Q&A: How do I train my dog to ignore the cat?

I have two four year old cats, and my boyfriend and I just adopted a new puppy. We are slowly introducing the puppy and cats – we have a pet gate with a cat door splitting the house into two halves. The cats have a towel with the puppy’s scent and vice versa. They eat meals on opposite sides of a door (which one of my cats still doesn’t like so we haven’t moved on). They look at each other through the gate mostly without hissing or incident.

One of my cats, Tesla, was getting more comfortable with the puppy and coming into the puppy’s area of the house on her own until the other day she came out without me noticing and the puppy chased her. Not in an aggressive way, but ran up to play bow to her. It freaked her out and now she won’t come back through the gate anymore, and it seems like now the cats are no longer making progress.

My question is this – how do I train my puppy not to chase the cats when the cats refuse to come out so I can interrupt the behavior? Everything I’ve read about training a puppy not to chase a cat requires the cat to be present, and I’m afraid it would be counter-productive to force my cats into a room with her while they are scared. Is there any OTHER way to train her to ignore the cats when they’re around so they will be more comfortable? ~Lisa

Training a puppy not to chase your cats is definitely a must for many reasons. Not just for the safety of your own cats, but other small animals your dog will likely come across in the future. Your puppy is likely chasing the cats based on 2 things – one is curiosity which all puppies are full of and the other is a natural instinct called prey drive.

Prey drive came from your puppy’s ancestors as a survival instinct to hunt and eat smaller animals as prey. In dogs, this usually does not get to the point of killing another animal, however it can and does happen. Stopping this behavior and redirecting your puppy’s prey drive will be of great use to your family.

You can redirect this prey drive using a ball, other toy or even an item called a flirt pole. These objects allow the puppy to chase something small and put the object in their mouth to carry. It fulfills the need to chase and grab without causing damage to another animal.

Meanwhile, without the cats in the room you can try teaching your puppy to pay attention to you using a positive interrupter noise. This is a sound, usually a kissy sound or special word, that will grab your dog’s attention no matter what he’s doing. So, when you reintroduce the kitties you can use this noise to grab your puppy’s attention and put him in a down stay or allow him to go into his crate with a special chew to observe the kitties in a safe manner.

To teach the positive interrupter noise, start with a handful of high value treats such as real meat or cheese and have your noise picked out. Make the noise and wait for your puppy to give you eye contact. He does not get rewarded until he provides even half a second of eye contact. Once he does, reward him and make a big fuss over it. Do this for a few minutes at a time in multiple training sessions. Always end on a good note, such as play time or a cuddle.

As you and your puppy get better with the eye contact, ask for longer periods of eye contact. Ask for 3 seconds, 10 seconds, and so on. However, don’t move too far beyond your puppy’s capabilities. He’s still a baby, after all!

When you do bring your kitties back into view of your dog, make sure the puppy cannot get into physical contact. This means keeping your puppy in a crate or playpen for periods of time to observe the cats. The puppy may get excited and rowdy, ignore this behavior. However, once he calms down and is quiet, you can reward him with a treat through the crate bars. As this behavior gets better, you can move to using a leash and allowing minimal contact. Don’t be afraid to correct your puppy’s behavior if it is unacceptable with your cats! This means asking your puppy to go into a down stay instead of pulling at the leash to sniff a kitty.

I hope this helps you. If you have any further questions please let me know!

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Junior Watson

Junior is the DogTrainingBasics.com resident "Top Dog". He enjoys walks in the park, chasing invisible cats, and of course... bacon strips!

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