I originally wrote this post in July 2011:

We’ve all seen those super-cute photos of dogs and cats curled up together in a blissful nap. Those who have both dogs and cats know that doesn’t come easy. Getting both species to live harmoniously requires time, planning and careful orchestration from the start.

Can we all get along?

Given the basis for differences between cats and dogs, it’s a wonder they can get along at all. Each has their own innate social preferences inherited from their wild ancestors. Dogs, descending from the Grey Wolf, are inclined to live in cooperative groups and solicit social interaction. Cats, descending from the African Wild Cat, are more independent and aloof (big surprise, eh?). This difference accounts for a host of complications when integrating both species in a home. For instance, dogs use body language to communicate intent; including submissive and play solicitation behavior. Cats also use body language to communicate, but have fewer signaling capabilities and no submissive or play signals. Dogs greet nose-to-backside, while cats greet nose-to-nose. And there are a few significant differences in their threat body language, which can make it hard for each to interpret the other correctly. Generally speaking, cats are more territorial than dogs. If cats squabble, it’s probably over space. Dogs typically work space issues out more quickly through communication.

Even so, both cats and dogs can form attachments to other species and learn each others’ communication signals. First impressions are critical. If it goes badly, it will take days or weeks of work to repair the relationship.

Get it right the first time

The personality of each pet and having exposure early in life influence the quality of cat-dog relationships. Nonetheless, you’ll want to stage the introduction carefully.

First, the two pets do not have direct visual, auditory or physical contact for several days. This allows the newcomer to settle in and get used to the new routine in a room that can be closed and protected from accidental introductions. Cats take longer than dogs to acclimate. When she is eating and drinking well, engaging with people and willing to play, you are ready for the next phase.

Next, let them smell and hear each other – still separated. Swap beds or other items that each pet has laid on. Elicit your dog to bark in the other room, while giving your cat some really irresistible treat (think TUNA!). Record cat meows and play them for your dog while she gets to indulge in something wonderful. When neither pet seems obsessed, afraid or avoiding smells and sounds of the other, they are ready for visual contact.

You have several options for that first “sighting.” You can put them both in separate crates, tether each to immovable objects, use a Calming Cap on your dog, or have a strong see-through door. The bottom line is that they cannot come into physical contact with each other and you can control the distance between them in case one or both become overly agitated. It’s advisable to have something handy to block their view of each other as needed. Continue at this stage until you see that each remains calm and relaxed.

Then you are ready to allow physical contact. Safety continues to be the highest priority. Ensure your cat has an escape route and hiding place, as well as a secure place to eat, drink and use the litter box – no ambushes! Keep a leash on the dog and consider muzzling him initially.

Above all, take it slow. While you may be eager to integrate your family, you have one chance to make a good first impression. It will take a whole lot longer to reverse the effects of an introduction gone bad.

Carol Peter is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of Cold Nose Companions, LLC Dog Training. She offers private in-home training for people and their dogs throughout Geauga County. Carol focuses on resolving problem behaviors and teaching good household manners using positive reinforcement training and behavior modification methods. She can be reached at carol@coldnosecompanions.com.

©2011, Carol Peter, Cold Nose Companions, LLC