How to Stop a Puppy From Bothering the Cat

To stop a puppy from bothering a cat, you will often need a multi-modal approach, tackling the issue from various angles. Most importantly, you will need to treat the root cause of why your puppy is so drawn to your cat and find alternate ways for engagement.

How to Stop a Puppy From Bothering the Cat

To stop a puppy from bothering a cat, you will often need a multi-modal approach, tackling the issue from various angles. Most importantly, you will need to treat the root cause of why your puppy is so drawn to your cat and find alternate ways for engagement.

To stop a puppy from bothering your cat, you will need to put yourself in both cat's your puppy's "shoes" (or paws, so to say) and perceive the world from their personal angle.

Once you gain that perspective, your next step is to tackle the root cause of why your puppy has made pestering your cat his favorite hobby. And after that, you will have to take steps to make your cat's life less miserable.

Let's face it: there's a common belief that dogs and cats can be best friends when introduced from an early age. Indeed, you may have heard about the importance of introducing cats and dogs from an early age so that they come to accept each other as family and become best buddies.

However, older cats are not always accepting of puppies and young puppies can be super boisterous, balls of energy, turning pestering kitty into their favorite pastime.

So let's first take a look at how puppies and cats likely perceive each other so we can gain a better insight into some possible dynamics going on.

Why is your dog constantly pestering your cat?

From Your Puppy's Perspective

Puppies are adorable balls of fur; there's no doubt about that. We often imagine puppies as rather placid creatures who innocently play with butterflies and chase toilet paper rolls down a flight of stairs. That's just what you may see in movies and commercials though. Reality is often a whole different story!

When we bring the puppy home, we often get a different version of what we have envisioned. The puppy pees and poops a lot, won't stop moving, latches on to our clothing with his sharp teeth and won't stop pestering Snowball, the cat, for even a second.

Puppies given cutesy names such as Bailey, Buttons or Cookie, therefore, end up being nicknamed "Dogzilla" or "Crocopup."

This is not surprising though if we take a peek into a previous chapter of your pup's life just prior to coming into our homes.

A Look Back into Your Pup's Life

In the breeder's care, puppies spent a good amount of time playing very physical wrestling games with their littermates.

This play often included pinning other puppies down and biting their ears, tails and faces. Rough play often caused puppies to hurt each other and squeal in pain, considering their very sharp, needle-like teeth.

The sharpness of these teeth though isn't there just by chance. It plays an adaptive role in compensating weak jaws and giving puppies the opportunity to learn how to inhibit their bite before they can do more damage once their jaw muscles strengthen.

Wanting to Play With the Cat

Once in your home, with no more puppies to play with, the urge to play bite is very strong. Puppies need to play just as children do, but who will they play bite with?

It is totally natural for your puppy to perceive your cat as a fun playmate. He'll want to engage the cat in play as he did with his playmates. He, therefore, finds chasing your cat irresistible and would love to just play, play, play.

A Possible Competitor

Sometimes, puppies may also interact with cats in a slightly competitive manner. Even among their siblings, you may notice at times how a puppy may focus on a particular puppy and interfere with the other pup's wish to get out of a tight passageway or door or get attention from a human.

This may look like play, but there is likely some level of competition going on. Research, after all, has proven that it is possible for dogs to feel jealousy.

According to a study conducted by the University of California San Diego psychology professor Christine Harris and student Caroline Prouvost, dogs are capable of showing signs of a primordial form of jealousy and did so by getting in between, pushing or snapping at an animated stuffed dog when the owners manifested affection towards it.

Suspect some level of competitiveness if your puppy seems to be triggered to nip and get in between every time your cat comes towards you for attention or when your cat is trying to walk into a room or in your direction.

Best friends or best enemies? Tired pups and tired kittens make a nice match.

From Your Cat's Perspective

While generally most puppies and dogs are the classical impersonations of extrovert personalities, basically, social beings who often engage in happy, excited behaviors, cats, on the other hand, tend to be associated more with introversion, preferring a quiet, rather quaint lifestyle. It's more likely to see cats relaxing by a fireplace rather than mingling with the crowds.

When a new puppy enters a cat's domain, the cat therefore often feels overwhelmed. Gone are the days where she could just walk around the home to eat, drink and find a resting spot undisturbed.

Now, she has to sneak and watch out for that crazy puppy monster who tries to chase her around and pin her to the ground for unknown reasons.

Cats Are Tranquil Beings

Cats are rather quiet beings; they are creatures of habits who thrive on routines. They like to spread their smells around to make themselves feel more comfortable. Changes in their environment stress them out, and some cats may even get sick from it.

Even very slight changes, such as a loud noise or a dirty litterbox can cause cats to feel stressed enough to urinate or defecate out of the litter box, vomit and eat less.

How cats react to a boisterous puppy may vary. Some cats will just keep moving away, while others will hiss and try to scratch/bite the puppy to make him stop.

Messages Going to Deaf Ears

Its unfortunate, but not all puppies get the memo of what the cat is trying to communicate. If the breeder failed to socialize the pups with cats, they may not understand well the body language.

How the puppy will respond to a cat may vary from puppy to puppy, and breed and individual personalities can play a big role in this. Some cats may have mixed feelings, feeling OK when the puppy is calm, and stressed out when the puppy moves about and plays.

Some puppies have learned from their mothers when to stop certain behaviors, some others though may have missed out this important lesson or they just have this strong, ingrained desire to persist.

Regardless, if your puppy keeps on pestering your cat, give your cat some credit. He was there before your puppy and most likely he is feeling annoyed, stressed out, and overwhelmed by this new addition.

Try to understand your cat's mixed feelings about your puppy

Firstly, What Not to Do

Trying to suppress natural behavior by yelling at your puppy, pushing him away, or worse, delivering physical corrections such as alpha rolls, scruff shakes and muzzle grabs to stop him from pestering your cat, will only backfire.

Your puppy won't understand why he is being yelled at or punished. On top of this, any physical interventions risk increasing your puppy's arousal levels even more, or worse, may trigger defensive aggression.

In other words, you risk that your puppy will start biting out of feeling threatened by your hands which becomes a major problem that can be challenging to remediate.

Even something as simple as yelling at your puppy can turn being counterproductive. Yelling causes stress in dogs and fails to inform them what we would like them to do instead. It also affects your bond with you puppy making you look unpredictable and untrustworthy.

Yelling “no” or punishing the dog will not stop a behavior that has a strong motivation.

— Debra Horwitz & Gary Landsberg, board-certified veterinary behaviorists

How to Stop a Puppy From Bothering the Cat

As mentioned, to stop a puppy from bothering the cat it will help to take a multi-modal approach, tackling the issue from a variety of angles. This "holistic" approach aims to get to the root of the problem, while also keeping in mind the puppy's' and cats' wellbeing.

Provide Your Cat With "Safe Zones"

If you just brought home a new puppy, it's not fair for your cat to get a heart attack every time she decides to walk around and is ambushed by the puppy.

It's important for your cat's emotional wellbeing and safety that she is provided with a safe place to retreat that is out of puppy monster's reach. Here are some options to provide such "safe zones":

  • Use a pet baby gate equipped with a small pet door at the bottom that is large enough for your cat to go through but not big enough for your dog to pass through. I recommend these for owners of dogs and cats so cats can get some relief without Rover constantly pestering him. With small puppies though, you may need to wait them to grow enough as some of the smaller pups can easily fit through too. Smaller breed dogs may also fit through.
  • Provide your cat with cat trees to climb on to stay out of reach.
  • Consider kitty condos that are high enough for kitty to feel safe.
  • Cat window perches and cat wall shelves are also helpful.
  • Add calming aids such as Feliway or Comfort Zone to you cat's safe zones. The calming aids emit synthetic versions of pheromones that cats are known to emit through special glands on their faces when they are feeling calm.

Prevent the Rehearsal of Chasing Behaviors

Your cat shouldn't be destined to a future filled with days of stress just because a new puppy has been welcomed into your home. While it's important to provide kitty with a safe zone to retreat to, this doesn't mean your cat has to spend the rest of his days hiding there because of the threat of being barked at and chased!

It's therefore imperative that your new puppy isn't allowed to rehearse cat chasing behaviors over and over. Left untreated, barking and chasing a cat can quickly become your pup's favorite pastime, and that for sure is not a good hobby!

Preventing the rehearsal of chasing behavior requires strict management which entails keeping your pup away from your cat when you are not supervising and keeping him under control when you are supervising.

Management Options When You Can't Supervise

Crates, pet gates, exercise pens, playpens and fences are management tools that can be used when your puppy cannot be supervised. It's important to ensure your puppy has no way to escape them by chewing, digging or climbing over or under these barriers.

Management Options When You Can Supervise

When you are actively supervising, you can control your puppy and prevent him from rehearsing barking and chasing behaviors with a collar and leash, (I like to use a hands-free version) or the use of indoor tether attached to a harness (always under supervision) and later on, with just voice control and training.

