Although dogs and cats can live together and be friends, harmonious coexistence does not always occur. Some dogs possess a strong predatory instinct that drives them to attack cats and any other animal they consider suitable prey. To these dogs, a cat is no different from a rat or a squirrel. They will chase them and try to hunt them down.
If your dog chases and attacks cats in his path, it is important that you take the appropriate measures and train him to redirect his impulses in order to prevent a possible tragedy.
Why does my dog chase and attack cats?
Dogs have a strong hunting and chasing instinct. In nature, their survival depends on their abilities as hunters and scavengers. This instinct is maintained in their genetic information even though they do not need to hunt to survive.
Therefore, when a dog chases a cat or any other small animal, it is motivated by its hunting and survival instinct and not by aggressive behavior. Aggression aims to get rid of its opponent, while predation seeks to catch the prey to eat it.
If the predatory drive is very strong in your dog, it will be very difficult to eliminate it completely. However, you can train him to modify his behavior and teach him to remain calm in the presence of cats and other animals. Even if you have cats at home, he can learn to live with them. You may develop a friendly relationship and have fun playing together.
This does not mean that it is a good idea to leave them alone in the same place when you cannot supervise your dog. The hunting instinct can come out at any time.
It's also possible that your dog is a great friend to your cat, yet his hunting instinct is triggered when he encounters other cats.
Just because your dog has predatory behavior does not mean it is aggressive.
The predatory instinct of dogs is innate to their personality. It depends on their genetic predisposition and is influenced by the environmental factors that surround them.
All dogs have predatory behavior. Without this predisposition to hunt, they would have no chance of survival in the wild. On the other hand, selective breeding has perfected the hunting abilities of certain breeds, inhibiting some behavioral sequences and developing others with more intensity, so that each breed would be able to satisfy certain demands.
This predatory instinct does not always bother us, as it is what makes playing with dogs fun. When you throw a ball to your dog and he chases it and brings it to you, you are tapping into his natural instinct to chase things that move.
Some people mistake this behavior for aggression. However, the predatory instinct does not imply that the dog is aggressive. The motivation to chase prey is very different from aggression. Aggression is motivated by competition for resources, fear, or self-defense. It is a social survival behavior. Predatory behavior, on the other hand, is aimed at hunting and eating prey.
When a dog goes after prey, it will sniff and track the area until it locates it. It will patiently stalk it and, when the time is right, it will begin the attack sequence: chase the prey, pounce on it, catch it, and kill it by shaking or suffocation. Finally, it will eat it.
However, just because predatory behavior is natural does not mean it should go unchecked. It is your job to make sure that the natural predatory instincts displayed by your dog do not cause problems.
Are some breeds more prone to chasing cats than others?
Some breeds show a stronger predatory instinct than others. Dogs that have been bred over the centuries to chase and kill small animals have stronger predatory behaviors than those breeds that have been designed to live at home as companion dogs.
Although there are always exceptions in all breeds, and any dog can in principle exhibit predatory behavior, this instinct occurs more frequently in the following breeds:
- Shepherd dogs (Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, Belgian Shepherd, German Shepherd, Majorca Shepherd...)
- Hunting dogs (Retriever, Spaniel, Setter, Pointer,...)
- Hounds (Beagle, Basset, Bloodhound,...)
- Terriers (Jack Russell, Scottie, Westie, Bull Terrier,...)
- Sled dogs (Husky, Malamute,...)
- Wolfdogs, also known as wolf hybrids (Czechoslovakian wolfdog, Kunming wolfdog, Italian wolfdog,...)
Due to selective breeding, man has been creating different breeds destined to fulfill certain functions, so that they have been developing and enhancing or inhibiting some characteristic traits of these animals. As a result, some of these breeds may show some of the sequences of predatory behavior more accentuated than others.
For example, herding breeds have strong stalking and chasing behaviors, but the sequence of killing and consuming the prey has been inhibited, since the function of these dogs is to take care of the livestock, chase it when it escapes, and lead it to the right place, but without harming it.
The Hunting Breeds are very good at sniffing, tracking and taking the prey, but they have also been bred not to damage it, so they are supposed to bring it to you without destroying it.
Hounds come in two types. Some breeds are trained to sniff at ground level. Their long ears allow them to catch scent particles. They are very good at sniffing and chasing prey. The second type of hound uses sight to locate its prey and has strong legs to run after it. These hounds can actually catch the prey and kill it, but this is not their main purpose, so this tendency is inhibited and they usually will not harm it.
Terriers have genetically enhanced the catch and kill part of the predatory sequence, as they have been engineered to find rats in barns and kill them. Or in other cases, sadly, to be used as fighting dogs (e.g., the Pitbull Terrier). As such, they have a well-deserved reputation for killing their prey. They are dogs that do not have an inhibited kill sequence.
Sled Dogs and Wolf Hybrids have been less genetically manipulated, so their behavior is more wolf-like. These dogs are very likely to show the full predatory sequence.
When training your dog to stop chasing cats, you must learn about the characteristics of the breed and understand which chase sequence is most likely to be triggered.
You will not be able to completely eliminate this impulse since it is part of his genetics, but you can teach him to control it. Of course, it will be more complicated with some dogs than with others. And don't forget that, even if they control their impulses and learn to coexist amicably with a cat, primal instincts can come to the surface in any dog.
What should I do if my dog is chasing cats or other animals?
The first thing to do is to keep your dog away from potential prey. If you live in a house with an estate, make sure your dog does not escape by jumping over the fence and running after passing cats. Do not leave him alone, unattended.
If you are going to leave your property, use leashes and, if necessary, a muzzle.
Can dogs and cats live together?
Dogs can coexist with cats and even be great friends. This doesn't mean that you can trust them and forget that they carry a predator in their genes.
When dogs and cats grow up together, they learn to understand each other both by the sounds they make and by their body language. The cat will know when the dog's tail wags invites him to come closer or when the dog knows when to stay away from the cat. And vice versa. Animals that have not socialized with other species, however, may misinterpret signals, fear each other, compete for resources, or consider themselves prey.
Age is also important. A puppy is unlikely to discuss leadership with an adult animal, but young animals are more energetic and playful. Adult animal, but young animals are more energetic and playful. They can drive older animals crazy and get into trouble for it.
The size difference is another factor to consider. Big dogs can hurt smaller cats, but cats can also hurt dogs.
And, just as a dog may regard a smaller cat as prey, large cats may recognize that a small dog, such as a Chihuahua, is prey to them.
How do cats and dogs play?
The game between cats and dogs is really a hunting simulation. The animals track, stalk, chase each other, attack each other, threaten to bite.
Dogs stand in an arc with their buttocks raised, to indicate that they are playing and not really threatening. Cats also use this posture before launching a play attack.
The animals launch inhibited (open-mouthed) bites at each other's paws, and attack and strike each other without force. They usually take turns chasing each other and launching attacks. Cats often aim for the back of the neck, fall sideways to kick the dog, or wait on a couch to hit the dog as it passes by.
However, sometimes the game becomes dangerous and you must stop it. For example, if one of the two tries to hide or run away, if the biting becomes real, the dog's growling lowers in pitch and becomes aggressive. The cat is usually quiet. If you hear him squeak or meow angrily, it's a sign of trouble.
Always supervise play between cats and dogs.
What should I do if my dog starts chasing my cat?
If you fear your dog may harm your cat, it is important to keep them separated.
Provide your cat with easy access to elevated areas and don't leave him alone with the dogs if you're not there to supervise interactions. Set up a room where you can leave your cat when you leave home, with its food, water, and litter box, safe from possible attacks.
How can I train my dog to not chase cats?
If your dog has a predatory instinct, it will be difficult for you to eliminate this behavior. A herding dog will always be motivated to run after animals and things that move, and a terrier will happily chase rats and other small creatures at every opportunity.
What you can do is change the predatory response to a behavior that is incompatible with running after prey. For example, teach him to lie down when he sees an animal he wants to chase. This training is complicated since the dog is motivated to go after the prey, and in order to not do so, he must achieve something much more rewarding.
You should also keep in mind that this training can work very well in your presence, but maybe your dog will chase your cat if you are not there and there is no one to stop him. Thus, you should train your dog in obedience and combine this training with vigilance. If you are going to be away and do not want him to run after cats, keep your dog indoors while you are away, and keep your cat in a safe place to which your dog does not have access. Dog fences are ideal for separating two rooms.
Teach your dog not to pull on the leash.
- Use a harness that allows you to curb pulling and lunging behaviors.
- Carry treats and treats that your dog really likes.
Train your dog to pay attention to you.
- Make a sound with your mouth. Place a treat at the dog's eye level and give it to him when he looks at you. Repeat the process until your dog understands.
- From this point on, every time you make the noise, your dog will associate it with receiving a treat and will come running to you.
- Go to the other side of the room and repeat, until your dog stops what he is doing to come to you. From this moment on, you can start practicing the exercise in the presence of other animals.
Train at a safe distance
- Place a cage with an animal inside (a hamster, a cat, etc.) at a distance. Put a muzzle on your dog if you don't trust him yet.
- Find a distance from which it does not react to the presence of the other animal. Make the noise with your mouth. If he looks at you, give him a treat.
- If he shows anxiety at the other animal and ignores your treat, you are too close. Move further away.
- Move closer to the cage as you get him to listen to you. When he gets too close to the cage, say "Leave it" in a firm voice, accompanied by a little tug on the leash. Then, make the noise with your mouth and, if he looks at you, give him a treat and petting. You have to be much more interesting than the animal in the cage.
It is OK to repeat the order at any moment.
- Use a stuffed animal, tie it with a string, and have someone move it around the room while you practice the command "Leave it" followed by the concentration exercise. When the dog focuses his attention on you despite the distraction, try leaving the toy in the middle of the room and walking away.
- When the dog approaches, say "Leave it" and make the noise with your mouth from across the room. Hide somewhere and when your dog approaches the toy, say "Leave it" followed by the noise. If he comes toward you, praise him and give him treats.
- If you repeat this frequently enough, he will think you can always spot his intentions, even when he thinks you can't see him.
- It is important that you never let him play with that toy. It is a training tool and should be treated as if it were a real animal.
Test in real situations
- When the above exercises work well, try exposing your dog to a real animal in the wild (not in a cage). At first, your dog will need to be on a leash and muzzled.
- You can do the concentration exercise while you go for a walk with your dog. If he doesn't listen, show him the treat but don't give it to him. Repeat the process from time to time until he always listens to you.
- It is very important that, even when you have managed to keep your dog calm in front of other animals, you never leave him with them unsupervised.
- If you have a cat at home, leave him in a closed room with fresh water, food, and his litter box so that he is comfortable and safe until you return.
- If you are not able to train your dog properly or he shows aggressive behaviors, go to a professional trainer.
- The "Down" or "Lay down" commands are very useful for emergency situations. With them in place, you can stop your dog even if he is in hot pursuit. Many dogs will not respond to the "Come" command if they are very excited, but they will respond to the "Down" command, because they do not have to move away from the prey. This will bring him back to a cognitive state and decrease his adrenaline load. After that, you can call him or approach him calmly, using the command "Stay" if he tries to get up, and when you reach his height, put him on the leash or reinstate the game.
- Dogs chase and attack cats because of their predatory instinct.
- In nature, this predatory behavior is essential to ensure the dog's survival.
- All dogs are predators, although some breeds exhibit stronger predatory behavior than others.
- Through selective breeding, we have inhibited and enhanced certain behaviors in each breed.
- Dogs can learn to coexist with cats.
- When dogs and cats play, it is a simulation of hunting.
- It is important to understand that we will never completely eliminate our dog's predatory instincts.
- Always supervise the play of your dog and cat.
- Do not leave the cat alone with the dog if you can not supervise its behavior.
- In order for your dog to stop chasing cats, he must get a reward more rewarding than his prey.
- Teach the dog to lie down to stop its chase and regain its cognitive state.
- Teach your dog not to attack other animals through progressive training.
- If necessary, consult a professional trainer.