There's no household harmony if your old dog growls at your cat. Causes of this nasty habit can range from bad past experiences to simple uncorrected instinctive aggression toward other animals. Fortunately, you can teach an old dog new tricks and stop your dog from growling at cats.
Leash your dog and allow him to interact with a cat. It’s essential for the safety of both animals that you have full control over your dog’s movement. If you have a pet cat, prompting interaction will be a simple case of taking the dog to see the cat. If you don’t have a cat, take your dog for a walk to a place where you’re likely to see cats. It may take a few walks to achieve this.
Identify your dog’s tolerance thresholds. For example, some dogs growl at the mere sight of a cat, others remain passive until the cat comes too close.
Take your dog away from the cat. Make a note of the things he does before growling, for example he may prick his ears, strain on the leash or whine.
Reintroduce the dog to a cat. If you don’t have a cat, have a friend who owns a confident, socialized cat bring her pet to your home. For training purposes, it’s important that you know exactly when your dog will come into contact with a cat so you can respond to his behavior. Taking him for a walk in the hope that he’ll run into a cat will not do at this stage.
Reward passive behavior. Give him verbal praise and reach down to stroke him. Since this is an old dog, you will most likely have a good understanding of what stimuli he likes.
Walk your dog toward the cat. Use your understanding of his cat tolerance threshold so he doesn’t become agitated straight away. For example, if the dog tolerates the presence of a cat, but only at a distance, gradually take him to that distance and then slowly move him closer.
Walk your dog away from the cat as soon as he begins to growl. Use your understanding of his tolerance to anticipate this reaction. This enables you to remove your dog from the situation the very second he becomes agitated. Cease praising the dog. This shows him that when he growls, the positive experience he was enjoying is removed.
Take your dog to a calm environment and allow him to focus on another activity. For example, throw a ball for him to chase.
Return your dog to the cat and repeat the exposure. Remove the dog and cease praise if he growls. With sufficient repetition, your dog will learn that acting passively toward the cat results in a positive experience, while growling results in that positive experience being removed. Eventually, he’ll learn to tolerate the presence of the cat without growling.
Items you will need
- Make the interaction environment safe for both animals. Leave the door open so the cat can escape if she feels threatened. Remove any obstacles or hazards, such as plant pots, that may impede the cat from exiting the training environment if she becomes startled.
- George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images