Behaviourist Francesca Riccomini advises on introducing cats and dogs to each other for the first time.
(Q) I have a 17-week-old puppy and two senior cats. If the puppy runs at the cats, one of them gives her a whack and the puppy scarpers, but the other cat is scared and runs, which makes the puppy run more. How can I stop this run/chase behaviour - I don't want to drive my much-loved cat away?
Veterinary behaviourist Jon Bowen advises: There are two sides to sorting this out. The first is to reduce your cat's need to run, and the other is to improve control over your puppy's chasing.
To help reduce your cat's need to run you will need to install a large number of places for him to escape to. For example, clear some shelves and put cardboard boxes (with a hole cut in the side) down at fl oor level for your cat to climb inside. Install child gates that allow only your cats to go from room to room. This enables them to hide or escape without having to panic.
The next issue is your puppy. Some puppies will stop chasing when a treat has been offered as a distraction, but most won't. The fun of chasing is too great. So the first step is to find food treats that your puppy really likes; pre-packaged dog treats are probably not enough. Then you will need to do a lot of basic reward-based training of commands such as recall, sit, lie down and stay. This will give you more control and prepare your puppy for the more difficult task of listening to your commands when a cat is around.
Then you will need to train a 'leave' command. A puppy trainer should be able to do this with you, but the general approach is to 'leave' a ball rolled on the fl oor at increasing speed until the puppy will not chase it when it is thrown. Until your puppy can follow this kind of leave command, it is best that puppy and frightened cat do not meet at all. The more the puppy has fun chasing this cat, the greater the chances that it will go on to become a habit.
This training will also give your cat more time to get used to the puppy being around. Once your puppy has learned a range of basic commands, including 'leave', you can create some set-up situations in which one of the cats is present and the puppy is told to leave. The puppy should be rewarded for not chasing.
Start with the cat that is not afraid of the puppy, because this cat will not run and the puppy will therefore not get an exciting reaction. Once you have good control over your puppy when the confident cat is around, you can do similar training with the less confident one. Never force training on an elderly or scared cat as this will make matters worse - and always provide your cat with plenty of hiding spots.