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Canine Behavior/Aggressiveness to pet cat


Hello, I just adopted a 9 month old chihuahua-pug from the shelter yesterday. I have a cat that I have had for the last 4 years and I also had a prior dog (now deceased due to heart failure) which caused me to adopt a new dog. Yesterday was an easy day for both cat and dog. Toby (dog) was submissive (no aggression- seemed to give cat space) yet curious (came up to sniff but would back off) to Booboo (my cat). Today however has been a bit of a difficult day. He has aggressively lunged, growled and barked at Booboo- once while laying on my legs; another time when I was in the kitchen (back faced); and twice when he was in his crate (apparently the cat had gotten to close to him but my cat has been taking this new dog sitch quite well and is very curious). My husbands is trying to reassure me by stating that he is still very young and he can learn but it may take time. I am quite aware of that but am concerned that it just may be his natural temperament (being chihuahua and all). I am a little more weary due to the fact that he is acting out aggressively while in his cage. There has been no contact from either of them which is great but now I am skeptical as to if he is the right dog for us and our household. I really want to keep him and would hate to take him back to the shelter (who will take him if a behavior issue like this arises. He is quite attached to us already and is doing well with potty training, basic commands, and crate training. He is responsive to when I praise or scold him. So here are my questions:

Is there anything else I can do to help them bond and get along?

How do I know if this aggression towards the cat will ever cease?

What are ways I can determine if he is the right fit for us and our cat without a messy fight from happening?

Special note: The shelter attendant did walk the dog through some cat kennels to see his attitude towards them. He was curios but quiet and somewhat ignored the cats....he was outside (the shelter has cat kennels that are indoor/outdoor like regular dog kennels) I am not sure if he was that way because there was many other distractions outside or not- he enjoys biting his leash which he did most of the time. Also, I just got done taking him out for a walk, and he got real close to my cat but no aggression yyyyaaayyyyy!!!! I have 30 days to return him so I have enough time to work with him before I accept the option of returning him. Any advice would be great. I would like to see both cat and dog happy together without a fight breaking out! :)

Barely ONE DAY since this dog has been in your home, and you have no history on his past experience.  A dog not habituated to, and socialized with, other animals (and even children, babies, etc.) is an unknown quantity.  Walking a dog under intense emotional stress from kenneling through a cat enclosure is NOT a test of his reaction to cats.  The closest reaction one could get in a situation like this would be to allow the dog access to a calm environment (an office) until he has visibly calmed (about half an hour, at least) and then introduce (free moving) cats into the space.  Even that, by itself, is no true indication but at least it gives a strong clue.

Prey drive may have some influence, but lack of habituation and socialization to a "strange, other" life form is more appropriately the cause of the dog's excitement and reaction.  The cat is, unfortunately (in this instance), strongly habituated to, and socialized to, other dogs so it has no natural prey response.  I had a cat like that myself who was raised among dogs, and even crate trained.  He had no fear.  I did some in home boarding at the time and was quite careful of temperament in dogs I accepted.  In one case, I made a serious error.  My cat had no fear, the dog had a strong prey response, and I barely saved the cat from serious injury.  It was my close vigilance that avoided a catastrophe.

Allowing a crated dog who is not accustomed to other animal life forms to be literally flooded by the presence, and inquisitory nature, of a fearless cat is a HUGE ERROR.  The fearless presence of the cat with the dog so contained will seriously exacerbate his prey response, or his fear response.

I suggest you keep this dog on long training leash indoors.  Observe him closely when the cat approaches so as not to allow the cat to acquire a fear response (once the cat starts to run, it's all over).  When the dog proceeds forward in a clearly inquisitive yet cautious manner (body low, head extended, ears back), allow it and recall him (beep = as in BEEP BEEP BEEP verbally - and when he returns to you food reward with tidbit of hot dog or string cheese).  If he lunges, stand up and walk away (he will have to follow you), wait until he is calm, walk toward him slowly with a happy demeanor until he backs up and sits, food reward, go back to normal.  Your entire purpose here is to encourage a NOT fearful approach to the cat, a total redirection if he reacts with prey drive and reward for calm sit, slowly COUNTER CONDITIONING whatever reaction he offers to the cat until he has learned (from your calm demeanor and his calm response for reward) that the cat equals reward.  This may take time and much more than one day or even one month.  A thirty day ability to "return him" is an indication, to me, that this rescue facility is sub-par.  Any GOOD rescue facility should be ready, willing, able to accept the return of a dog within a reasonable period of adjustment (six months).

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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