By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 6 December 2011)
Dogs usually attack cats due to either predatory instinct or status-related issues. A dog that was not socialized with cats as a puppy may view them as prey, particularly if a timid cat runs and this motion triggers the dog’s chase reflex.
A dog may also feel that he has lost status either when a new cat is brought home or a resident cat comes home after a visit to the vet. Also, when a dominant pet becomes ill or dies, other household pets may engage in scuffles as they scramble to fill the status void.
Dogs are more inclined to abuse shy, timid cats. Bullying behaviours can range from posturing to full chase and attack.
Preventing Dog-to-Cat Aggression
Preventive strategies for reducing the risk of dog-to-cat aggression include:
- Neutering or spaying the dog to decrease aggressiveness
- Saying “no” in a calm, firm voice whenever the dog is eyeing the cat as though he plans to attack
- Keeping pets in separate rooms or areas of the house blocked off with baby gates when you can’t directly supervise them
- Muzzling the dog in the presence of the cat until you’re sure that he can control himself
- Providing the cat with a tall cat tree or other place of refuge
- Using a pheromone product such as D.A.P. (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) to make the dog calmer
- Ensuring that each animal has plenty of toys, as well as his own food and water bowls, to reduce territorial aggression
- Placing the cat’s food bowls in an area where he can escape easily if ambushed
- Taking the dog to obedience training
Also, in order to create a positive association with the cat, when the dog begins eyeing the cat aggressively, say something that will get the dog’s attention in a positive way, such as “walk,” or “ball,” and then offer him a treat. Use whatever word generates the most enthusiastic response from the dog.
Countering Predatory Aggression in Dogs
Some dogs have great difficulty giving up the immediate gratification of the chase even for treats or praise. In such cases, a more comprehensive counter-conditioning strategy can be used to reduce the dog’s predatory urges.
Supervise encounters between the dog and the cat, and keep the dog on a leash to stop him from running at the cat. Reward the leashed dog with treats or praise whenever he is in the same room as the cat. Do this regularly for one to two weeks and then occasionally thereafter to maintain the positive association.
Keep the animals separated using baby gates or closed doors when you aren’t around to supervise interactions and keep the dog leashed in the presence of the cat until you’re sure that the dog can control himself. Eventually, the dog will be more inclined to react to the cat’s presence by looking at you in the hopes of praise or a treat than chasing the cat.
How to Break up a Fight Between a Dog and a Cat
Ideally, fights should be prevented altogether, but if a fight does break out, it needs to be stopped as soon as possible because the cat could be severely injured and the dog may sustain scratches to his eyes, or worse injuries if he is small.
When intervening in a fight, it’s important to keep yourself as safe as possible. Relatively low-risk strategies for breaking up cat-and-dog fights include:
- Pulling on the dog’s leash if that’s available
- Grabbing the dog’s back legs and pulling him backwards wheelbarrow style (be sure to keep moving backwards until he’s calmed down)
- Using something long with a soft end to separate the combatants, such as a broom
- Throwing water over the dog
- Making a loud noise (i.e., banging two pots together)
If the dog is smaller, you can throw a blanket over the combatants or wrap the dog in a blanket or thick towel and carry him out of the room.
Pulling the dog away by his collar is not recommended, as he may whip around and bite you in the heat of the moment. Yelling is also a bad idea, as human shouts may increase aggression rather than decreasing it.
After the fight, ignore the aggressor (or both pets if they have been equally culpable) for at least half an hour. This signals displeasure and ensures that you don’t inadvertently reward the bad behaviour with extra attention.
Reference: Shojai, Amy D. (2005). PETiQuette: Solving Behavior Problems in Your Multi-Pet Household. New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc.