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Bring some peace to a house divided...
Dear Dr. Spiegel, We have a problem with our 3-year old female housecat "Dusty" and our dog "Buster" who is a 1 and 1/2 year old Terrier mix. Both are neutered. The problem is that they don't get along at all! We must keep them separated in our house by child gates in doorways to keep them apart. The cat teases the dog by jumping up on furniture where he can't get to her. If, by chance, he should manage to get her cornered, she hisses, puffs up and swats at him until someone comes to her rescue. Consequently, our home looks like a nation divided. There is the cat half and the dog half of the house!! Is there anything we can do to have peace in our home and stop this ongoing battle and unify our house again? The gates are really a nuisance! Also, when the dog had the run of the house, we could not keep him out of the kitty litter box in the basement. He would eat the cat droppings. Sincerely yours, V.S., Wilmington
Dear V.S., Since Buster grew up as a puppy to a young adult dog around the cat, his pursuit of Dusty was almost certainly that of a playful, energetic inquisitive pup. The fact that your cat Dusty teases Buster is a good sign. It basically means that she is not completely afraid of him, and at times even attempts on her own to initiate play with him. So there is a good part of her which actually likes him. By separating them as you have done, you have almost certainly aggravated the problem. Most of the time when a puppy is put in a household with a young active cat and they are left to themselves, they will work things out and gradually become habituated to one another. The only time you do want to interfere is when one or the other won't take no for an answer. That is, if the cat continues in its attempts to escape and the dog won't allow this, or if the cat starts getting nasty and really begins to attack the dog, and the dog isn't getting the message and won't back down, then it's time to intervene. When you intervene, use a Loud, Sharp sound (e.g., your voice or an air horn) that will startle both of them, and then call the dog away or physically remove him from the situation. At that point give him time away from the cat for a good 20-30 minutes so he has an opportunity to settle down. By keeping them isolated from one another, as you have done, it makes the sight of the cat a much more exciting thing to the dog. The novelty and unpredictability of seeing her makes it that much more exciting when he actually does see her. It's kind of like when the ice cream man comes by in the heat of the summer. The sound of the ice cream truck brings kids running cause it's something they love and it only appears every so often. If that very same ice cream truck was parked in your front yard all the time, at first the kids would gorge themselves, but then the novelty would wear off and they wouldn't bother with it nearly as much as they did in the first place. The same principle holds for your domestic situation. Take the gates down, and expect things will get worse for a short time before they start getting better. You can control the situation however through a variety of means. First, put hook and eyes on the doors to some rooms (including the door to the litter box). The hook and eyes should be positioned so that the door can be kept in a position where it has a 2-3 inch opening. This will enable the cat to pass easily in and out of rooms where it can feel safe and secure that the dog will be unable to bother it. It will also keep the dog from getting into the litter. If the cat has any favorite rooms where it likes to spend most of its time, you should keep some fresh water in there for it, and perhaps a litterbox. Try to have them eating in the same room at the same times, perhaps with the cat eating on a higher level where it is safe from the dog. And with some time and patience, your self-imposed nation divided will again become a place of comfort and security for all. Send questions and comments to: Animal Behavior, Dr. David Spiegel, Box 15505, Wilmington, DE 19850. For private consultations, puppy classes or more information, call (302)478-6925 or (610)444-0505.