How to Introduce Cats and Dogs

Old sayings have a lot of truth to them, that’s how they get to be old sayings.  Take the example of “fighting like cats and dogs”, that saying has it’s origins sometime before 1610 according to the blog Historically Speaking.  The reality is that cats and dogs are very different species, and as such, react very differently to each other than they would to other members of their own species.

For example, a dog may bark, chase a cat, or raise it’s paw to play.  A cat may see any of these actions as threatening and swat his paw or hiss at the dog.  Or, a cat may try to rub a dogs cheeks with her head as a sign of affection, but the dog may take it as intrusive or threatening and lash out.

Cats and dogs can learn to live in harmony, but it takes diligence and thoughtfulness on the owners part.  Remembering that we are asking two different species to learn about each other and adapt their natural reactions is important.  The safe and proper introduction of cats and dogs is not a fast process. It is one that requires consistency and patience, but it can be done.

During the transition, it is important to keep the cat and dog separated.  This ensures a  transition with less stress and keeps both pets safe. A couple. of points here that are important

  • it is important that both animals be monitored for signs of stress or anxiety
  • each “session” should be short (5-10 min) and repeated several times throughout the day
  • It is important to allow the cat to decide to approach, run or hide.
  • until the final stage, the dog should be kept on a leash and under control
  • treats will go a long way in making this a positive experience for both pets.


Scent work

The first step is to allow cats and dogs to get accustomed to the smell of each other.  The way to do this is to take a clean cloth for the cat and one for the dog.  You are going to use these to bring the smell of the cat to the dog and vice versa without actually having the two meet.

To do this, take one of the clean cloths and rub your cats scent glands. These are located under his cheeks and around the forehead area.  Then take the other cloth and rub your dogs scent glands (underlies armpit area).  Then place the cat scented cloth in the room with the dog and the dog scented cloth in the room with the cat.

Allow both animals to approach, or not approach, the cloths as they choose.  It is important that both animals are not stressed or forced to smell them. They will approach the cloths when they are comfortable.  Repeat this action for several days.  When both animals are comfortable with the scent cloths, it is time to move on to the next phase.

Visual through glass:

After several days, when both animals are comfortable and secure, the next step is to allow them to see each other through a glass barrier.  again put the scented cloths in the area the pet is in, but have them on either side of a glass door (for example a patio door) so they can see each other while smelling the scent cloths.

Treats are handy here to keep both the dog and cat calm.  They also provide positive reinforcement and begins to develop a positive association.

You need several sessions a day for several days.  When both the cat and dog appear relaxed and calm, then it is time to move on to the open border.

Visual through open border:

The next step is to have the pets separated by a mesh gate or a pet gate.  the pets can see each other and can smell one another but are still separated.

Here, again, it is important to allow the cat the ability to approach, run or hide.  The dog should be calm and in control, and the cat should also be calm.  Once again, several sessions a day for several days will be needed.

Once both animals seem comfortable and relaxed, then move on to the next step.

Controlled introduction:

Once the cat and dog can be near each other without stress or fighting, the next phase would be to have the dog on a leash and under control and to place the cat in the same room.  Here the cat has the ability to approach, run or hide.  The dog needs to be in control and  calm.

If the dog starts barking, lunging or trying to chase the cat, return to the previous phase and begin again.  It may take several sessions a day for many days before the dog is calm and ready to be in a room with a cat.

Final phase:

As both pets are comfortable with each other, go ahead and allow them to be in the same room with the dog off leash.  Continue to monitor both the cat and dog for signs of stress, anxiety or agitation.  As they become more comfortable, go ahead and slowly increase the time a little at a time.

When you are not doing a session, both the cat and dog should continue to be separated.  Remember, the goal is to have a transition that is as minimally stressful as possible.

Doing the introduction in this manner allows both the cat and dog to become accustomed to one another, and learn to adapt without too much stress.  It ensures the safety of both pets.  It does take longer, but it also sets up your pets for success in developing their relationship that will last years.

If you notice problems or issues, you should first contact your vet and rule out any medical issues.  If the behaviors continue, you should contact a trained behaviorist for assistance.



  1. Katie at Meadowia on July 14, 2023 at 2:04 pm

    Hey there! I loved reading your article on introducing cats and dogs, but I’m curious, what are some key steps to make this introduction go smoothly?

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