Our Tips for Introducing Cats and Dogs

Petting both my babies at the same time

If you asked me what in my house makes it feel most like a home, my answer would immediately be Remy and Celia. Remy is our dog, a three year old lab/pitbull mix. Celia is our six year old cat. You’ll notice they are not the same age, which means we had to go through the process of introducing cats and dogs. That is a scary task on top of the already daunting experience of trying to find a pet that will be the right fit for your family, your home, and the type of care you can give it.

Celia is my Babygirl (that’s her most commonly used nickname, although she has others). I always tell my husband, Greg, that she came first because I adopted her about a year before we started dating. At the time I was living with a roommate, who had a four year old German shepherd named Luke. It’s also helpful to know that Luke is a GIANT German Shepherd. His mama calls him the basketball player of German shepherds. When we’re both standing, his head hits somewhere around my hip. He’s intimidating if you don’t know him, but he’s an absolute sweetheart, and my roommate did a great job training him when he was a puppy.

Celia on her adoption day
Baby Celia at the Human Society on her adoption day

Celia was five months old when I adopted her. Even now that she’s full grown she’s a pretty small cat, so imagine how tiny she was compared to Luke when I brought her home. She was pretty freaked out by him, and he was super curious about her, so there was definitely a few times where he nosed at her too much and got bopped on the nose. We were really careful to introduce them slowly to work through that tension. For the first week or two after we brought Celia home, we would only let Luke be around her if both my roommate and I were there to supervise. Luke slept in my roommate’s room at night and stayed in the backyard during the day, which helped Celia get used to the house without him in her face all the time. Then we graduated to separating them with a baby gate. Both the bedrooms in the house were at the end of a hallway, so at night we put a baby gate at the entrance to the hallway and Luke slept in my roommate’s room with the door open so he and Celia could interact through the gate. There was definitely one night where Celia got curious and jumped over the gate, only to find herself in Luke’s domain. They got used to each other pretty quickly after that.

Side note-one thing that actually helped us a lot was a laser pointer. Luke was so well trained that we could have him lay down on his bed when we brought out a laser pointer for Celia. We would gradually move the light closer to Luke, who would sit very still, and Celia would get used to getting closer and closer to him.

Luke and Celia eventually got so comfortable with each other that Luke started trying to protect her when he was worried she was stressed out. If we had guests over who weren’t reading her body language and tried to get too close when she didn’t want them to, Luke would push himself between her and whatever was freaking her out.

Me with Celia and Luke

Then when Greg and I started getting serious and talking about getting married, we decided to get a dog together. I was still living with Luke and his mama, although we had moved from the rental house into Greg’s and my current house when I bought it. Finding Remy was much more challenging because we knew we wanted to adopt rather than go through a breeder (both Remy and Celia were adopted from the Humane Society), and we didn’t want to try to train a tiny puppy. Finding an adult dog which is good with other dogs, cats, and the kids we know we eventually want to have was a challenge. We ended up falling in love with Remy, which surprised us because at nine months old he was younger than what we were originally looking for, but he was perfect. But that also meant introducing an adult cat to a 60 pound puppy.

Remy on his adoption day
Remy at the Humane Society on his adoption day

We mostly managed it by giving Celia places she could go without being bothered by Remy. Remy is not allowed on the second floor of our house at all, so that gives Celia a quiet place to escape to. He figured out the boundaries after a few weeks with a baby gate blocking the stairs, and now he doesn’t even try to go up them. She’s also allowed on top of one cabinet in our kitchen because it gives her a high place Remy can’t reach on the first floor of our house, but she can still keep an eye on what’s going on. Remy also spent most days in the backyard with Luke and was crated overnight, so Celia had a lot of time where she was free to roam without him getting up in her business. I think the crate helped, too, because she could investigate him and get as close as she wanted without him chasing her.

Celia's hiding places helped with introducing cats and dogs

The other thing we did to help with the transition was to use a muzzle as a sort of “time out” space. I’m not sure if a trainer would endorse it because in general positive reinforcement works much better than negative, but for us it helped us create a tool that would get Remy to pause and just calm down for a few minutes. We had a soft muzzle that went around his snout but still allowed him to use his tongue and drink water, and the rule was if Celia hissed at him, he got the muzzle for a few minutes. This gave us time to get him to calm down and focus on something other than Celia while she found a safe space, because usually her hissing was the result of getting cornered, with him looming over her. The muzzle basically served the same purpose as sending a child to time out-it gets them to pause and calm down better than a punishment does. Luckily Remy never snapped at Celia, and he only pawed at her once or twice-we made it really clear that was not acceptable behavior and nipped it in the bud quickly.

Now when people ask me how Remy and Celia get along, the best way I can describe it is to say that they’re like a brother and sister who like to mess with each other, and it’s definitely a two way street. Remy will occasionally chase Celia, and sometimes he tries to start something by booping at her with his nose when she’s curled up on a chair. Celia, on the other hand, will dart in front of him to try to get him going, or bat at his back or tail when he walks by. My dream is that one day they’ll curl up and sleep next to each other, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen. For now we have a peaceful existence with intermittent bouts of play, and I’ll take it.

Proof introducing cats and dogs can end well

Do you have any tips of your own for introducing cats and dogs? We’d love to hear them in the comments below, or connect with us on social media! For more about fostering and adopting dogs, check out Amanda’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 posts, and keep an eye out for Part 4 coming soon. You can also join our newsletter to receive email updates of new posts.

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