Friday, April 17, 2015

5 quirky ways to help when your dog chases your cats

Sinead the Boston terrier and Eamon the cat

Sure, Sinead the Boston terrier and Eamon the cat look cozy as anything right here. But don't be fooled. Should Eamon hop up and start moving quickly, Sinead would give chase in a heartbeat. Yup, this girl is a dyed-in-the-wool cat chaser.

Over the years, I've come up with a few ideas about how to make her stop, and I'll warn you in advance, some of these ideas won't work on every dog. Most of them are designed for very small dogs like Sinead that aren't really interested in hurting the cats they chase. These are tips for the chasing-is-fun variety of dog. And they might work for you, if your dog is the same. So here goes.

1. Provide more toys.

Dogs like Sinead chase cats because they're bored. If I won't play with her, she'll come up with her own cat-based games. So, I keep a basket simply stuffed with all sorts of little balls right by the living room entry, and I make sure she has at least two throwing-type toys accessible at all times. When she seems to be bursting with energy, I throw a ball. She can happily chase that, rather than chasing the cats.

2. Invest in better cat beds. 

Eamon the cat in his bed

When cats don't have great sleeping spots, they tend to sprawl out on the floor, and that makes them easy prey for chasers. A sleeping cat that's startled is typically a cat that runs, and once a cat runs, it's all over. I work around that by ensuring that the cats have their own soft, warm beds to sleep in. And I put those beds in high places, like in windowsills and on chairs. It's harder for Sinead to chase them when the cats are up high like that.

3. Learn to read the signs. 

Sinead the Boston terrier on her couch
"Yes, I was thinking about a chasing game."
Dogs aren't subtle. Before Sinead chases the cats, she throws down all sorts of signals. Her ears come up, she walks closely to the cat she'll chase and she does a quick play bow. Only then will she chase that cat. All of those signals give me chances to intervene. If I see her doing anything like this (and I mean anything), I can toss her a ball or call her to me or put her outside. I know her language that well.

And, I know that she typically chases cats around mealtimes. That's when she's feeling the most energetic, and that's when the cats are usually hanging around and asking for trouble.

I know all of this about her because I've made it a point to notice her behaviors. Studying your dog is a great way to understand the patterns, so you can intervene at the right time.

4. Get or borrow a nasty cat. 

Troy the cat in his window

So I've been doing all of this work with Sinead for quite some time, and yet she's learned her best lessons from someone else in the household: Troy.

This guy lived on the streets for awhile, and he developed some intense survival skills during that time. Namely, he's not afraid of anything, especially tiny little dogs. When Sinead tries to chase him, he will not run. And if she pesters him to make the game start, he slaps her.

Dogs that think chasing is fun typically don't like to be hit during playtime. Sinead certainly doesn't, and after Troy hit her just once, she stopped chasing him. And now, she doesn't chase other cats nearly as often. Troy has taken the fun out of the whole thing, it seems, and the other cats are benefiting from those lessons.

5. Use a leash. 

Okay, so this idea isn't so much quirky as common. But I think it's important to point out that cat-chasing dogs need limits, and sometimes, that means they need to be leashed. If I'd made no progress with Sinead, I was fully prepared to leash her to me during her chasing danger times. She'd wear a leash in the evenings, while waiting for her dinner. And she'd wear a leash in the mornings, during breakfast prep. Even though I know she'd never harm my cats, and even though I know my cats would not harm her (they seem to treat this chasing thing with bemusement or resignation, not anger or fear), I still don't think it's acceptable. And I'm willing to use a leash to prove it.

This is a one-sided discussion, at this point, all about wee dogs with playful chasing habits. But I'd love to hear from anyone out there with a big dog and a big cat-chasing problem. How did you handle it? Shoot me a comment, and I'll do a followup post all about that.

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