A funny thing happened during this online consultation.

We were discussing young Cocker Spaniel Murphy who’s obsesses around the lady’s parents’ cat. His frantic behaviour is restricting visits to them.

I have my office upstairs. Due to the hot weather I had a big window open in another room. As we discussed dogs and cats, what walked into the room?


I don’t have a cat! Fortunately my dogs were downstairs.

Murphy also at times will lunge and bark at another dog when out.

To change the behaviour, we need to change how he feels about the cat – and at certain times about other dogs. The same basic principals apply to both issues.

At home he’s not a big barker apart from in the garden. He will bark when people with dogs walk down the lane the other side of their fence.

Feeling good rather than feeling wary

Starting with dogs walking by their fence, they can start doing some positive association work.

They will go with Murphy into the garden. Immediately he alerts to a sound the other side of the fence, they will respond with the word Yes. Then throw food on the ground near him.
They will move him as far away from the fence as possible to start with. He should be on a long, loose lead.

How does this apply to parents’ cat?

It teaches Murphy that the word Yes marks an exact moment. This could be something he himself is doing. It could be something thing he’s looking at or something that he’s aware of.

He will learn that the ‘something’ – in this case passing dog the other side of the fence – will trigger good things. This may be special food he doesn’t get at other times.

At the moment they can do nothing because Murphy is on such high alert all the time he is at the parents’ house. He obsesses knowing that the cat is somewhere. He’s ready for her.

Reduction in general arousal

To start with they will work at keeping him as calm as possible in everyday life. They will drop the ball play as he was showing signs of obsessing over that also. Repetitive ball play can really fire a dog up to the extent that he will stay aroused for a long time afterwards.

Chasing a ball over and over is giving him some very good cat-chasing practice too.

In this state any ‘cat work’ would be doomed.

So I suggest removing balls and not throwing them anymore. Starving him of the ball may give them a very useful tool. Now, with the ball, they have a high-valuable item that could be very useful in our cat work.

Frequent short visits to parents’ house.

The scene should be carefully prepared. A baby gate will be in the kitchen doorway with the cat in the kitchen.

On harness and lead, they will bring Murphy into the room next to the kitchen. He shouldn’t yet have view of the cat.

Now, moving forward but keeping as far from the gate as they can, they will let him spot the cat.

Immediately “Yes!” and moving back out of view of the cat, feeding him as they do so. Special food he gets at no other time.

What about the cat?

If from the start the cat had stood her ground, things could be different. But the cat is shy.

I suggest someone should keep her company in the kitchen and do exactly the same with her. As soon as Murphy comes briefly into her view, say Yes and give her a tiny piece of chicken or fish.

This is step one of a fairly long ladder. It’s essential to start at the beginning.

Gradually Murphy will linger before he would react, so there will be a little bit of duration in sight of each other with no explosion. Feed, feed, feed and move out of sight again.

Can the ball be useful?

I have an idea for the ball. Eventually with work, they will have have achieved a few seconds within sight of each other. No lunging or barking from Murphy. No hiding from the cat.

The person holding his lead will need to watch Murphy’s body language carefully. They need to catch the first hint of arousal.

Now after the Yes they can gently roll the ball away from the gate and away from the cat. (“Chase this instead”). Chase in the opposite direction to the cat.

Murphy is reluctant to give up the ball

Murphy can be reluctant to give up his ball. This may play in our favour. He’s unlikely to try to chase the cat with the ball in his mouth. This way, the cat has triggered his favourite thing, the precious ball. Not thrown but just gently rolled.

With a ball in his mouth he will have something that helps him to calm.

Let’s see how it goes. Maybe we will need some tweaks if he still obsesses over the cat.

For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Mjurphy. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. See here for details or to book a call.