Are you willing to put your feline companion's life at risk? I wouldn't think this would be any sane person's intentions. Read more about the risks and precautions you can take while cat exploring around dogs.
Animals are so unpredictable when brought together. Dogs and cats, dogs and dogs, cats and cats, etc.; you will never actually know how they will react before meeting for the first time. Sure, it helps to have past experiences of new interactions and base how you think they will react on that BUT this doesn't ever mean that it will be the same response to every animal they meet.
This is Gibson meeting another dog at the post office. Prior to this photo, I had him on his backpack and positioned myself between the dog and him. After sensing that the dog was not a threat and that he was calm, I put him up on the counter to observe the dog for himself. It turned out the dog was more afraid of him than he was afraid of the dog!
Cats Meeting Dogs in Controlled Environments
“Above all, do everything you can to ensure that the interactions are safe and positive. This might mean a shorter and more controlled introduction for the first few times.”
Any time we plan to meet a friend's dog we make sure of a few things. Firstly, before even meeting I'll ask about previous interactions their dog has had with cats and their general behaviours/personalities. I then make it clear that I will have Gibson on his harness and ask that the dog be on his/her leash upon the initial meet. I know that he reacts more positively to dogs that are quieter and calm. Louder dogs with more energy still seem to be okay for him but often his body language will read that he's more on edge with them (he will fluff up and arch his back - see photo below). I'm also prepared to cut the interaction short if it does not work out and I foresee this being a negative experience for him.
With high energy dogs it can be harder for Gibson to predict what this dog is up to. This is why having them both leashed is important. It allows for each guardian to control any unpredictable reactions. Upon meeting, I position myself between the dog and him and always recommend that the dog's guardian do the same so that we can both have more control of our companions. This is advice that I have gotten from his Cat Teacher, Julie Posluns, who's also an animal behaviourist as well as the owner of Cat School. You can check out our post where we talk a lot about Cat School here which can also be found under the subheading, 'Training'. Anyways, once I find that the dog and him interact positively on the leash with us between them, I will unleash him on a high surface to allow him the decision in jumping down and being face to face with that dog if he's interested. What's great is that most dogs do not have the ability to jump on high surfaces so if he wants to get away from that dog he can always jump on a counter, table, etc. to give himself some space or time to himself.
If I notice that Gibson is interested but also anxious, I'll offer him a treat and recommend that the dog get offered one too to maintain positive interactions. Doing this as they are in close proximity (or at whatever distance is safe and okay with your cat) might help them get affiliated with one another in a more controlled manner. In the video below Gibson was meeting a friend's dog, Choco, a second time. Choco is a bit of a higher energy dog and barks quite a bit which makes him a bit anxious. To bring Choco's energy down enough for him to feel comfortable around him we decided to crack out a treat which they ended up sharing (and it was the cutest thing ever, as you can see)! Later on they were running around chasing each other - it was adorable. As the night went on he became more interested in what Choco was about and I was more at ease knowing they could get along.
It also may be helpful to note that choosing where to meet is dependant on your cat. Gibson is not territorial, so he'd be okay with a dog coming in our space. He also is totally himself in new environments so going to the dog guardian's house is fine for him too. Remember, what works for us may not work for you. It all depends on a number of things including personalities, what your cat has been exposed to already, and more. Be sure to do these interactions slowly and without pressure or expectations.
Cats Meeting Dogs in Unfamiliar Environments
Sometimes when we are out we pass by people with dogs who say, "my dog loves other cats!" While I find it awesome that their dog gets along with cats, I can never trust their word. Why? Because my cat doesn't always like other dogs and as I mentioned before, we will never actually know how our animals will react with one another when they've never met. I usually respond to this by saying, "my cat is actually scared of dogs" so that they are aware of needing to give us space or will understand why we need to continue to move around and away from them. Other times I might slowly and patiently allow Gibson to get a bit closer to the dog if the guardian is willing to be cooperative, but not too close. Cats are much more vulnerable in these situations (and so are we as an animal's instincts can kick in and we can also be at risk of being hurt) so it's better to be safe than sorry.
