Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of Brain Training for Dogs.
In order to stop a dog from chasing cats, it's important to combine several strategies to increase the chances for success. Owning a dog equipped with a very strong prey drive may make it almost impossible for him/her to successfully co-habitat with cats. This is where human intervention is key to stop this unpleasant and unwanted behavior.
Chasing cats is a very undesirable hobby that may cause a cat to become terrorized, injured and even potentially killed by a dog. Dogs, on the other hand, risk getting scratched (sometimes with the risk of losing their eyesight) and even bitten by a very scared cat.
If you recently added a dog to your cat's household, consider that this may be very stressful for your cat. Cats don't like their routines and daily habits to be disrupted. On top of that, cats have a strong sense of belonging to their territory, and having it "invaded" by a dog may cause them significant anxiety.
More often than not, dog owners may be clueless on how to redirect the dog's behavior and stop him from chasing poor kitty. Dogs seem so fixated on chasing the cat that nothing seems to work. Some non-cat-friendly dog breeds can be particularly challenging to train around cats.
As mentioned, the best response is to use a multi-faceted approach that combines providing kitty with a safe place to retreat, managing the dog's environment to prevent rehearsal of the troublesome chasing behaviors, desensitizing the dog to the cat's movements and training the dog in an alternate behavior.
1. Provide Your Cat With a Safe Area
If you just brought home a puppy or dog, it's not fair for kitty to have to a heart attack every time Rover is nearby. Young puppies may be quite curious and may want to pester the cat into a match of rough play or a game of chase. Adult dogs may also want to play, or they may take a more serious stance as a cat running may stimulate their predatory drive.
It's important for your cat's comfort and safety that he or she is provided with a safe place to retreat that is out of your dog's reach. There are several options to provide such areas.
You can use a pet baby gate equipped with a small pet door at the bottom that is large enough for kitty to go through but not enough for your dog to pass through. You can also provide kitty with cat trees and condos that are high enough to be out of your dog's reach.
If your cat is stressed, you may also want to provide some calming aids such as Feliway or Comfort Zone, which are products that mimic a chemical that cats are known to emit through special glands on their faces when they are feeling calm.
There are also several over-the-counter supplements that can help calm down nervous kitties. Examples are products containing l-theanine such as Anxitane or Composure.
Give Kitty a Break From Your Boisterous Dog
2. Prevent the Rehearsal of Chasing Behaviors
Your cat shouldn't be destined to a future filled with days of stress just because a new dog has been welcomed into your home. While it's important to provide kitty with a safe haven to retreat to, this doesn't mean your cat has to spend the rest of his days hiding there because of the threat of being chased.
It's therefore imperative that your new puppy or dog isn't allowed to rehearse chasing behaviors over and over. Left untreated, chasing a cat can quickly become your dog's favorite pastime, and that for sure is not a good hobby.
Preventing the rehearsal of chasing behavior requires strict management and entails keeping your dog away from your cat when you are not supervising and keeping him under control when you are supervising.
Crates, pet gates, exercise pens, playpens and fences are management tools that can be considered when your dog cannot be supervised. It's important to ensure your dog has no way to escape them by chewing, digging or climbing over or under these barriers.
When you are actively supervising, you can control your dog and prevent him from rehearsing chasing behaviors with a collar and leash, and later on, with just voice control and training. If you are concerned about your dog potentially breaking loose from your grip on the leash and injuring your cat, by all means, let him wear a basket muzzle. It never hurts to add an extra layer or protection and play it safe.
3. Train Your Dog to "Leave It"
In this scenario, we are teaching dogs to "leave it" using positive reinforcement rather than intimidation. Dog owners often feel that the best way to train a dog to stop doing something is by using intimidation either in the form of shock delivered by a collar, aversive sounds (shaking a can of coins or blowing an air horn) or physical correction (giving the dog an alpha roll, pushing him or holding his muzzle shut).
Intimidation, though, often comes with side effects (the dog risks associating you and the cat with a negative experience, the dog may become noise-sensitive or scared of water, the dog may develop a lack of trust, the dog may start biting when physically corrected, etc.). On top of that, because the dog learns to associate the correction with you, there are chances that he might not chase the cat in your presence but will chase him the moment you walk out of the room or look away.
