Canine Behavior/New Dog - old cats
We adopted a 3-5 year old Burmese/border collie mix. 70 lbs. He needs some basic training that we are working on. Squirrels and birds are chase bait.
We have two domestic indoor cats, declawed, one 12 years the other 7 years. The first day he came in the house we made the mistake of not catching him before he chased one cat. The cats are both skittish now, and hide all the time. We have confined the dog to one large room with a crate. We were told that he used the crate at the kennel. He only comes out and into the house on a leash. Outside we will let him run in the fenced in backyard.
The cats lived with our last dog with no problems. We don't know if this will work out. The kennel/shelter said he lived with a cat before and showed no interest to a cat in a cage at the shelter. We would like to work with them all.
We are in this for the long haul if need be. Other than this possible cat problem, he is coming along with the training - we are doing ourselves, and shows no food aggression or problems with people. We haven't tried him with another dog. Again we were told that he was fine around other dogs at the kennel.
Please advise how we should train the dog to accept the cats, if possible.
ANSWER: Unfortunately, it's up to the cats themselves and, at this point, they most likely have acquired fear response to this dog.
I had a Doberman who died suddenly and I had four cats. Shelter director called me and said he had a beautiful Doberman bitch with a "show crop" and had no room for her in his home and she was about to be destroyed. He wanted me to take her. So, I did.
When I walked in the door with this dog, the cats all at first just took her for granted but, within a few moments (MOMENTS) they knew she was NOT Rosebud (my other Doberman) and headed for "the hills". Pearl, the new Dobe, had demonstrated NO prey drive toward cats in the shelter (the shelter director actually brought several cats into his office to observe her with them). She NEVER chased one of my cats or showed any interest whatever in them, so they quickly habituated to her and this was a non-issue.
Once a cat runs, a dog with high prey drive will continuously chase. The cats, themselves, acquire a fear response to the dog and actively attempt to avoid it (by hiding or running), so the cycle continues.
It IS possible to teach the dog (using operant conditioning: clicker) that his CALM BEHAVIOR when a cat is present is highly rewarded (using a clicker). Slowly, the cats will begin to accept his presence (so long as he never chases or challenges, you can't ever let it get that far). Crating him is not the solution because the cats (prey to him) are fully visible and he is confined and frustrated. You need an experienced CLICKER TRAINER, not just someone who thinks they know how to use one, someone who DOES know how to use one.
I suggest you go to Karen Pryor's site ClickerTraining.com and see if there is a list of trainers available. You can even use the "contact us" feature to ask for referral.
Meanwhile: observe the dog on leash. When he is calm while a cat is present (which might never happen now by itself), praise/food reward in two seconds. If he responds to the presence of the cat by vocalizing or attempting to chase, turn your back to him and totally IGNORE HIM for however long it takes for him to recover from his prey response (and it might take quite a while), then ask for trained behavior (sit) and food reward/praise. Over time, this by itself won't fix the problem if the dog is persistent in perceiving cats as prey but it will slowly teach him that giving YOU attention and responding to a learned command for reward is a GOOD experience.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
Unfortunately we also had some aggression issues towards male visitors after I wrote to you. Enough to make us question, what next?
This has not made our decision any easier because this is a dog if he were trained and given the right environment would be an absolute sweetheart. In the few days we have had him, he has stolen our heart. He will be going back to the shelter, but we have now made the shelter aware of the issues and concerns. We are hoping this will lead him to the life that all these animals deserve, a loving, safe home to live their lives fully.
Thank you for the advice. It was extremely valuable. I will be back to you when we decide to get back into the rescue dog arena.
You made the absolute correct decision for the dog and for yourselves and your cats. Aggression towards male visitors means this dog needs special evaluation and counter conditioning and cannot be placed in the average home. It is true that people are the problem: about 98% of the aggression issues I've seen and treated in the domestic dog were the result of improper or inadequate socialization, harmful training, etc. caused by former owners (and sometimes, unhappily, the present owners of the dog in question).
There are temperament tests available so you can evaluate a dog yourself but no one can tell you if a dog is truly habituated to the presence of cats. Only if you see with your own eyes that this is so, and even then this merely proves the dog is habituated to THOSE cats, can you trust this information. Having said that, however, I can tell you that I have brought into my home (over the past 25 years) multiple high kill shelter rescues, show dogs (sight hounds, no less!) and others and had two cats, both of whom had no fear of dogs and did NOT RUN. It's all about how one introduces the dog to the cats once a temperament evaluation has been made. Here are two sites that teach how to evaluate temperament:
Prey drive is the absolute most important factor but it is not the ONLY one. Dogs obviously intended to chase/kill or chase/control are the hardest to habituate to other animals in the home but that is not a hard and fast rule, either.