German shepherds are intelligent, loyal pooches with strong natural herding instinct and prey drive. These traits can make them somewhat undesirable as a companion to a kitty, whom they might view as worth chasing. But harmony can prevail, particularly if you adopt the shepherd as a puppy and socialize him properly.
Isolate your kitty in a room of her own, complete with a litter box, food and water dishes. Feed your German shepherd pup on the other side of the door to the room so that he can smell the kitty and the two pets can interact safely. Your pup will also have the pleasant experience of eating outside the cat's door, associating the presence of the kitty with something good.
Remember, during his first 3 months of your German shepherd's life, when the American Kennel Club says he is most open to learning and socialization, you want your puppy to associate your kitty with good things only.
Train your German shepherd pup some basic commands as soon as he gets home. Basic commands include "sit," "stay" and the all-important "leave it." These commands are enough to allow you to control your shepherd around the kitty; without them you're wasting your time. German shepherds are highly intelligent; they learn quickly using positive training methods and treat rewards. Puppy kindergarten classes can help with basic obedience training for your pup, too.
Discourage your German shepherd pup's instinct to chase animals or objects so he'll be less prone to pursue your kitty around the house. German shepherds have strong prey and herding drives, which means they see animals like kitties as something to either hunt or herd. While on a leash, tell your shepherd "no" if he tries to chase any living thing, and immediately stop any fun play with him. Encourage him to fetch and return doggie toys instead to satisfy this instinct.
Allow your kitty to meet and interact with your German shepherd while the new animal is in a large, comfy crate, for your feline companion's safety. If your shepherd pup growls or displays any signs of aggression toward the kitty, correct him by telling him "no." If no doesn't immediately bring your shepherd under control, remove him if he's outside the crate, or take the cat from the room. Leave the dog alone for a while to reinforce the notion that a good thing -- you -- has been taken away because of his behavior. If things go well upon introduction, keep the initial meeting short -- five or 10 minutes -- and gradually lengthen them as your pup shows fewer or no signs of aggression toward the kitty. Reward calm interaction with tasty treats.
Introduce the pets without the crate, keeping the German shepherd on a leash to control him. Allow them to socialize face-to-face. Command your dog to sit and stay during the initial meetings, gradually letting him approach the kitty. If he stays calm, give him praise and treats. Otherwise, control him with "leave it." Only after consistent positive interaction over the course of several meetings should you let your pup off his leash.
Create a safe room for your kitty that your German shepherd pup cannot access. Do this by installing a cat-size pet door in the base of the door to that room. Also give your pup an area of his own, including a crate. German shepherds can be territorially aggressive, so you want each pet to have a space of his own -- this is especially important when your shepherd is older and upwards of 90 pounds.
- Dog Channel: Training the German Shepherd Puppy
- German Shepherd Dog Rescue: Training Your German Shepherd Dog
- PetPlace.com: German Shepherd Dog
- Southern California German Shepherd Rescue: Frequently Asked Questions: On Choosing the Right Dog for Your Family
- Southwest German Shepherd Rescue: The Breed
- Rescue Every Dog: Breed Profile
- Dog Channel: Chasing Information on German Shepherds
- Purina: What Is a High Prey Drive and What Breeds Tend to Have It?
- My Healthy Cat: Can Your New Cat and Dog Get Along?
- Before adopting a German shepherd puppy, ask the breeder or shelter behaviorist if the pup was raised around cats prior to adoption. He'll be more likely to get along with your kitty if he was.
- German shepherds are high-energy companions that need lots of exercise to prevent behavioral issues. Provide your little pup with brisk exercise and play for an hour each day. A well-exercised pup will have less desire or energy to chase your kitty around the house.
- Spay or neuter your German shepherd puppy prior to 6 months of age, when he reaches puberty, to reduce aggressive and dominant tendencies toward your kitty.
- German shepherds naturally have a high prey drive and could seriously injure a kitty by viewing her as something to hunt, even as puppies, only in part because of their large size. If you are having issues with your shepherd and your kitty, even after slow introductions, consult with a certified animal behaviorist.
- German shepherd puppies don't respond well to negative training methods or punishment. Negative reinforcement can instill aggressive behavior, making them potentially dangerous to people and other pets.
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.