Q. I inherited my now-deceased mother’s declawed adopted cat, Shellie, three years ago. She had been around dogs in her previous home.
For one year, Shellie adapted to my home after my mother passed and played like a kitten and had a wonderful life indoors.
Then Samson, the beagle, came into our lives in May 2010. Sam is a wonderful dog, and we participated in two Carolina training club sessions. Although not a “show dog,” he is a pretty good citizen overall.
However, Sam chases Shellie, and her life has become her private bedroom with baby gate and the area on top of my washer and dryer in the corner of the kitchen.
Sam knows “leave the cat” but will chase her anytime he has the opportunity without me there to correct him. I use a harsh tone and a newspaper that I pop against a table or door frame to make a loud noise. I never hit Sam.
Sam has caught Shellie upon occasions, and I haven’t seen any real physical malice on the cat other than a scratch one time. Sam sort of sits on top of her and holds her with one paw.
Can you give me any training tips that might be more effective? Shellie the cat is 12½ years old and declawed. I feel sad that her life is no longer peaceful in my home. Thank you.
— Lynette Tullos, High Point
A. You’ve made the right decision not to punish your dog for this behavior. Punishment would make him even more eager to get rid of the cat (he’d think the cat was the reason for the punishment), and he might stop for a time, but probably the behavior would get worse, and ultimately a cat chaser might turn into a cat killer. We definitely don’t want that.
First, you need to limit the interaction between them to times when you can control the situation. The more your beagle chases the cat, the harder it will be to stop him.
If your beagle is like my beagle, he would do just about anything for food. Ideally, if you can put up a baby gate where they can see each other but are 10 to 15 feet away from each other (the farther the better), you can work on teaching your pup to be calm around the cat. Start by allowing them to have meals in view of each other. Do this for several days. You want your dog to get used to focusing on eating instead of kitty.
Gradually move their food bowls closer together until they are eating next to each other.
Add some daily exercises in which the kitty is relaxing safely behind her gate (not running away) where Samson can see her. Ask Samson to sit, and let him look at Shellie, and if he remains calm, mark the calm behavior with a clicker (if you have one) or with whatever word you used in training to tell him he has done the right thing, and hand him a treat. If he goes after her, you’ll need to do more meals where they dine together, and try again in about a week.
Samson will learn to be calmer about the cat, and the cat will learn to be calmer around Samson. Cat chasing is a vicious cycle because dogs just love to chase things that move fast, and cats run from dogs who are chasing them. If we can keep Samson and Shellie calm around each other, they will learn to co-exist without any trouble.
That’s it in a nutshell, but please understand behavior can be hard to fit in a nutshell, so do not be ashamed to contact me or another trainer (find one at www.carolinadogtrainers.com) for further explanation or help.
Dawn Gardner is a behavioral consultant, trainer and member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers