Phase 1: Scent Acclimation from a Safe DistanceThe first thing you want to do when getting a kitten when you have a dog is give your pets a chance to get used to each other’s scents without any possibility of physical contact. You could start this process in a few different ways:
- Car ride - Bring your dog with you in the car to get your new kitten and keep the animals safely separated in different crates or different parts of the car. This way they can spend the car ride home getting used to each other’s scents right off the bat.
- Safe room – Set up a “safe room” for your cat in your house – for example, a spare bedroom. Make sure they have food, water, toys, bed, litter box, etc. Keep your dog out of this room at all times so the animals can’t see or go near each other yet, but can start to smell each other’s presence. You can also do a variation of this with a little visibility by letting your dog outside and your kitten roam free inside if you have a screen door. This way the pets can see and smell each other without physical contact.
- Crate – Get a big crate for your kitten that can act as a “kitty condo” for them with food, litter box, etc. Keep your cat in the crate and let your dog wander freely. This step is a little faster than the other two options, so make sure that a) neither pet can injure the other through the holes in the crate and b) the pets are not reacting to each other in an overly aggressive or anxious manner. If the tension is too high, a safe room might be a better place to start.
Phase 2: Initial MeetingsOnce the pets are used to each other’s scents and have seen each other through a physical barrier, you can start the gradual meeting process. This should definitely be done with your dog on a leash for safety, and short and sweet meetings are best to start with. This also works best if a dog is trained to respond to commands like “sit” and “stay.”Bring your dog into a room on the leash, and either have someone hold the kitty or let the kitty roam free depending on their anxiety level at the time. Give your dog commands and make sure they still respond to them even with the presence of the kitten. If they don’t, respond with a firm “no” and walk them out of the room. Try the process again until the dog can be in the presence of the cat and still respond to commands.The goal of these meetings is to establish that the kitten is something to be loved and protected and to create a calm atmosphere. Remember your pets will pick up on any tension you have, so stay calm and narrate the meeting with soothing words, rewarding both pets often for positive behaviors. Do not tolerate any aggression or let them play chase at this stage, as this could turn dangerous very quickly or trigger a traumatic event that could set you back indefinitely.Gradually increase the length of these meetings as pets become more comfortable with each other. Watch out for lingering signs of tension like staring or the kitten hissing at the dog, which can be warning signals of an attack.If your dog is still not acclimating to the cat after several sessions, you can try a training exercise called look at that. Put your dog on a leash and take them into the space with the cat. Determine what you dog’s threshold is – the point where they notice the cat, but still responding to your commands. Then begin training your dog to look at you after looking at the cat by giving your dog a verbal or clicker command, then rewarding them with a treat when they look back at you – this teaches them that it is rewarding to ignore the cat. Do this about 10 times, then see if they will look back at you on the 11th time without the command. If they do, click the clicker as soon as they look back at you and reward them with a treat. Continue this training while moving closer to the cat, essentially decreasing the dog’s threshold to the point where they can be right next to the cat and still respond to you. Take your time with this, going back a step as needed to ensure the safety of both pets.If your pets still show signs of tension or aggression towards each other after several weeks of meetings, it might be time to consult an animal behavior specialist or professional trainer.
Phase 3: Sharing Your HomeAfter enough meetings with your dog on a leash to assure you that both animals are safe and calm together, you can let both pets roam free in your house, carefully monitoring this at first and going back a step if needed. For a lot of pets, this phase is the start of a loving and protective relationship! Many dogs start to think of the kitten as a member of their “pack” and enjoy their role as protector and caretaker.However, there are still things to watch for even at this stage. You should still keep the pets separated by a physical barrier while you aren’t home, at least for a month or so. Make sure your cat always has a place to climb, in case they want a little away time above the dog. Dogs can also get in the habit of eating cat feces, which isn’t dangerous, but is usually unpleasant to pet owners, so clean the litter box regularly to avoid this.
Introducing Cat to Dog TipsA few final general tips for a safe introduction process:
- Always move at a speed that is safe for both pets. This process could take a few days or it could take a month – whatever is best for your pets.
- Reward both pets often and make sure to give love and praise equally to avoid jealousies developing.
- Remember that different dog breeds respond differently to cats (for example, high energy dogs might need more time for the introduction process), so do a little research on your dog’s disposition.
- Consider pack order – dogs are acutely aware of their position as the “beta” in the household, second to the humans. Ideally, you want to establish that a cat is above the dog in the pack order without upsetting the dog. Do this by feeding your dog first and remembering to give them extra plenty of attention and praise throughout the process.