Friday, May 24, 2013

Playing like cats and dogs: How to safely introduce a Boston terrier to resident kitties

Sinead the Boston terrier and her cat
Eamon and Sinead in a rare moment of peace.
When I took Sinead home for the very first time, I was warned that she'd never had any kind of personal experience with a cat, and since she was 4 months old, I'd have a little catching up to do in order to ensure that she was friendly with the other members of my household. Turns out, I have a LOT of training to do, and Eamon has become one of my key training partners.

Little dogs often like to investigate things by smelling them or licking them. Cats, on the other hand, like to observe things from a distance before they choose to come closer. This makes cats and dogs pretty much natural enemies, as a dog runs closer for inspection and the cats run away. There was a lot of chasing in the first few days of Sinead's introduction to this household.

Eamon, however, just doesn't run. He was raised with dogs, including a very bossy Boston terrier, and he's endured many iterations of rescue kittens. He knows that young things are wild and annoying, and he seems to know that running just makes matters worse. As a result, he's been lying down in the middle of the floor and patiently enduring all sorts of very personal sniffing and chewing.

We've now moved into phase two, where he's teaching her how to play appropriately.
Sinead play bows to Eamon the cat
Sinead performs a play bow.
The puppy seems to think that the cats are just large dogs that use the same body language she has. She play bows to them, barks at them and nips at them when it's time for play. Eamon either doesn't respond at all, or he just gets up and calmly walks away. When she's standing in the middle of the room by herself, she learns that she's using the wrong approach.

Boston terrier and cat with a toy
Introducing a toy.
Adding a toy into the mixture helps, as Eamon seems to understand that toys mean playtime. He will gladly stay in place of a toy is near his body and there is no barking. Once Sinead learned this lesson, they started batting at the same toys together, and now, they'll even wrestle and chase one another around the room for a few spins. Sometimes, Eamon rolls on his back and lets her win. Other times, Sinead does the same. They're both having fun, and for some reason, the toys seem to be an important part of the process.
Eamon the cat hitting Sinead the Boston terrier
Eamon's had enough.
When Eamon no longer wants to play, he hops up on the couch and moves to the back, out of Sinead's reach. If she persists in pestering him (which she often does), he gives her a little play slap. His claws are retracted, so he won't scratch her, but he can hit pretty darn hard, and he has smacked her right on her rear in the past. Each little tap teaches her to respect his personal space, and in time, I expect that she'll just walk away when the cats get to a high place and ask for peace.

I trust Eamon not to hurt Sinead, and I watch their body language carefully to ensure that everyone is having fun. If anyone seems too loud or too uncomfortable or just too excited, playtime is over. I also don't allow Sinead to do anything like this with any of the other cats in this household, as they don't like to play with her and I think that kind of play might end in tears.

However, a trustworthy cat with very good skills can be an invaluable ally in allowing a puppy to learn how to play with and get along with cats that aren't friendly with dogs. I'm grateful we have Eamon, as I think all of our cats will benefit from all of the work he's doing.

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