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Hello – Kitten Meet Dog
In the third instalment of our Hello Series, Nadia Crighton looks at how to introduce an existing dog to a kitten.
With all introductions, it’s important to remember that this will take time and a little planning to ensure success. The most important aspect of the kitten and dog relationship is to be realistic about your dog and the cues they are giving you during the introduction. Dogs should not be allowed to chase or bark at a kitten. Dogs can accidentally kill a kitten very easily. Training and good behavior is a must.
Before Bringing Kitten Home
Before you bring your adorable bundle of fluff home, it’s a good idea to prepare. There should be a dedicated area for your kitten. This can be a penned area or another room that you can pop your kitten in. It’s also a good place to put your litter box, food bowls (remember to keep them apart) and bedding in. Think of this as their ‘safe’ area.
Try to think what a kitten would like:
- Places to climb to get away from bum-sniffing hounds.
- Places to hide under to get away from big curious paws.
- A cat tree in a communal area. This will provide entertainment and a place to rest away from your dog.
- A cat area for your kitten only. A young kitten should not be left alone with a dog until they are fully-grown. This is particularly important if you have a very curious, energetic dog. Some kittens and dogs share amazing relationships, so you really have to apply this to your dog and their character as each dog and cat relationship will be different. Some dogs will simply not make eye contact with the new addition, while others may get very excited. It’s up to you as a responsible pet owner to read how your dog is feeling and apply the introduction that best suits your pet.
- Baby gates can help create an area away from your dog.
- A baby blanket. Swap it between the kitten and the dog every few days (in their beds). This is a great way to scent swap in a non-threatening manner.
It’s also a very good time to brush up on your training. Make sure that your dog knows the terms ‘gentle’ and ‘leave it’ (meaning leave the kitten alone), plus all of the basic ‘SIT, ‘STAY, ‘DROP’ etc. commands. You can start with 10 – 15 minutes of basic on-lead training every night. To teach the ‘LEAVE IT’ command, place food in front of your dog and tell them to ‘LEAVE IT’. Then give the command to ‘TAKE or ‘EAT’. If your dog goes to eat the food before your ‘EAT’ command, make a simple ‘AH AH’ and pick the food up. Then repeat the process.
This is a great command for your dog to have as you can use it to control different unwanted behaviour in everyday life, such as a dog drooling over a child with a scrumptious biscuit, a piece of discarded rancid food on the footpath, or a new curious kitten. Mastering the ‘LEAVE IT’ command will also provide you with the security that during a frantic game of chase through the house you can stop it before anyone gets hurt, or at least, before Grandmother’s antiques end up smashed on the floor!
Pop your dog outside and allow your kitten to explore their area or ‘special room’. Get them used to their litter box and bed. After a little while (once your kitten is settled), it’s time to introduce your dog.
- When you go and get your dog, allow them to sniff you and your hands (as you’ll smell like the kitten). Watch your dog and trust your instincts. Are they stressed? Overexcited? Is now a good time to introduce them or should you do some scent work first and maybe introduce them behind a door? Don’t rush this process, go on what your dog is telling you.
- Pop your dog on a short lead and have a pocket full of treats.
- Allow your dog to sit and watch the kitten from a distance (sliding glass doors are great for this). Treat for good, quiet behavior.
- Do not allow the dog to chase or bark at the kitten.
- Again, reward for good behavior (lots of praise and lots of pats).
- If your dog seems anxious or is overly excited, take them outside and throw the ball or take them for a walk and try the process again. You need to teach them to be quiet and calm in the company of the kitten.
- Once your dog is calm, allow them to walk (on lead) and sniff the kitten’s area. Again, treat and praise for good behavior.
- Lots of short, sweet visits are best in the beginning.
All of this takes time and you may need to go through these steps again and again, until your dog learns the correct behaviour around your new addition. It’s also imperative that you do not change anything in your dog’s routine, to ensure that they feel secure. So keep up with your training, walks, fetch and feeding regime.
If, at ANY TIME, you are concerned about your dog’s response, seek professional help. The sooner an expert can see your pets’ interactions in person, the sooner you can set up a behavioural modification program, before anyone gets hurt.
- Dogs love to eat cat poo. Horrible, I know… but unfortunately most dogs simply love those kitty litter crunchies. You can avoid this by purchasing a hooded litter box. If your dog sticks their head through the flap, try and turn the litter box towards the wall (leave enough room for your cat to get through), near a corner or under a cupboard. Remember, kittens will need time to learn how to use a cat flap before you can do this.
- Your growing cat will still need a dog-free zone, even when fully grown. Consider using a cat flap on a laundry door or bathroom door. Or even consider a baby gate across the hallway or a particular room. Then your cat can eat and poop in peace while the dog is kept at bay.
- Does your dog keep eating the cat food? Cleverly placed shelving can offer a cat a nice high perch away from the family dog. This will also save you huge amounts of money on cat food.
A BIT ABOUT THE BLOGGER:
Nadia Crighton is a well-known and accomplished Australian Journalist and pet magazine Editor. As a busy mum of four humans, two dogs, 50 sheep, one cat, a handful of chickens and a goat named Billy (and let’s not forget the axolotls!), she simply adores pets of all shapes and sizes. These are her personal thoughts and advice from many years of pet-ownership and working within the pet industry.