Although the ultimate aim is for dog and cat to live happily together – the cat is confident and placid fortunately – there is a lot of groundwork to do first. The matter can’t simply be approached head-on because he has other issues which I’m sure are associated.
Johnny is a German Shepherd crossed with something – and from his behaviour I would say there is Border Collie in there. He is ten years old. About three years ago his owner moved in with a lady and her cat, and despite numerous efforts and trying different things, the two animals have to be kept apart.
Johnny likes to keep everyone together, rounded up so to speak. If someone goes out of the room he stresses and barks. When I arrived it was strange. He barked at me, but when the lady went out to the kitchen he turned and barked at her instead, like he was upset that she had disappeared. When she came back and we were all together, he went back to barking at me. He howls and yelps when a guest leaves. He does the same thing when one of the couple goes out – but, strangely, is much more accepting when they both go out together and he’s all alone.
I am sure his attitude towards the cat has something to do with his needing everyone to be together, under his eye. A cat is simply too independent. If she moves he will chase. He is transfixed by the cat.
Before they can make any headway with the cat problem they need to do some groundwork on Johnny relaxing his herding, lowering his stress levels in every way they can and on teaching him to give them his full attention.
Actual work on Johnny when the cat is about will start very slowly with the cat safely contained. Johnny’s owner already has been very successful with desensitising him to fireworks using food (they live in an area where bangs go off at all sorts of times) and now whenever he hears a bang he looks to her for food. He loves bangs! Once everything else is in place, the same sort of positive approach, along with patience, will bring success with the cat also.
I am sure that they will be able to teach their old dog new tricks and the two animals will ultimately be occupying the same room in harmony.
This is the situation six weeks later. they are taking their time and have now sowed all the right seeds for the final step – dog and cat being freely together: ‘We are delighted that he demonstrated ‘stay’ with me running around him in both our parents’ gardens. This is quite significant for us because his behaviour sometimes seems linked to location. Needless to say, they were very impressed! We have also had several comments on how much calmer he is now.
We have also been able to start using ‘come away’ as a means to get his attention when out and about. He picked this up in the house very quickly but another rule seemed to apply outside. We practise it every time he sees a cat outside whilst on walks and reward as soon as he looks away.
In a strange turn of events, our cat seems to have gained confidence and seems more interested in him. She has been sleeping on his bed when he is upstairs and she is downstairs (she would previously walk around it), will now go into the bedroom he has been in and have a good look around, and has a new interest in sniffing anything belonging to him, such as his raincoat. Could it be she is picking up on less stress in the household and has a new confidence because of it? We now feel ready to start working on re-introducing them but are heartened by the changes in both their behaviours.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Johnny, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).