Dogcharmer: The Sheltie puppy and the cats

The cats are not charmed.

Michael visited the Island over the holidays. —Cate Meaney

Dear Dogcharmer:

We have a new 3-month-old Sheltie, Michael, we rescued, and while he’s a sweet boy, our two cats haven’t warmed up to him yet. He seems to think they make great toys, but they’re not having it. Do you have any advice about how to keep the cats and the puppy happy in one household?

Cate in Brookline

Dear Cate,

This is a tough one — tough because there are several possible variables at play here. Most dogs will exhibit some degree of predatory aggression. The 10-week-old puppy that jumps after the blowing leaf is an example. The movement of the leaf elicits the prey drive in the puppy. Not so long ago I worked with a Lab that lived in total harmony with its two house cats, and killed a neighbor’s cat it caught in the yard. That was probably territorial aggression coupled with predation. Michael, being a Sheltie, is more likely predisposed to herding than predation, but that includes chasing, which for a 3-month-old can easily morph into a predatory response, especially from the cats’ perspective. You did not mention the age of the cats. If one or both are quite old, they may have a more difficult time adapting to a rambunctious puppy.

So what to do? You need to experiment, and see what works. Put Michael in a crate and see if you can lure the cats, with something like tuna fish, to go nose to nose with Michael, with all three getting the treats if it works. If Michael gets crazy in the crate with the approach of the cats, stop, and try the opposite the next day. If feasible, have the cats in the crate, trying to get them to go nose to nose calmly, with treats of course. Even better, try cradling Michael in your arms with someone else introducing one cat at a time with a relaxed voice and special treats. Or vice versa, if feasible. Cradle the cats with Michael calmly meeting and sniffing. In my experience, usually, the best thing you can do to have dogs and dogs, or dogs and cats, get along is interfere as little as possible, and let them work it out. Most Shelties are smart and sensitive, and the likelihood is that as he matures, he will give them the space they want. It is, however, imperative that the cats have several safe zones, such as cat trees, where they can get away. I would also suggest that Michael be taught by a pro a “leave it” command, teaching him to turn away from and leave whatever you want him to ignore, be it a pizza crust on the sidewalk or a squirrel, or a cat.

Good luck, Happy New Year, and congrats on your new four-legged significant other!

Dogcharmer Tom

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