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.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Using Harnesses to Re-introduce Companion Cats: Yoshi & Taro

Dear Greyce,

Months ago we wrote you because we were no longer getting along – after a trip to the groomer. We have carefully followed your advice on re-introductions, time-sharing space on a separated basis with contact through a slightly-wedged door.

I am getting braver at approaching the wedged door especially if lured there by treats. I’m curious about Taro. While he is aggressive, he is less so than before. He'll yowl a little once if I’m on the outside of the door and he still gets antsy when he knows I am there. Usually Themselves can distract him enough that he will behave.

However a few times when I have come right up to the door, Taro would run towards it and scare me away. But as I said, I am getting braver and I usually come right back.

I figure we have passed a milestone because there is no hissing or growling or anything like that.

Why is Taro so disturbed by my presence? I am not in the least aggressive to him. Sometimes when I am on the outside of the wedged door, I just lounge with my back paws out to the side and my front paws tucked in. Occasionally I’ll look inside at Taro. Meanwhile he paces around the room looking distressed. Good thing that he is easily distracted with toys!

My biggest problem, Greyce, is that this has been going on for months during which Themselves have been training us to harness. I guess we're stuck at the harness point.

Here’s the deal: We can tolerate putting the harness on without much difficulty. We can put up with wearing them – though we don’t like it. We crouch down while walking and occasionally flop on the floor and roll around with the harness on. Sometimes we try to chew them off.

Taro is better with the harness than I am. He'll play with the harness on but does sometimes get distracted by it. I mainly just lay down; but I will walk around if enticed with treats.

Are we ready for the big time? How should be proceed?



Dear Yoshi,

Congratulations on your bravery. And do give similar accolades to Taro for the lessening of his aggression to you.

You and your brother have taken a great deal of time to get to this stage. However keep in mind that before you contacted me, you had been going about the re-introduction in a less than stellar way: First, your sessions together were over an hour in length – a tremendously long time to tolerate without stress; and second, there was no control over Taro’s behaviour (his wish to lunge at you) by Themselves.

When I first wrote you, I suggested three things:

1) keeping you separated but allowing you to time-share space;

2) re-introducing you to each other via a wedged door; and

2) training you both to leash and harness so that Themselves could regain control.

Congratulations! Both of you have now passed all tests.

As for the continued ‘stuff’ at the wedged door: Taro is better behaved and easily distracted (most times) if he acts upset; and you are getting braver. What more can you ask for?

Don’t worry that the two of you don’t really like the harnesses. This is not about likes and dislikes; it’s about having enough tolerance so you can proceed to the next step in safety.

With leash and harness and a purrson dedicated to each of you, each of you can be kept in the same room at a safe distance from each other while allowing you to get re-acquainted. Just remember: Safety is paramount.

As far as I’m concerned, you are ready for the next step. Here is how to proceed:

Short Re-introductions in Neutral Space

Go for short re-introductions (starting with 3 minutes) in a neutral space – like that room with the cat tree you mentioned a while back.

Before you get to that room, make sure you are both on leash and harness and under the control of a specific purrson (one for each of you). Also make sure that there are toys and treats around, so Themselves can keep both you cats interested in staying there and distracted from any negative nonsense.

If at all possible, you, Yoshi, should be taken to the room first and deposited on the cat tree you like so much; that way Taro will not react to your entry into the room because he will enter last. Have your purrson keep hold of the leash. You can move around at will, as long as you are kept at a distance from Taro.

Now at a distance means two things. First, it depends on how large the space is; ideally start with the greatest distance while it is still possible for the two of you to see one another – like 16 feet or so if the space allows it. Second, you want to be far enough away that you don’t perceive a threat AND are safe from any attempt to lunge or chase.

Then when Taro comes into the room (again with his purrson holding his leash) that purrson MUST be vigilant and keep control of him, too.

Rules of Engagement

Chances are your purrsons will be nervous. Tell them to chill – to take some deep breaths and think positive thoughts. If they are nervous you will be, too. The MUST model relaxed behaviour. Tell them to sniff some catnip in advance!

At the first sign of distress by either feline party, your purrson should distract you with toys or treats. You might be amenable to soft, calm talk, too. If that doesn’t work, then the session is over. The rule is to go at the pace of the cat who is most distressed.

If either of you lunge, the leash must be used to prevent you from going so far as to be within striking distance of your feline companion. Again if after a lunge, you can be distracted by toys or treats, then get back to the safe distance and have at it. If not, the session if over.

Either of you should be free to walk about UP TO the safe distance (under the control of your purrson) but no further.

Session Length

The first time, try 3 minutes like this and then stop. It seems like a short time but we want to build up slowly.

If both of you are okay with 3 minutes, then the next time you can go to 4.

The idea is to build up slowly. At any point, if you get distressed and Themselves cannot distract the two of you, then the session should be stopped and the next session should be reduced by a minute. You need a history of short, good, positive times together.

Number of Sessions Per Day

Start with 1 session a day; then a few days later if all goes well, do 2; and then a few days later if all is going well, then 3.

Only do about 3 sessions maximum per day. And make sure these are at least one hour apart. If you are okay with it, keep your harnesses from the first session until you are finished your sessions for the day – to make it easier on everyone.

Keeping Your Distance

Once you are up to about 15-minute or so sessions, Themselves can start reducing the distance between you two cats (still on leashes though). They should start with reducing it by one foot per session and no more. Again the idea is to work up slowly. Even 6-inch increments are fine. And if the distance gets too close for comfort, then start further back on the next session.

And do keep in touch. I want to hear of your progress.



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