How to Keep Your Dog From Chasing Cats

5 tips to keep trespassing cats safe even if (or when) your dog chases them. Plus – anti-cat landscaping!

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #135

Tip #4: Teach Your Dog to Interact Peacefully with Cats

In my experience, it’s easier to teach your dog a controlled response to unfamiliar cats and outdoor cats if she has friendly experience of cats as social partners at home. Be aware that learning about cats goes in both directions – just as a dog who’s used to living with cats may have an easier time learning not to hunt them, so a dog who’s used to hunting cats may have a harder time seeing her fellow pets as anything other than prey. So this tactic is one to use before your dog has any cat-killing under her belt.

Suppose, though, that your Zippy does live peaceably with one or more cats, but gets agitated over trespassers outside. Try this: Bring Zippy outdoors on leash when you know an unfamiliar cat is present. Have some deluxe treats with you – this is a time for roast chicken and sardines. Keep Zippy at a distance where he’s aware of the cat but not excited, and reward him for paying attention to you, walking nicely on leash, holding a sit, and in general doing anything at all around the cat that doesn’t include trying to chase her. End the training session while Zip is well able to focus on you. If Kittychai has left, you can let Zip trot around off leash.

Proceed slowly and cautiously. You may want to have a professional trainer coach you in person. And with most dogs, I wouldn’t rely on this training to keep trespassing cats safe. If you have more than one dog, I really wouldn’t rely on it, because excited dogs amp each other up and become much harder to control around potential prey. Still, every layer of protection you can build in is a layer of protection between wandering cats and a painful death. And the training practice is always worthwhile: You wind up with a dog who can attend to your cues in the face of intense distractions.

Tip #5: Teach Your Dog an “Emergency Recall”

An emergency recall is the come-when-called cue you use when your dog hasn’t responded to your usual cue or in such life-and-death situations as when she’s headed for a busy highway or a wandering cat.

Pick a different word or phrase from your usual cue; it should be something that your dog doesn’t often hear, but that you’ll be able to get out of your mouth in a real emergency. If you can whistle loudly (even when you’re scared), whistling may be a good choice.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, you’ll teach your dog a strong association between your emergency cue and the most delicious, wonderful treat your dog could possibly imagine. Many times a day, at random moments, give the emergency cue and immediately deliver that treat. After a couple of weeks of practice, use the cue in different situations. Always give your dog the special, superdeluxe treat. During your training, you should never give the cue when you don’t have the superdeluxe treat handy.

Follow these links to some YouTube videos of people teaching emergency recalls.

Anti-Cat Landscaping, Ultrasonic Devices, and Sprayers

Some plants, such as pennyroyal, may repel cats. Mothballs do the same. The trouble with these two examples, as well as other suggestions I found online, is that they’re not just repellent but toxic, and not only to cats but to dogs as well. They may harm some wildlife, too. Check with the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center before you landscape.

I’m also not a fan of ultrasonic animal repellents. If wandering cats hate the sound, your dog will hate it too. The same goes for other nearby dogs, and probably for cats who are in their own homes, minding their business. As I’ve said many times, there is nothing like randomly delivered distress to drive animals crazy.

Motion-detecting water sprayers have some similar problems. You’ll wind up spraying your dog (punishing her for nothing in particular). Outdoor cats risk hypothermia if they get wet in chilly weather, and there’s not much point in saving a cat from dog attack if she then freezes to death. Instead of spending time and money to buy, install, and maintain these things, work with your dog on her behavior and cues.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).