An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Friday, January 15, 2010

May I Present? A Dog!

Dear Greyce, Rumour has is that I'm getting a growler. No, it's not a new cat toy. It's a dog! Now, I don't dislike dogs but I really don't know much about them. What do you advise? Worried About Woofing

Dear Worried, I understand your concern. I'd be, too. In fact, I am afraid of dogs. I was on my own for about a month one November before I landed in a pot of cream (also known as my current residence). As a stray I was often frightened by large dogs who thought they were my purrsonal trainers - chasing after me for an aerobic workout. But several of my colleagues have managed to live quite successfully with canines. Indeed some are even fast friends. The trick is get your humans to understand that cats are not the same as dogs. Now don't laugh! People are quite amusing at times. They wouldn't confuse acceptable behaviour from a goose with that of a cow; yet many of them think of cats as miniature dogs. And we both know that nothing can be further from the truth.

I don't need to tell you the differences but humans need to be aware of several things.

1) We are NOT pack animals. Seldom do we go around in groups; in the wild we are used to a solitary existence. This means that we don't have a communication system built on hierarchy and deference, or a need to restore group harmony if it is broken.

2) Indeed, cats and dogs have different communication systems. For example, the excited dog with the wagging tail may mean he is happy (and friendly). The excited cat with a tail lashing back and forth is one who is agitated and likely to strike.

3) While we have a notion of hierarchy, it is different especially because it is quite fluid. Top cat in the household varies with time, resources and space so that who gets first dibs at the food bowl may be different than who gets the best sun spot in the living room in the afternoon. Top dog is top dog is top dog.

4) Our personal space (the area around us that forms an invisible bubble) is larger than that of a dog. An over-friendly dog who comes into that space before we are comfortable enough to allow it, will be greeted with hissing and may get a swat across the muzzle.

If you ensure that your human reads the introduction process I've prepared AND they follow it, your worries are likely to be over. Good luck!

A Precious-Greyce Handout for Humans Who Need to Know

Some Principles

In order to properly survive in a household, the dog must always be lower ranking than the cat. Reinforce this by feeding cats first, petting cats first, etc. In other words, give attention to the cats first and then to the dogs. That way the dog learns his place.

Before you introduce a new pet, make sure all pets are healthy. The newcomer should have a complete veterinary check-up (with blood tests and vaccinations as necessary, before coming into the household). If this is not possible, confine the new pet in one area to which the other pets do not have access, until a veterinary exam can be done and test results are known.

Keep the newcomer separated from the others, at first, except when you can closely supervise him. The safe area should be one that is less valued by existing pets (NOT one that existing pets use a lot or tend to favour as private space). With very few exceptions rule is always that the resident pet takes precedence. Make sure the room you choose is pet-proofed to protect the animal. Give the confined animal a lot of attention but NOT at the expense of resident animals. Residents get greeted first. Always spend time alone with the new pet.

Prepare in Advance

Cats prefer change that is slow. If you can, bringing in a CD or tape of dog barking sounds and playing it for a few minutes a day at a low volume (and over time, gradually increasing that volume) may help your cat adjust.

Pay attention to the locations of your cats food and water dishes. Many dogs love the higher protein food that cats eat. If you free feed (that is, make food available at all times) then find a place where your cat can eat undisturbed (like a counter top or bench).

Similarly some dogs love to eat cat stool (the higher fat content is attractive). So think about either relocating the litterbox or making it inaccessible for the dog (for example, by using a baby gate. If the dog is large, you can make a hole in the gate for the cat to pass through. If the dog is small, then provide a stool (or equivalent) for the cat to land on when she jumps over the gate on the way to using her box.) If you need to move the box itself, do so gradually (one inch or so per day); remember a cat needs to incorporate this change into her sense of orientation, or she will get nervous.

Make sure your cat has somewhere safe where she can go, to be away from the dog. This could be a cat tree with shelves too high for the dog to reach. It could also include a sanctuary room as a cat retreat (complete with litterbox, water, food, toys and a Feliway diffuser). If the cat is coming into a dog’s household, then a sanctuary room is a must. If the dog is coming into a cat’s household, then a separate space for the dog (a room or gated area, is a must.

Introduction Process

This process assumes that the dog is cat-friendly (or at least doesn’t hate cats) and is NOT of a breed known to view cats as prey AND that you have control over the dog. If not, then please consult a behaviourist or the books by one of the noted authors on cat behaviour (such as Pam Johnson-Bennett, Claire Bessant, Myrna Milani).

Phase One - First Contact
Prepare for a gradual introduction. Try a time when everyone is calm. Try short introductions (less that 15 minutes) to the other pets, with the new dog on a leash. If there are a lot of pets (or some who are quite nervous of aggressive) try introducing the new pet to one pet at a time. Nervous pets could be crated. Aggressive ones can be crated or leashed.

If the dog is the newcomer, start with the dog on a leash – and only after a play session to work off any extra energy and help the dog stay calm. If the cat is the anxious type, allowing her to be in a crate will be helpful. If the cat is the newcomer and coming into the dog’s household, start with the cat in a crate. Crates are preferable than human hands (easier control, less dangerous to the human).

Keep the animals at a distance. Don’t allow the dog to approach the cat. Use a low voice and talk slowly to the dog to help keep him calm. Such a session can be from 5 to 30 minutes, depending upon the animals’ comfort levels. Start short and then gradually make the sessions longer.

During any of these stages, if there is an attempt to be aggressive (like biting, stalking, grabbing the neck of another pet) reprimand the aggressor (for example,  a with a spray of water) and/or separate the aggressor from the other parties by putting cardboard between pets or throwing a towel over one and removing him from the scene. Let everyone cool down in separate spaces for several hours.

Continue to introduce them gradually in this manner several times a day over the course of a week or two.

Phase Two: After the First Week of So
If there is no negative reaction, try feeding the animals in view of each other (but at a distance), to reinforce the positive aspects of the meeting. Negative reactions include hissing • growling • biting • hair standing up • stalking • staring • snarling • grabbing the neck of another pet • elevating the rump (hair is flat) - cats only.

Phase Three: About One Week Later
If all is going well, after about a week you can gradually let the dog come a little closer, but still keep the dog on leash. The key is GRADUAL.

Phase Four: At least one week later BUT may be longer than that. Undertake only when all animals are really comfortable with each other in the previous phase.
Remove the leash only when you are really, really sure that both pets can handle it. Rushing this step will set everything back A LOT – so be patient! Be one the lookout for signs that one of the animals is uncomfortable (see list above) and if so, stop the session and put the animals in separate spaces.

Phase Five: Almost there!
Once that is achieved (that is, all animals are comfortably be the dog being off leash) you are almost there! For the next 6 to 8 weeks AFTER THAT, always put the newcomer in the safe room when you are out of the house - or you could undo what is becoming a positive relationship.