For decades Saturday morning television has delivered endless cartoon episodes of dogs chasing cats. In the good old days it was Hector chasing Sylvester or Spike chasing Tom. Kids all over the world have grown up believing this was just another law of nature. In reality however, a cat is just as likely to chase a dog as the other way around. In the wild, both canines and felines chase prey for food, but domesticated, well-fed dogs and cats have better ways to spend their time … or do they?
A Wee Bit of Truth - There is a scientific basis for why some dogs might chase cats. Some breeds have been specifically bred to hunt other species for sport. Pointers were bred to track and flush out birds and dachshunds were bred to hunt and catch burrowing animals. So depending on your dog's lineage, there may be some instinctive reason he might chase your cat.
Personality Clashes - Animal behaviorist, Dr. Gary Landsberg of the North Toronto Animal Clinic, believes chasing has more to do with the individual personalities of the dog and cat, rather than some inherent genetic trait. Although he acknowledges that some dogs have a stronger chase or predatory instinct than others, he says, "The biggest problems are related to specific compatibility issues where the dog is too playful and the cat is too fearful [or] a cat that is fearful and aggressive and a dog that does not know how to react."
Keeping the Peace - If you have the luxury of just now bringing a new dog or cat into your household, you may be able to avoid most future conflicts by taking your time and introducing the new pet gradually. If, however, you are already in the throes of conflict, there are still some things you can do to restore the peace.
First, learn the behaviors or body language your dog exhibits just before he begins to chase. Maybe he vocalizes in some way or adopts a rigid stance. As soon as you see that behavior, command your dog to "Leave it!" The idea is to interrupt the behavior before it gets fully exercised.
You may also find that your cat tolerates your dog most of the time, but occasionally seems victimized. If this is the case, create some comfortable, out-of-the-way retreats for your cat that your dog cannot access. This will allow your cat to take a break when he needs to before the conflict escalates into a full-blown war. If your dog is the victim and your cat is the bully, you'll need to put the cat in a time out until the undesirable behavior subsides.
Although the cartoon characters of our youth may linger fondly in our memories, it is not a cat's predetermined destiny to be harassed by dogs. Cats chasing mice? Now that's another story.
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