periodically give both animals treats during the interaction while they appear comfortable. 
  10. If either begins to show signs of discomfort (hissing, fur standing on end, hiding, running, biting/scratching) give another 10-15 seconds (if safe) to allow them to calm down. If they still appear to be in distress go back to step 8. 
  11. If you have a more persistent dog, or a more fearful kitten, it may be necessary to remain on step 8 for a number of interactions before allowing face-to-face interaction. Beware “pushing” either animal too fast, as they may develop fear or aggression towards the other animal if the interaction goes poorly. 
  12. Repeat these interactions at whatever level you and the animals appear comfortable at, and only attempt to move to the next level when everyone appears calm. Don’t rush the interactions or leave the two alone until you feel entirely comfortable and confident that neither will injure the other. 
 

Adult Cat and Adult Dog

Introducing an adult cat to an adult dog is potentially the most difficult situation of the four we described. Because both animals are past their most impressionable stage, they are much more likely to react with fear or excessive excitement than a younger animal. This makes it much more likely that the other animal’s reaction will cause an unintended reinforcement for a “bad” behavior. 

For example: your dog – Champ is meeting your cat – Fluffy for the first time. Champ is too excited, and Fluffy is frightened, and puffed up like an 80’s blowout hairdo. When champ is let into the room Fluffy is in, he barrels up to her and she hisses and swats at his face. This reaction causes a release of adrenaline in both animals, causing them to get worked up. As any rollercoaster, skydiving, or scary movie buff will tell you, adrenaline may not necessarily be “nice” but it can definitely be addicting. The next time you get in line, step on that plane, or sit down to watch the sequel, your heart starts beating a little harder before anything even happens. 

This is similar to what begins to happen with Fluffy and Champ. When two animals have an intense interaction it only increases the likelihood of that type of response occurring again. Whereas when the interaction is calm and uneventful, or even positive, the result is a much more muted reaction when being re-introduced. This is why it is incredibly important to control as much of the reaction as possible when allowing two animals, of any species, to interact. 

 

Your best chance of success when introducing a dog and a cat together is to use the safest recipe for success. By doing so we reduce the likelihood of improper interactions occurring between the two animals. Your interactions should go as follows: 

Ingredients:

  • Dog and Cat 
  • Extra Human Helper
  • Treats For Both Animals
  • Playpen/Gate

Directions

  1. Choose a time when your dog and cat are calm for the introduction. Ensure your dog has been thoroughly mentally stimulated before the interaction, so they are at their most relaxed. Ensure your cat is hungry, to keep them interested in the interaction.
  2. Set up playpen or gate, and ensure neither animal can fit through the slots. Your cat may be able to fit through the gate, this is permissible if we are watching them closely. Also be sure your dog cannot knock down the gate/playpen. 
  3. Enlist your second human helper to handle one of the animals. 
  4. Have your treats easily accessible, either in a pouch or in your pocket. Make sure your helper has some treats too. 
  5. Bring your dog out, and place on one side of the gate or inside the playpen and stay with your pup. 
  6. Begin a small training session with your dog, and use treats to maintain their attention. 
  7. Have your human helper bring the cat out, and give them treats as well. It may be beneficial to save one of their meals until this time, so that both the cat and dog become accustomed to spending longer periods of time in the same space. Do not attempt this if your dog is food aggressive, or shows any signs of aggression. 
  8. Allow dog and cat to interact through the playpen/gate. Allow both to become fully acclimated to one another, and give treats while this is occurring to create a positive association. Be especially cautious of both your dog and cat’s reaction, only move on from this step when both of them appear calm or even slightly disinterested. 
  9. If both dog and cat seem comfortable and relaxed, bring the cat into the playpen or gate and allow them to interact. Squat down while holding the cat (if possible), and allow your dog to investigate their tail/rear-end. If your dog does well you can place the cat on the ground. Remember to periodically give both animals treats during the interaction while they appear comfortable. 
  10. If either begins to show signs of discomfort (hissing, fur standing on end, hiding, running, biting/scratching) give another 10-15 seconds (if safe) to allow them to calm down. If they still appear to be in distress go back to step 8. 
  11. If you have a more persistent dog, or a more fearful cat, it may be necessary to remain on step 8 for a number of interactions before allowing face-to-face interaction. With two adult animals this could take a couple of days to weeks, be patient. A gate may be the best choice for this, as the cat can interact if desired but can also escape if it becomes uncomfortable. Beware “pushing” either animal too fast, as they may develop fear or aggression towards the other animal if the interaction goes poorly. Do not feed them meals together if your dog is food aggressive. Simply allow them to spend time in the same space, but separated. 
  12. Repeat these interactions at whatever level you and the animals appear comfortable at, and only attempt to move to the next level when everyone appears calm. Don’t rush the interactions or leave the two alone until you feel entirely comfortable and confident that neither will injure the other. 

Most importantly, do not attempt to let the animals, at any age, “duke it out” to attempt to establish a social hierarchy. Many pet owners receive this advice with the intention of allowing the cat to smack the dog on the nose, so the dog knows not to bother the cat for fear of being scratched. This is not a safe or healthy way to have two animals interact! If your children were fighting would you tell one to simply punch the other in the face to make them too scared to bother them? If you do, you may need to consider rethinking your parenting model. This type of interaction results in volatile associations. 

When your cat walks into a room, your dog’s reaction will be fear – or worse, anger. What do you think might happen if you left these two alone? It may appear that your dog leaves the cat alone, but when left to their own devices your dog may retaliate. Despite their teeth and claws, your cat is essentially helpless if a dog gets a hold of them. 

Why would anyone want to create animosity between animals that we expect to interact frequently? We should allow them to create positive associations between each other, and become acclimated slowly over time. This is not only the safest, but also the most effective way to introduce your cat and dog.   

 
Marina Somma
Marina Somma

Head Trainer and Co-Owner of Tipsy Turvy Dog & Exotic Animal Training.

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Discussion

  1. John

    Very good information. In the past we have not had a cat for lack of know how to train our dog to accept a cat. After reading this I think we may get a cat.

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