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There are many ways to introduce a dog to a cat (or vice versa). We have done three dog and cat introductions with our confident cat. Our cat proved to be quite unusual, as a lot of the advice I read online on how to do a “proper” introduction backfired. It ended up making my first dog much more fearful of the cat than he needed to be. Learning from that experienced helped my future cat/dog introductions be much more successful.

I detailed this in an answer I posted on Quora. My answer to this question originally appeared on Quora in February 2013.

The question

How do I best introduce and socialize my 2 adult indoor cats with an adult indoor dog? I have two pretty amiable cats that live indoors 100% of the time. I want to move into a home with an adult Black Lab. I am quite sure all pets will freak upon meeting the first time since they have never been around one another. What can I do so they get along and don’t kill each other?

My answer for successful dog and cat introductions (confident cat edition)

I want to offer a slightly different perspective to what is the very common advice for dog and cat introductions (slow introductions, gradually getting the animals closer and then more integrated). I followed these directions and completely ruined the relationship between my first dog and our pre-existing cat. Do note our cat is incredibly confident and “in charge” – very friendly to us, relatively friendly to strangers on her own terms, and does not have an issue with dogs we now know. I switched it up for our future introductions with much greater success, so I thought I’d share.

First of all, obvious but I feel worth saying anyway, you want to keep both animals safe. Cats have sharp claws that can easily (and quickly) injure a dog. A dog is usually larger and stronger than a cat. Always ensure the cat has a spot to go that the dog cannot reach, even after they are fully introduced.

I think the most important first step is to really carefully observe all of the animals once they are in the same house, and separated. What do the cats do? Do they want to go towards the dog? How does the dog react to the cat smell and “presence” (they will know each other is there even though they can’t see each other).

Background:

When I separated our cat from our new dog, her first dog, it was mayhem. We had them in different rooms, exchanged scents (neither gave even the faintest interest in the towels), the general recommendations were followed. Our cat wanted – desperately – to be where he (the dog) was while we had her in a different room, and then separated from the room he was in with a baby gate.

Calm (kind of) before the storm.

She was livid she was not in the room. The dog sensed this great upset in the general environment (his new home). And then progressively -greatly- feared her. After a night of agony (nonstop cat anger – howling, throwing objects off of tables in the other rooms, banging the baby gate with her body, etc), I gave up and opened the baby gate and let her in, in my exhaustion after a night of no sleep and nothing going as I had read online for months prior to this introduction! So this is what happened: Our cat stomped over to the new dog, sniffed him for a few seconds (he had wide eyes of terror as we calmly pet him), and our cat then hopped on the couch and went to sleep.

Just hopped on the couch, after all that.

The problem was, our new dog was really afraid of our cat and it stayed that way. In some ways this is good (he probably wouldn’t eat her), but it was sad for him because he hated her presence the entire time we had him (and we lived in an apartment!). Dogs also act out in fear, so that was a real concern too. We kept them separated whenever we left the house because it was easier on him, and alleviated my concern about a fear reaction – our cat is so confident, a cat through and through, so she tends to antagonize dogs on purpose.

So for our following dog and cat introductions involving this cat: we just let her do her thing from the moment they arrived at the house – and it worked out perfectly for both of our subsequent dogs. Our second dog she barely even glanced at when she first came through the door (our cat was way more concerned about the foster parent dropping her off). Our cat was a “hall cop”, trying to slow down her (herding dog) rate of speed but gave up after a week. Our next dog (a 7 month old herding mix puppy) was hissed at for two weeks after he arrived from the shelter, so he learnt the cat rules and then all was fine. The dogs even nip at her (herding dogs), and she barely bats a cat eyelash. She casually will bat them (no claws) if she’s unhappy with what they are doing such as stepping on her. Both dogs clearly understand she has the upper hand (they will growl at her, but they know she is in charge but they don’t intensely fear her like our first dog). I can leave them unsupervised together without any worry.

We even had a neighborhood dog run into our house, right past the cat, and she just glanced at this intruder dog like it was nothing. I did a rescue pull of a Border Collie, and she yelled to be let into the garage area where I had him sequestered – this was what happened immediately after I opened the door:

Our cat backing up a border collie she never met merely with a stare. This border collie was just visiting the house.

This is unusual. I have been in and assisted in workshops on this topic, and most cats are not like ours. That said, I know there are others out there like her – and I bet not following the standard rules would be beneficial to the introduction, so I hope to get this information “out there”. A cat like her should not be separated from the get-go, or it will make the introduction a nightmare and could lead to a very unhealthy cat-dog relationship.

My recommendation (for dog and cat introductions with a super-confident cat):

If you have a cat who is very confident, and are not sure how your super confident cat(s) are with dogs, I’d go straight to the “babygate” step (animals can see each other, but can’t get at each other). If/when things seem safe, or if the cat puts up a huge fuss about not having access, put the cat(s) on a high perch with the dog on a leash. Observe carefully, letting the cat do what the cat does, and let your gut and intuition guide you about how fast/slow to take things. Try to get your cat to move away from the dog at a higher rate of speed, see if the dog seems to want to chase. If it seems clear, in your gut, that the dog will not give chase or harm the cat, that’s when you can let the leash drop and drag for awhile, observing. Then no leash and just supervise very carefully for awhile – perhaps have the animals supervised when together for several days.

Many people do not ever let their cats roam with a dog in the house when they are not home. I feel this is another gut decision, you will know intuitively whether it is safe or not to do this at a certain point after their introduction. I wouldn’t do this until you are certain it is safe, and your cat always has some place to go that the dog cannot.

One more note: our cat does not run. This makes a big difference. I would probably only apply this recommendation to cats who do not run, or dogs who are confirmed to have absolutely no interest in chase.

Extra note: Litterboxes with a top-entry are helpful when trying to curb dog enjoyment of “litter roca”.

She has character. Co-enjoying a patch of sun. Not necessarily voluntary for the dog, but doable.

About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. She also contributes articles to leading websites, such as Victoria Stilwell's Positively . It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.