Chasing is a natural instinct in dogs, but it is not an appropriate behavior when directed toward cats in your home. The following guidelines can help you deal with this behavior through management (i.e. preventing the problem) and training (i.e. motivating the dog to change his behavior).
Dogs who have grown up with a cat generally do not engage in this type of behavior. However, introducing a new dog into a household where there are already cats can become very serious and traumatizing for the cat (s) who are being pursued. The key to stopping this sort of behavior is to start right away - as soon as you bring the new dog home - and to be consistent in your redirection and correction efforts.
Management: Preventing the Chase
The first thing you will want to do is to make cat-chasing more difficult for the dog to do. Cat-chasing is a self-reinforcing behavior, so once Fido engages in it - and sees how fun it is - he’ll only want to do it again! Therefore, you need to take steps to prevent it occurring in the first place.
If, at any time during the introduction process, the dog barks at the feline, fixates on her, or tries to chase her, immediately remove the dog from the situation and take him to a quiet area where he can be engaged in other pleasant activities - a designated area where there are plenty of chew toys, balls, and interesting things to smell. It’s important to remove the dog from the setting immediately, so teach yourself to watch for signals. As soon as you see him eyeing the cat or hear him whining at her, calmly lead or lure him away to the designated area. The faster you do so, the more successful you will be in the long run. In time, Fido will learn to associate the quiet area with pleasant things and it won’t be such a hassle to drag him away from pursuing the cat. Then, the next time you see him eyeing the cat or bounding towards her, call his name or clap your hands to get his attention. When he looks at you or turns around, praise and reward him. He needs to be taught that another behavior will be more successful for him while at the same time he learns that you are not allowing him to practice the behavior you don’t like.
Throughout the process, you should act calmly to avoid arousing the dog even more, and you should avoid speaking to him. After a minute or two in the “time out” area, release him in an equally low-key manner. If he returns to the cat and repeats the inappropriate behavior, he should immediately go back to the “time-out” area.
Training the Dog with Motivational Techniques
To increase your chance of success, you should train your dog to perform the desired behavior of looking away from the cat whenever he sees her. You can do this by reinforcing the appropriate
behavior. Prepare a ready supply of training treats or whatever food your dog finds enticing. (Bear in mind that these treats must be more appealing to Fido than chasing the cat is, so be sure to select his very favorite). Then, as soon as you see him fixating on the cat, get his attention and, as he looks away from the cat, praise him and give him a treat. Repeat this every time he ignores the cat. Eventually he will learn to associate the action of seeing the cat and then looking away from her with the pleasant reward of receiving treats from you.
Once you’ve established what you want your dog to do and reinforced that behavior, you can allow him more freedom around the cat. Always reward calm behavior in the presence of the cats. If the cat walks into the room and the dog remains calm, reward him. This will help him create a positive association in the presence of the cats. It will also help him learn to look to you when cats are around rather than making his own choices about how deal with feline companions.
Mental and physical exercise for your dog
If the chasing persists, it could mean that Fido is bored or that he needs more exercise. Be sure to provide him with appropriate outlets and stimulations. For instance, make sure he gets plenty of physical and mental exercise (e.g., learning basic cues and fun tricks, using food puzzles, learning nose work). A tired dog is a good dog, and tired dogs do much less chasing. Also, provide a variety of appropriate chew toys. Some ideas for appealing chews are stuffed Kongs, pressed rawhide, and frozen broth. Just make sure give you give them to him in a room away from the cat, to prevent him from engaging in resource guarding.
Training for dogs using rewards
A reward-based training program such as this has many benefits for the dog as well as for you and for the cat. Not only will you be teaching the dog to listen to you and showing him the benefits of adopting alternative behavior around your cat, but you will also be providing him with an avenue to exercise his brain.
In summary, be consistent in training and reward appropriate behavior; be persistent with removing your dog from the situation if he’s behaving inappropriately; and make sure your dog’s social, physical and mental needs are being met. Finally, never leave your dog alone with the cat unsupervised.
What to do once chasing begins
Alas, all does not always go as planned. Dogs will be dogs, as they say. So what should you do if he slips up? If he switches to full-chase mode, bounding after your fleeing cat who may tear up your curtains in an attempt to get away, or disappear under your bed for days - traumatized, annoyed, and exhausted?
First of all, if you have done any obedience work with the dog, use your recall (come, here, etc.) to work on calling him off. (You may want to review his recall in contexts easier than cat-chasing at first so you can build a reinforcement history for coming when called.) Then, when you catch him, without emotion, put him into a room by himself or into his crate for a few minutes. He needs to know that his chasing behavior has consequences.
If you’ve ever taught him a reliable “leave it” command, you can use that in this instance as well. Realistically, this takes lots of practice. He should be practicing lots of “leave its” in other contexts to help him understand what is expected of him so he has the best chance for success with the cat situation.
Help your cat, too
Of course the cat is involved in this relationship, too. At some point, you may need to help her change her association with your dog by feeding her tasty kitty treats while she’s in the dog’s presence. (During this exercise, make sure the dog can’t chase the cat.) Also, modify the environment so that your cat has a safety zone, a place that is inaccessible to your dog – a high perch, perhaps, or a dark hiding space that’s too small for your dog to access. Set up baby gates to create safe r