Train Your Puppy to Respond to a Smacking Sound

In this scenario, we are teaching puppy to "leave it" using a smacking sound along with positive reinforcement rather than intimidation.

Many new puppy owners often feel that the best way to train a puppy to stop doing something is by using intimidation either in the form of shock delivered by a collar, aversive sounds (shaking a can of coins, spraying water or blowing an air horn) or physical correction (giving the dog an alpha roll, pushing him or holding his muzzle shut).

Intimidation though, as already mentioned, often comes with side effects so your best bet is to use positive reinforcement training.

Teaching your puppy to "leave it" using a smacking sound accomplishes two things: It creates positive associations between your dog and your cat and between your puppy and you, and it gives your puppy an alternate behavior to perform that is rewarding.

To train your dog to leave it using the smacking sound, put your puppy on a leash and arm yourself with high-value training treats. Make a smacking sound with your mouth and deliver a treat right afterwards. Repeat several times, until you notice your puppy looks up at you for a treat upon hearing this sound. You are aiming to obtain what's known as a conditioned emotional response.

Next, have your cat at a distance where your puppy is under threshold. You may need a helper to keep the cat at the right distance.

Once you have found a distance where your puppy isn't too concerned about your cat, practice having your puppy respond to the smacking sound. Once you have a solid response, you can practice closer distances with your cat walking by.

At some point, when you think your dog is fluent on this, have your cat nearby and have a friend call your cat by calling his name or shaking a box of cat food. This should cause your cat to run. Be ready to make your smacking sound for this exercise, and be ready to deliver a jackpot of treats for complying. Practice several times.

Once your pup seems reliable, it may be time to start practicing off-leash. Practice initially in an area where your cat can retreat if needed (in front of the pet gate with a cat door or near the cat tree).

At some point, you may notice that your dog is well under voice control and looks forward to your kitty coming close because he has associated kitty with all the tasty treats used in this exercise.

Remember: Distance is very important, considering that most dogs aren't able to cognitively function (they can't think straight) when a cat is within chasing distance, and they may even care less about treats.

If at any time your dog isn't responsive, it's likely because he's too close to the cat (and, therefore, not ready for this level of distraction yet) or the treats you are using aren't high-value enough. Go back a few steps, increasing distance temporarily, and try increasing the value of the treats if your pup seems disinterested.

Train Your Pup to Go to a Mat

All puppies can be trained to go lie on a mat at specific times when you perhaps may want your cat to be around a bit. While it may a bit of challenge to keep a young pup still on a mat with nothing to do, you can make it all much easier by giving your puppy something tasty to enjoy on the mat such as a stuffed Kong or a safe long-lasting edible.

Ensure your cat though doesn't invade your pup's space as this may trigger some pups to resource guard food from cats. Below is a video on how to train a dog to lie on a mat. With your dog being a puppy and puppies having short attention spans, you won't be able to have him lie down for extended periods of time yet, but you can help him keep occupied by offering something tasty to chew there for some time (like a stuffed frozen Kong or a Licki-mat).

Extra Tips and Important Considerations

Practice With a Remote-Controlled Car

Don't think your puppy is ready yet to be trained around your cat? You can take some intermediate steps by practicing your leave its by using a remote-controlled car. Once your demonstrates the ability to resist the urge to chase it, you can then practice with your dog on leash and your cat.

Safety First

Ensure to protect your kitty as much as possible, from not just potential injury but also to ensure her emotional wellbeing.

Just this past summer I had to work on a case with a beagle who pestered the household cat, he never really hurt the cat, but the poor cat was terrorized of moving freely around the home. She would have to check when he was around to just use her litter box or go to eat.

She moved very slowly and lived most of her life on "vertically," by walking on shelves, tables and tall chairs. Any time the beagle saw her, he would chase her and try to mount her. I really felt for the poor cat!

Consider Calming Aids

Many cats can become stressed when living with dogs. Separation alone can cause most cats to feel better, however some remain stressed just by seeing/hearing dogs on the other side.

If your cat is stressed, you may also want to provide some calming aids. On top of pheromone-based products such as Feliway or Comfort Zone, there are also several over-the-counter supplements that can help calm down nervous kitties such as products containing L-theanine.

Never Let Your Guard Down

An important disclaimer is warranted here. Dogs and cats may seem to get along at times, but accidents can always happen at a moment's notice. Always supervise your pets and make safety your top priority. Continue practicing caution even when your pup appears reliable and grows up. Sadly there are stories of dogs suddenly attacking cats and stories of dogs killing cats even if by accident. Caution is always needed.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2022 Adrienne Farricelli


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