Case Study: Introducing a New Dog to Resident Cats

Newly-adopted Ness the dog was undersocialized and had had no prior experience with cats
Newly-adopted Ness the dog was undersocialized and had had no prior experience with cats

I used clicker training to help introduce my newly adopted dog, Ness, to the four cats in my household. Ness was under-socialized and had no experience with cats prior to adoption. The cats had only occasional exposure to visiting dogs during family holidays. During those visits, I provided my cats with a safe retreat and positive distractions such as Kongs filled with salmon paste.

At the start of the introductions, Ness was tethered to me at all times on a loose leash while I was home. Since Ness was near me at all times, it was easy to reinforce desirable behaviors and prevent negative interactions with the cats. When I was absent, Ness was crated.

The cats were introduced to Ness using classical counterconditioning and desensitization in short sessions. Ness was on a harness and loose leash and one cat was introduced at a time.

Tabitha Kucera used a clicker to reinforce the resident cats to be calm around Ness, and vice-versa
Tabitha Kucera used a clicker to reinforce the resident cats to be calm around Ness, and vice-versa

I started the animals at a distance where both were not showing signs of fear, anxiety, and stress. I placed them in separate rooms with a baby gate in-between for additional safety. My husband was with the cat and I was with Ness. Every time Ness looked at the cat, I clicked and reinforced him with a treat. Every time the cat looked at Ness, she also got a click and a treat. They also received a click and a treat when they turned their attention to their handler and remained calm and relaxed. The animals were gradually moved closer together as these sessions continued until they met face to face. At the start, the sessions lasted 3-5 minutes, and as the animals became more comfortable with each other, the sessions were longer and typically ended at 15-20 minutes. After doing this daily for 18 days, Ness and the cats were allowed supervised time together.

Throughout this slow introduction process, I used clicker training to teach Ness and the cats “come,” “sit,” and “down” so that I could easily prevent a negative interaction and positively redirect. I continued to use the clicker to reinforce all of them for being calm around each other. Now, they get along famously.

Taken from the article Clicker Training for Cats, first published in BARKS from the Guild, November 2017, pp. 16-23.

About the Author

Tabitha Kucera has been a registered veterinary technician for over seven years and she has worked with a number of local feline rescue organizations. Her work in these fields shed light on repeated occurrences of cat euthanasia and re-homing due to behavioral issues. She quickly became dedicated to learning about the root causes and permanent solutions to feline behavior concerns. Keeping cats in their loving homes is her utmost goal – this reduces euthanasia as well as displacement of cats from their homes, where cats often end up in stressful shelter environments. Helping people better understand and relate to their cat leads to a stronger bond and a more gratifying relationship between cat and human. She is also passionate about community cats. She is fluent on topics such as trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs and rescue/volunteer work, and routinely offer lectures and seminars to the general public, non-profit groups, and veterinary professionals. 

Education, Certifications, and Organizations:

Registered Veterinary Technician, Stautzenberger college

Low Stress Handling Certified, Low stress handling university

Fear Free Certified, Fear Free'

About Pet Professional Guild Cat Committee

A group of Pet Professional Guild members who are feline behavior specialists have formed the PPG Cat Committee. The Cat Committee aims to help members who are interested in feline behavior add to their knowledge about this species that shares its life with so many people throughout the world. They provide webinars and educational information on many feline topics and encourage everyone to learn more about the fascinating feline!

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