Dogs chase cats for two reasons. Some want to play with cats. Others perceive cats as prey and will harm a cat if they catch her. A predatory dog obviously poses a more serious problem, but even a playful dog can seriously harm a cat. He might injure the cat by biting too hard, even in play. At the very least, being harassed by a playful dog can cause a cat severe stress. Reacting to this stress, the cat might fight to defend herself, and then the offending dog might retaliate. A dog-cat fight can be devastating. A dog can grab and easily wound or kill a cat by crushing her in his jaws. A cat can inflict serious injuries, too, particularly to a dog’s face. And if a dog is chasing a cat outdoors, one or both animals could be injured or killed should they run across a road and get hit by a motor vehicle.
Many dogs live peacefully with a cat inside the home. However, some dogs will still chase a resident cat if they encounter her outside. Other dogs are fine with their own cat but will chase unfamiliar cats. Cats are more vulnerable when they run from dogs. A dog will usually back off and just bark if a cat stands her ground.
Because eliminating a cat-chasing habit can be challenging, it’s best to seek help from a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or Associate CAAB) if you have a dog who chases cats. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help , to locate one of these professionals in your area. Please read on for information about how to prevent cat chasing and some general advice about resolving this behavior problem.
The best way to ensure that a puppy will not prey on cats is to raise him from a very young age (under 12 weeks) with one or more cats. If you can do this, your puppy will come to view cats as part of his family. He’ll probably attempt to play with the resident cat and, in many cases, the two pets will become fast friends. However, some cats have no interest in playing with puppies and will rebuff a puppy’s advances. If this happens in your household, try not to intervene unless you believe one of the duo is in peril. It’s best to let the cat teach the puppy an important lesson about respect. Even a declawed cat can be pretty convincing when telling a puppy to back off.
- If your dog chases your own cat in the home, the best strategy is to reintroduce your two pets as though one or both are new to your household. Please see our articles, Introducing Your Cat to a New Dog  and Introducing Your Dog to a New Cat , to learn how to do this. During your pets’ reintroduction, make sure there are plenty of hiding places that your cat can scurry into or under if she feels nervous. If you don’t yet completely trust your dog and think he might try to chase your cat if she runs, be sure to keep him on a loose leash and be prepared to stop him if he takes off toward your cat. Cats often jump up on tables or other high places in their attempts to escape. If your dog were to grab your cat in mid-leap, he could seriously injure her.
- If your dog chases neighborhood cats coming into your yard, use deterrents to keep them away. It might be especially effective to place motion-activated water sprays, like the Scarecrow®, on the periphery of your yard. Just in case your deterrents don’t work, always visually check your yard before allowing your dog to go outside.
- Keep your dog contained in a kennel or fenced yard so that he can’t roam at large and chase or harass neighborhood cats.
- If you walk your dog off leash, do so in places and at times when cats aren’t likely to be present. Cats are primarily nocturnal, but they’re also quite active at dawn and dusk. It’s best to avoid these times and walk your dog during daylight hours.
- Teach your dog a really reliable recall so that you can call him whenever you need to. Please see our article, Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called , for detailed information about how to accomplish this. To be successful, you’ll need to start your dog’s training away from cats so that he can focus on learning and not get overly aroused and distracted. Only when your dog is extremely reliable at coming when called should you “test” him in the presence of a cat. It’s very difficult to call a dog off once he has sighted a cat. It’s even more challenging to call a dog off once he’s in pursuit of a cat. Be prepared to devote a substantial amount of training time and effort to making your dog’s recall work. Even then, realize that he’ll still chase cats. It will be your responsibility to make sure that you recognize potentially problematic situations early enough to successfully call your dog off. Don’t hesitate to find a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) in your area for help with this training.
- As a last resort, you can teach your dog to associate the sight or appearance of cats with a punishing, aversive experience, such as an obnoxious noise, a repulsive spray scent or something painful. To ensure that you and your dog benefit from humane and effective training procedures, it’s imperative that you work with an experienced Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or Associate CAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Diplomate of the College of Veterinary Behavior, Dip ACVB). (Please see our article, Finding Professional Help , to locate one of these qualified professionals in your area.) The behaviorist or trainer must work with your dog over many sessions, in a variety of circumstances, for the procedure to work. Some dogs are so aroused by the anticipation of a chase that even associating cats with very strong or painful punishment won’t deter them. This is why it’s crucial to work with an experienced professional. She or he can determine in the first few sessions if this kind of procedure is likely to work for your dog.
What NOT to Do
- Do not expose your dog to a cat and then beat or physically punish him in some other way. This is inhumane and highly unlikely to deter your dog. At best, he might refrain from preying on cats when you’re nearby, but he won’t learn not do to it when you’re not around. At worst, you could injure your dog, damage his trust in you and cause further behavior problems, such as fear and aggression.
- Do not purposely let your dog take off after a cat and then allow him to hit the end of a leash or long line at a dead run. This could cause severe damage to his neck and vertebrae.
- Do not let your dog catch a cat in the hopes that the cat will teach your dog a lesson. Your dog could be seriously injured, and the cat could be injured or killed.