Kate Ellam adresses the concerns of a reader whose terrier is aggravating her cat.
Q: My three-year-old terrier is lovely, but he has recently started to chase my cat. This is upsetting the cat, and she spends more and more time outside so the dog can’t bother her. Why has he suddenly started aggravating her and how can I get him to stop?
Tracy Barber, Essex.
A: Kate says: With any concerning behaviour, it’s always worth having your dog, and possibly even your cat, examined by a vet to rule out any potential medical cause that might be underlying this reaction. It may be that one of them has a health issue that has caused them to change their behaviour. Your vet will also be able to refer you to a certified clinical animal behaviourist, who will be able to help you get to the bottom of the emotion underlying this behaviour, and can give you a personalised plan to work for the whole household.
In the meantime, it’s important to make sure your dog is unable to practise the behaviour, as the more he practises it, the harder it will be to modify. If possible, provide separate areas for both your dog and your cat, where they can access everything they need (such as their food, water, and bed). Keep them separated for a while until you are ready to do gradual re-introductions. If this is not possible, you could keep a puppy- or house-line on your dog so if your cat approaches, you can calmly take hold of the line in order to stop him from chasing her.
Ensure your cat has plenty of opportunities to get up high and hide, and, as much as possible, try to create walkways at a height so she can move around your house without coming into contact with the dog (for instance, this could involve clearing window sills you already have in place so she can move freely at height).
Reward your dog for any calm and appropriate behaviours in the presence of the cat by calmly feeding him. You want to promote a relaxed, calm state when she is nearby, so a good behaviour to work on is a ‘settle’. You can find details on how to teach this on the Dogs Trust Dog School website.
It’s important never to punish or tell off either your dog or cat for any aggressive behaviour towards the other pet, as this could cause a negative association with the other animal, and will make any re-introductions even harder.