I don't recommend having your cat meet a dog who's guardian you don't know, especially in unfamiliar territory.
Since Gibson is comfortable with riding on top of his backpack, we will also put him on top of it when we pass by people walking their dogs. We highly recommend the Petsfit Solid Bottom Pet Backpack Carrier (the one with pockets - check out our review here). He has never been harmed being on top (or inside) the backpack and so that is where he feels most safe. As a dog approaches (or we approach a dog), I am able to react quickly and ensure his safety by just picking him up with one arm and putting him on top (see video below). I can also count on my hands the number of times a dog actually noticed him riding on top of the backpack so this always helps to avoid a reactionary situation (excessive barking) which could result in a stressful/negative experience for him.
What's most important is getting your cat used to passing by dogs safely as you explore and having a safety plan in case you find yourself and your cat in a predicament that is not or has the potential to be unsafe. This brings us to our next subtopic, dogs that are off-leash.
“Off-leash dogs can come out of nowhere so never let your guard down.”
For any of you who have dogs, I love you and I love your dog! Just because I have a cat does not mean I am solely a cat lover. In fact, when I'm out walking and not with Gibson I frequently ask guardians if I can pet their dogs. I love ALL (well, most) animals.
What I don't love is when by-laws are not followed making others and my cat unsafe. In Toronto there is a by-law which states that dogs must be kept on a leash at all times unless they are on their own property or in designated off-leash areas. Firstly, believe it or not, there are people out there terrified of dogs (my mother-in-law is one of them) and want the security of knowing they are leashed so the dog doesn't come near them. Secondly, your dog can ruin the outdoor experience for any cat and possibly even kill them. We have a friend on Instagram, @tinkyiscat, who's cat tragically got attacked by a dog and didn't make it. The owner was nowhere to be found and the dog ran off. Another Instagram friend, @surfercatmav, were hiking on an "on-leash only" trail when they got attacked by a large off-leash dog. The guardian of Maverick had been bit by the dog (it had punctured her ulner artery) and Maverick had his ACL torn on his back right hind leg (a very serious injury for a cat). The guardian of the off-leash dog did nothing but pull his dog away from it's collar and jogged away. Where is the justice in that?
For these reasons we never take Gibson off-leash and remain on high alert when we are out (yet sometimes, just like @surfercatmav, a dog will come out of nowhere and you don't have much time at all to react). We always keep our Petsfit backpack with us and leave one of the compartments open in case we need to be quick about putting him in a safe space. If we are out with him and we see off-leash dogs we always politely alert the guardian that we have a cat with us and request that they leash their dog. Sometimes they are very understanding and cooperative and other times they are not, in which case, we put him in his backpack and leave the area. Although we have reported these situations there's sadly not much that can be done to rectify these situations. Once when I was running I asked the guardian of an off-leash dog if he was scared of getting caught for having his dog off-leash. Right away he said, "not at all because if they ask for ID to charge us we can say that we don't have ID on us and they cannot charge us or do anything about it". By-law officers do not have the authority to be following guardians of dogs to their place of residence or their cars to charge them, either. Sadly, not much can be done in these situations in Toronto but to be wise in having a safety plan and avoiding off-leash dogs when you see them. It does help to stay in the city avoiding parks and trails because these are the places you will find most off-leash dogs or to enjoy these spaces at less busy times (during the week).
Why Even Bother?
Being around dogs is unavoidable as we explore the great outdoors. This is why we like to expose Gibson to meeting dogs in controlled environments to help him remain calm around dogs in unfamiliar ones.
Seeing leashed dogs while we are out also helps with exposure and allows him to be confident and comfortable when out and around them. We once went to the Canadian Pet Expo in Toronto where thousands of dogs are and kept him in the backpack - he did great! All this helps his confidence as he explores, but again, remember to always have your cat's safety at the top of your adventure agenda.
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I'd love to hear about your experiences!
xx Sarah & Gibson