Ask the Trainer | Don’t chase the cat, Buddy
April 8, 2014
We are currently fostering a dog named Buddy for a rescue organization and are considering adopting him. They think he's about 3-years-old.
Buddy is a really good dog and loves everyone in our family. Our concern is how he acts with our cat. When we first brought Buddy home, the cat hissed and it scared him enough that he left her alone. Now that he has settled in, he wants to chase her. It seems like he wants to play not hurt her, but we don't want her to be stressed out. How can we teach him not to chase her?
The Sinclair Family
Dear Sinclair Family,
A running cat can be great fun for a dog. Since your instincts are telling you he wants to play and not hurt her, I'll assume that is truly the case.
Your family has been teaching Buddy how to behave properly in your household and those rules need to extend to the cat. Create escape routes for the cat while you are getting control of Buddy through training. A short chain that has one end attached to the door and the other to the door frame will allow the door to be open a few inches. Your cat can run through the opening, but Buddy won't be able to. Tall cat trees also work well.
As for Buddy, be sure that he gets ample amounts of exercise. A dog with excess energy will look for any way to let off steam. Next, you will need to teach him some cues in order to more easily gain control of this situation.
CUE NO. 1, THE NAME GAME
The goal of this exercise is that Buddy will always look at you when you say his name. If he will look at you, the odds increase that he will follow the next cue you give. It also helps him understand when you are talking to him.
1. Say the his name in a pleasant voice.
2. Quickly give him a treat.
3. Repeat this process 10-15 times, several times per day for a couple of days.
4. To test and see if Buddy has formed a positive association with his name, wait until his attention wanders and then say his name in a pleasant voice. If he turns to look at you, he has it!
If not, go back to step 3 and do repetitions.
CUE NO. 2, LEAVE IT
The ultimate goal of teaching this cue is to be able to tell Buddy to "leave it" once and they immediately turn away from whatever he is starting to engage in.
1. Say "leave it" as you hold up a particularly tasty hard treat, then place the treat on the floor under your foot to protect it.
2. Let Buddy sniff, lick, dig, and nibble at your shoe. The split second he stops sniffing, licking, or looks away for even a second (even if by accident), say "yes" and feed a treat from your hand.
3. Repeat this exercise until he starts to purposely look at you or turn away from the treat under your foot. At this point, move your foot away slightly to uncover the treat … but be prepared to cover it up the instant he starts to move toward it. Say "yes" when he looks away or towards you.
4. When you are done with the session, pick the treat up off the floor and feed another treat from your hand.
5. Continue the exercise with toys or other objects he loves.
6. Put him on a leash and say "leave it" when the cat walks into the room. Feed generously when he looks at you and away from the cat.
The ultimate goal is be able to say "Buddy" and "Leave it" when he sees the cat and have him turn toward you instead of chasing the kitty. If you are having trouble getting his attention, use better treats and gradually add distractions.
It will take quite a bit of practice, so don't get discouraged.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at email@example.com.