Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on 7x7.com. Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments!
Q: I have two cats. One is four-and-a-half-years-old, and the other is two-years-old. I just brought home a 12-week-old corgi puppy. How do I get him to stop herding them and chasing them around the house?
A: Ah, the art of the chase! The chase, for your puppy, is a self-reinforcing behavior. In other words, the more he does it, the more he will want to do it. Here’s what you can do in the immediate:
- Keep cats in a safe location, either in another room behind closed doors or separate the house with a baby gate (e.g. cats upstairs, puppy downstairs).
- When you let your cats roam into the common areas, make sure your puppy is on leash and you have control of him. Don’t let him start the chase sequence.
- Do not allow the dog to sniff or paw at the area where the cats is located.
This is a perfect time to look into puppy training–not just for this reason, but for the foundation of a lifetime of pleasant interactions with your dog. This is a good example of the benefit of having the tools for communication with your puppy. Use focus commands such as look, touch, and target. Create a framework of self control exercises in place (sit, stay, lie down, go to the mat) through positive reinforcement training with high-value (particularly yummy) treats. When your dog is focused on you (and the treat), he will let the cats go about their business.
Mat or crate exercises are a good technique to maintain control in training scenarios. But you must practice! Here's how to do it:
- Identify the mat/crate as the target place for your puppy to go to. When your puppy is there, give a tasty, long lasting treat to keep him occupied. Your puppy only gets this treat when he is on the target.
- If you are crate training, teach him to go to kennel on command.
- Teach your dog to look at you with a “leave it” command. This will not only help with the cats, but also in a million other instances, such as when your dog attempts to pick up a chicken bone out of the gutter.
- When your dog is sufficiently trained and you trust him around the cats, put your dog into a stay mode on the mat while your cat is introduced to the room. Eventually, your dog will realize that the mat/treat combo yields a bigger reward than chasing cats.