When you are teaching a dog to stop bothering a cat, a lot of your success depends upon the temperaments and personalities of the animals themselves, as well as your own patience and time constraints. Some dogs may never get there, while others may get the point fairly quickly.
Teach your dog the "leave it" command. With your dog beside you and leashed, place a flat treat such as a piece of beef jerky or dog equivalent on the floor and cover it with your foot.
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Allow your dog to see and sniff the treat by lifting your foot and pivoting your heel to reveal the treat. Make sure the dog knows the treat is there.
Cover the treat with your foot any time the dog attempts to pick up the treat. Repeat this several times until your dog no longer attempts to take the treat. Add the phrase "leave it" each time you cover the treat. Praise and treat your dog for leaving it reliably. When walking your dog, reinforce the training by putting a toy or treat in his path and telling him to "leave it" so you can practice the command.
Training the Cat
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Enter the room where the cat and the assistant are. Be sure you have a tight hold on your dog. Enter slowly, making sure there is a lot of space between you and the person with the cat. Have your assistant hold the cat.
Have your assistant kneel on the floor while holding the cat between her legs. Slowly bring the dog over to meet the cat. Have the assistant hold the cat steady while the dog comes over to sniff at her.
Ask your assistant to gently and repeatedly reassure the cat to let her know she is safe and the dog cannot harm her. The trick is teaching the cat not to run because that will trigger your dog's prey instinct. Allow the dog to sniff the cat.
Reinforcing the Training
Pick up your cat and hold her firmly in your arms. Enter the room where the dog is. You do not need an assistant for this, as your dog can be free inside the house as long as he is trained not to jump on you, risking possible injury to you, the cat and the dog.
Show your dog the cat in your arms. Make sure your dog can see the cat. Ask him to sit. Bend down slightly and allow the dog to sniff at the cat. Pet the cat reassuringly to keep the cat calm.
Say "this is Mommy's cat," or "Daddy's cat" over and over again while petting the cat. Offer treats to the dog all the time the dog is sitting and not jumping on you. Show the cat exaggerated attention and affection in front of the dog. This elevates the cat in the "pack" and shows the dog the cat has a high status with you, the alpha. If the dog hurts a member of the pack with such high status, he knows he will have to answer to you. Give your dog the "leave it" command if he shows too much interest in the cat. Further reinforce this lesson by feeding the cat first. Dogs do not think like humans. Your dog won't get jealous, he will get the idea the cat is higher in the pack which will make him think twice before bothering her.
- While positive reinforcement works well for basic training, you may have to use a correction during the training, such as pulling back on the collar and saying "leave it" or "no" in a strong manner since it is important the dog gets this so neither animal gets hurt.
- The cat may be very nervous; if this is the case do not force the issue. Allow the cat to retreat and try again another day. If the cat is attempting to get out of your arms, for safety's sake, go into another room, shut the door and let the cat go. Never let the dog and cat be alone until you are sure they will get along and always be sure the cat has an escape route and a place to hide.
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.