John is the resident "nanny" at SHUG HQ and has put up with everything from puppies to baby chicks. The cats--quite literally--walk all over him. But even if your dog isn't quite a St. John, chances are they still have the potential to live comfortably with small animals. We asked one of our adopters, Erin Comaskey, to talk about what has worked for her. It also gave us a great excuse to run some adorable photos.
In our house, the cats came first. Then we successfully adopted three Sighthounds: Rosie, a Galga, Jerome, a former track Greyhound, and Joe, a Galgo. Each was slightly different in how they reacted to the cats, but our approach was the same.
Here is what we have learned:
- It’s as much about the cat(s) as it is the dog: Assess your cats just as you would your dog. Have your cats ever been around dogs before? What was the response? Walking or moving away to another part of the house or ignoring is what you are hoping for OR complete confidence. Is your cat ever aggressive or extremely territorial? Is your cat elderly or sick? Set yourself up for success by being honest about your current animal residents.
- Cat tested and Cat safe: Rescue organizations have various ways to test Sighthounds to deem them cat safe. Ask outright what has been done or observed to label your dog ‘cat-safe’. The gold star is if the dog has been fostered with cats. If this isn’t the case, find out what exposure your dog has had to cats and create a plan. Even if your new dog has been living with cats, he hasn’t been living with your cats, so you will need to introduce them slowly. You can start by bringing home the scent of the dog and placing the item somewhere central in the house. Give your cats a ‘heads up’ there will be a new friend.
- Create the right environment: Make sure your cats have safe havens in the house where they can be away from the dog. This can be achieved by using baby gates or even cat condos that allow the cat to climb up and hide. Make sure your cat’s litter and food are in a place that is inaccessible to your dog. Purchase and prepare your separation items: baby gate and dog crate prior to bringing your dog home.
- Tools are cool, not cruel: The muzzle, the leash, the crate. You need to use them, so your dog can become part of your family. It is much worse to have an accident of aggression, then to muzzle your dog. These tools allow you to observe your animals safely and provide the dog with clear understandings of boundaries. It is recommended to have your dog muzzled for at least the first week in your house when around your other animals. Use your leash to show your dog where it can and cannot go. When you are not at home, crate your dog (or confine in a room away from the cat) until you are 100 percent certain your animals are getting along.
- Observe and Correct: It took my cats an hour before they felt ready to come out and ‘meet’ the dog. This was true each time we brought a dog home, so treat each time you bring a dog home, as the first time. Our Jerome, was completely indifferent to the cats. He did not notice them, did not care. Our cats quickly assessed him as friend and life moved on. Joe was different. Joe gave chase as soon as he laid eyes on Molly (even though he’d been fostered with cats for months). He was muzzled and leashed, so we were able to correct. In our house, a loud, “No” and a tug on the leash was adequate. Over the next few weeks, the chasing stopped, but he continued to whimper and be hyper alert when the cats were around. This was also corrected. Your goal is to diminish the alert around your house cats and get your dog to eventually ignore them. Do NOT take anything for granted. Correct your dog (with a verbal “No” or squirt bottle or canned air whatever you will do consistently) every time. Until you achieve this, continue to use your tools.
After and Forever
- Inside vs. Outside: Our two Sighthounds and two cats live in harmony inside the house. However, Joe still has a very active prey drive outside the house and this extends to cats. We take care of a feral colony and so this is a work in progress. Be aware that your Sighthound’s prey-drive is both nature and nurture. You may never get him to completely give up the squirrel hunt, but I highly recommend using your leash to correct when out for a walk. Leash walking is a great opportunity to teach good manners and bond with your dog. While Joe used to charge at any small furry animal outside, while on the leash now he’ll simply raise his ears. Progress!
Patience and perception are critical to helping your Sighthound and your cats make one happy furry family. It is so worth it! Good luck!