Teaching your dog to "leave it" using positive reinforcement accomplishes two things: It creates positive associations between your dog and your cat and between your dog and you, and it gives your dog an alternate behavior to perform that is rewarding—and your dog is wanting to perform willingly because it's so rewarding.
To train your dog to leave it, put your dog on leash and arm yourself with high-value training treats. For now, practice with a stuffed animal attached to a string or, even better, a flirt pole (a pole with a stuffed critter attached).
Have another person wiggle the stuffed animal at a distance. Meanwhile, sit next to your dog, and when your dog shows signs of interest, tell him "leave it" and immediately deliver him a tasty treat. Repeat several times. Gradually have the helper wiggle the stuffed animal closer and closer and practice more "leave it"s.
At some point, have the helper place the stuffed animal in front of your dog and then move it away (as an animal fleeing) while you practice "leave it." Give your dog a jackpot of treats (5–6 small treats at once) scattered for not chasing the stuffed animal. If your dog fails, you need to further practice this part.
Remember: Distance is very important, considering that most dogs aren't able to cognitively function (they can't think straight) when a cat is within chasing distance, and they may even care less about treats.
If at any time your dog isn't responsive, it's likely because he's too close to the stuffed animal (and, therefore, not ready for this level of distraction yet) or the treats you are feeding aren't high-value enough. Go back a few steps, increasing distance temporarily, and try increasing the value of the treats if he seems disinterested. Tossing the treat rather than hand-feeding it may make it more enticing as you add a fun game of "chase the treat."
Next, have your dog on leash and find a distance from your cat where your dog is under threshold. You may need a helper to keep the cat at the right distance.
Once you have found a distance where your dog isn't too concerned about your cat, have him practice "leave it" just as you did with the stuffed animal. Once you have a solid response, you can practice closer distances.
At some point, when you think your dog is fluent, have your cat nearby and have a friend call your cat by calling his name or shaking a box of cat food. This should cause your cat to run. Be ready to ask your dog to "leave it" for this exercise, and be ready to deliver a jackpot of treats for complying. Practice several times.
Once your dog seems reliable, it may be time to start practicing off-leash. Make sure your dog keeps the muzzle on if you are concerned about safety. Practice initially in an area where your cat can retreat if needed (in front of the pet gate with a cat door or near the cat tree).
At some point, you may notice that your dog is well under voice control and looks forward to your kitty coming close because he has associated kitty with all the tasty treats used in this exercise.
And for those concerned about using treats and their associated calories, you don't have to use treats all the time in dog training. As your dog gets used to being around kitty, these exercises can be later done with a portion of the dog's daily ratio of kibble. Later on, the use of food can be diminished over time, but you still want to use it every now and then to maintain and reinforce the good behavior.
Help Control Prey Drive
4. Give Clicker Training a Try
Some dog owners have asked me about clicker training a dog not to chase cats. I have found the clicker to be an excellent tool for this task.
Clicker training is basically what the words suggest: training with a clicker. A clicker is a small device that produces a distinct clicking sound to which dogs respond to through an easy conditioning process.
Unlike several aversive training methods, clicker training mainly focuses on positive reinforcement. Basically, there is no pain, fear, or stress in clicker training, and best of all, dogs appear to respond quickly and with enthusiasm.
Initially introduced by marine mammal trainer Karen Pryor, the main advantage of clicker training is that this method of training works both to the the dog 's and owner's advantage. By using rewards, dogs enjoy the training and look forward to it, whereas the owners will get their pet's attention putting them up for success.
It is in a dog's nature and animals in general to have an instinct to associate actions with pleasant or unpleasant consequences. When clicker training a dog, these actions are recorded in the pet's mind, because they are associated with a pleasant consequence.
By applying clicker training in a dog with a strong prey drive that causes him or her to chase cats, the dog learns to redirect his attention to something else while being rewarded for the attention. It is very easy to start clicker training a dog, all that is needed is a dog, a clicker and some tasty rewards.
One important factor to consider is that dogs appear to respond better when they are on an empty stomach and are offered high value rewards. This is why dog trainers often advise their clients to bring their dogs to training sessions on an empty stomach. With the feeling of an empty stomach, more likely than not, comes a strong desire to perform certain desired actions.
