How To Help A Dog & Cat Get Along, According To Experts
When you have a furry pup and a sweet cat who just can't seem to love each other the way that you love them, it can be very discouraging. But if you're wondering how to teach your dog and cat to get along, look no fur-ther. With some training techniques, outside help, love, and a whole lot of patience, they'll be sure to become besties eventually, according to experts. You might be totally bewildered as to why the two fur babies in your life can't seem to get along, but that genuinely is a mystery that you may never solve.
"Dogs and cats may dislike one another for as many reasons as one person dislikes another," Russell Hartstein, CDBC, CPDT-KA, a certified professional dog trainer and founder of Fun Paw Care, tells Bustle. "It is impossible to say why," he says, "however, every sentient being is an individual, just like all beings on the planet and hence have their own personality and preferences." That being said, some possible reasons could be past conditioning, each other's scent, visual or audible cues, or something else entirely. Luckily, you don't have to know the exact reason to help them become more friendly with each other.
Here's how to help your dog and cat get along, according to experts.
1. Train Them Individually And Together
"You can help your dog and cat bond by training with them individually then concurrently," Hartstein says. This is important for a dog and cat to be able to perform and communicate with a parent individually, and then to also communicate in a larger setting with other family members or pets. While training individually is very effective, learning to behave and follow commands won't help them get along with the other pet if they can't also be obedient when the other is around, he says. But by practicing these tricks first with only you and then together, you'll be teaching each of your pets patience, relaxation, and will also hone your training skills, Hartstein says.
2. Use Positive Reinforcement
You might expect to have to turn to punishment techniques if your dog or your cat acts aggressively toward the other, but rewarding your pets when they are calm and kind toward the other is a great idea too. "You can positively reinforce social, friendly behavior," Hartstein says. "When the dog or cat looks at one another, mark that behavior and reward them." Over time, reinforcing behavior where they are relaxed and friendly will even lead to them wanting to be around each other, because they'll come to learn that this means receiving treats, praise, or attention from you.
3. Play Games All Together
Never underestimate the power of having a good time, especially when it comes to encouraging your pets to get along with each other. "Play games with them both in proximity to one another or together," Hartstein says. "Assuming they tolerate each other enough to be close to one another, you can play games with each." While it can be fun to try training games like teaching new tricks, you should also try out foraging and scavenging games, he says. Just make sure that you aren't doing anything that will get either of them too excited or hyper, as they might become reactive.
4. Give Them Their Space
Even though you want your fur babies to be best buds, it's also important to understand that forcing them together isn't always the best option. "You should keep your dog and cat quarantined if there is severe or more intense fighting or stress," Hartstein says. In much the same way that humans need to take some time and space from each other during an argument, your cat and dog might need some time apart so that they can recoup without feeling very stressed. If that means keeping them in different rooms of your home for a while, then try it.
5. Keep Them Both Safe
When you're first working to teach your pets to like each other, you want to make sure that you have the most important aspect — their physical safety — in mind. If they haven't spent much time together, you might not really know how either your cat or your dog will react to the other if they feel particularly stressed or threatened. "Use two levels of safety at first," Kayla Fratt, a certified dog behavior consultant, dog trainer, and CEO of Journey Dog Training, tells Bustle. While this might be overkill for some people, it's better to use a leash and a baby gate than have a tragedy occur if they get into a physical fight. One smart precaution is to teach your pup to calmly lie on a mat so that you can send them there if the cat’s getting nervous, Fratt says.
6. Use Sensory Cues
Humans live in a largely visual world, but for pets, other kinds of sensory information is invaluable. Take advantage of this, and incorporate other kinds of sensory details into your efforts to encourage them to get along. "Work on scent swapping," Fratt says. "We forget how scent-oriented our pets are. Swap out towels and beds so they get used to each others’ scent." It can also be helpful to introduce them to the way the other sounds from a safe distance, so that when they get closer together, a bark or hiss doesn't set the other off.
7. Ask For Help
If you're having trouble getting your dog and your cat to become friends, there's no need to do it all alone. "Oftentimes it is very difficult for parents to recognize stress in either pet," Hartstein says, "so calling a certified dog and cat behaviorist, and trainer would be best to diagnose and treat stress, anxiety, phobias, aggression, and reactivity towards one another." If your pet needs psychotropics, look for help from a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, he says. While managing your environment and encouraging your pets to get along will always be an important part of the process, it's OK to look for more intense help, if needed.
If your dog and your cat don't love each other, do your best to be patient with them and continue to show them each love. As you work with them, they'll hopefully become as close to each other as you are to each of them.