Do Dogs & Cats Play Nicely Together?

Cats and dogs are notoriously at odds, but they don't have to be.
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Aren't videos of dogs and cats playing together cute? Wonder why they don't fight like, well, cats and dogs? If properly introduced at younger ages, your canine and feline companions are more likely to live in harmony. Bad experiences, though, can fuel life-long cross-species feuds. It's your job to referee.

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Tel Aviv University research published in 2008 suggests the optimal formula for successful canine-feline relationships. The key variables are order and age.

Introduce a dog into a house with a cat, not the other way around. A cat's familiarity with his surroundings allows him to comfortably retreat when he's feeling less playful than his boisterous counterpart. If you're introducing a cat to a house with a dog, quarantine the latter as the former explores his new digs.

Dogs less than 1 year old and cats less than 6 months old develop stronger, life-long cross-species tolerances. They won't necessarily play nicely together -- 25 percent of the Tel Aviv pets were indifferent to each other and 10 percent were aggressive -- but they can live in harmony.

Species-Specific Communication

The body language of dogs and cats doesn't always translate across species. Dogs wag their tails when they're happy, while cats flick their tails when they're mad. Dogs turn their heads when they're submissive; cats do that when they're aggressive.

Inside homes with successfully integrated dogs and cats, Tel Aviv researchers found that dogs and cats borrowed from each other's signal repertoire. Effectively, dogs and cats that learn to communicate with each other effectively far better.

Play Dates

Regardless of your pets' ages, dogs and cats experiences with each other shape years of future behavior.

First, confine your dog to a room or two using baby gates. This allows the cagier species -- the cat, undoubtedly -- to initiate contact safely, with obvious escape routes.

Use positive reinforcement like praise, treats and toys to reward good behavior. You can bolster or replace this with clicker training, first separately with both animals, then together. Lengthen and expand play dates and build on pass successes.

Navigating Choppier Waters

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Whether introducing dogs and cats for the first time or trying to get arch nemeses on better terms, proper discipline may become necessary.

Use commands like "no" and "sit" if your dog barks, lunges or bites at the cat. Don't let a dog pick up a cat in his mouth, as this can trigger natural, albeit quite nasty, predatory impulses.

Never scold your cat if he swats or hisses at the dog. Felines appear to have longer memories than dogs when it comes to negative associations. If their relationship gets too one-sided, it's better to have a cat aggressive toward a docile dog than the other way around.

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