High value treats are not your ordinary treats, this is why they are called high value. A very popular treat used by dog trainers world wide are freeze dried liver treats. These can be ordered online or they may be found in some large pet retail stores. As an alternative, owners can try slices of cooked hot dogs, cheese, pieces of steak or slices of grilled chicken.
It all starts by introducing the dog to the clicker. You will allow the dog to sniff the clicker. Then you will click it, and every click is followed by a treat. Soon the dog will learn to associate the clicking sound with a treat. In training lingo, at this point the clicker has been '"charged."
To get started, a quiet area usually works best and the dog should be leashed. The cat should be released from a room but it should not be allowed to escape as of yet. You want to put up the dog for success so you do not want to expose him right away to the cat running and have him fail by chasing. Rather, let the cat come out of the room and have somebody try to keep the cat calm.
As soon as the dog starts staring at the cat, you should click and the dog should be given a treat. In order to work, the treat should come right as soon as the click sound is produced. Let too many seconds pass by and the dog no longer knows why you are clicking him for (not chasing the cat).
If the dog does not respond to the click it could be because the cat is too close. Try to repeat with the cat at a farther distance. Then as the dog appears to respond to the click, try to allow the cat to get closer. After several days, the dog should have learned that the clicker is a much more interesting device than paying attention to the cat. Success occurs when the dog is no longer interested in chasing the cat and no longer stares at the cat as prey.
The great part of clicker training is that the dog will be gradually conditioned to repeat a determined action (in this case, refraining from chasing the cat) in order to get a reward. The dog's collaboration, in intentionally making this decision in exchange for a reward that is reinforcing, is known as ''operant conditioning''.
The dog will be basically avoiding the cat because he or she has a specific purpose in mind: obtaining the reward. Your dog at this point will become very collaborative, confident and even enthusiastic because it is at his advantage whereas you will have successfully solved the problem. It is ultimately overall a win-win situation where, dog, owner and the cats get to succeed.
Not all dogs will respond to training easily as some dogs have very strong prey drives. Generally, these are breeds that have been bred throughout the years to hunt prey, therefore prey drive is inherited deep in their genes. While training may reduce the will to chase, it's always recommended to consult with a dog trainer/behavior consultant and always supervise dogs and cats when kept together. Use muzzles and leashes for better control and safety.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2009 Adrienne Farricelli
Natasha from Hawaii on March 23, 2012:
Awesome. I have bookmarked this for future use! One of my roommates has a cat andy dogs always try to chase him. The only time boy dog has ever really encountered a cat, the dog left bleeding, but that hasn't stopped him from repeating the behavior. I will have to see what I can do with your advice! Voted up and useful.
justmesuzanne from Texas on June 23, 2011:
I think they will eventually decide it's not worth all the effort, but they are very determined and have to try out everything in their bag of tricks first.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on June 22, 2011:
A good idea would be to hide somewhere and catch these sneaky guys in the act. If you hide often enough, they will learn that even when it looks like you are not there, you are there..
justmesuzanne from Texas on June 22, 2011:
My neighbor's little dachshunds come over for a play date with my dogs every afternoon because they have to stay tied up all the time. Those smart, sneaky little devils know they aren't supposed to chase my cats, and they don't do if when I'm looking at them, but if I step into the house for a few seconds they zone in on one of my older cats. They have even learned to do it without barking. Of course the answer is, never take my eyes off them, and that's what I do. It is unbelievable how smart and clever these little guys are!
oliver tobey hall on October 21, 2009:
very good im oliver commenting your dog and cat photos
Joni Solis on September 17, 2009:
I have a high prey drive Heeler mix female that I have had since she was about four months old (adopted from animal shelter). She is clicker trained and very smart. She has been around my cat since the day I brought her home about four or more years ago, but she still wants to chase my cat and I guess always will. She will stop chasing her when I ask, but I wouldn't trust her alone in a room with my cat.
I highly recommend clicker training to all the people that adopt from our rescue group.
kartika damon from Fairfield, Iowa on September 13, 2009:
This is very interesting - I just started a .com and we are partnering with a dog trainer who uses clicker training. I will be learning more and more about this method and think it is definitely the way to go!