Last updated on November 11th, 2023 at 07:39 pm
If you have ever witnessed a dog chasing a cat, it can be pretty unsettling. I recently observed a large dog racing across four lanes of traffic in hot pursuit of some poor feline trying to find a place to hide. The owner, a young man, had his dog’s leash in his hand and was yelling and running wildly after him. Fortunately, traffic came to a halt and all were safe including the unfortunate cat!
So, how do you stop your dog from chasing cats? Obviously, the best way is to keep your dog on a leash at all times. The young owner in this scenario was walking his dog off-leash and the dog bolted. In addition, teaching and enforcing basic commands with your dog will also go a long way to deal with this natural instinct to chase after a cat.
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Prevention is Key
Rule #1 to Prevent Your Dog from Chasing Cats–Don’t Let it Start!
It is really important to do all you can to prevent your dog from chasing a cat. Once they feel the thrill of the chase, they may have a higher urge to repeat it and it becomes self-reinforcing behavior. Cats seem like natural prey to most dogs, especially hunting and cattle dog breeds. So, just know that given the opportunity, your dog most likely will chase after your neighbor’s cat! See this interesting article from Readers Digest about a dog’s instinct to chase cats.
Always be wary of cats hiding behind bushes or under a car as you are out for your daily stroll. Your dog will sense that cat lurking in the shrubbery long before you do and might rip the leash right out of your hand if you are not prepared. I am always amazed how strong and willful my dogs become when they suddenly notice Henry the Cat who lives on the next street over. Even with a head halter on, they can sometimes be very challenging to hold onto when they see Henry.
Teach Your Dog Basic Commands
Take your dog to classes or watch on-line videos about basic training for your dog, if you have not already done so. Our dogs really want to please us, but unless they understand the words they hear from us, you and your dog will both be frustrated.
Commands like leave it, wait, come, stay, off, back or even no for really bad stuff, can be extremely helpful in crisis situations. However, it is also important to keep in mind that once the limbic (survival) part of the brain kicks in, your dog may stop paying attention to you. Even so, the more you practice these commands with your dog, the more likely he will listen to you.
Teaching your dog commands will really help you to control your dog’s behavior. But just remember, that any dog can decide to suddenly bolt when off leash no matter how well trained he may be. Dog’s basic behavior is inbred and very strong. So, please do not underestimate your dog’s more primitive instincts. I can’t tell you how many times I have been told by dog owners not to worry when they let their dogs run off leash in the public park, only to see them chasing after another dog or a cat moments later.
Make Sure Your Dog Gets Plenty of Exercise
Some dogs like French Bull Dogs like to sleep a lot and are content to play with their toys and take short walks. But most dogs, especially high energy ones like terriers, dachshunds, herding, and working dogs, will need a lot more exercise. It is important that they get to run and walk every day if possible. A high energy dog who is cooped up a lot, will get fidgety and and be more inclined to find entertainment when outside like chasing a cat.
Redirecting your dog’s attention away from some poor cat may actually be one of the easiest and effective ways to deter his interest in pursuing the chase. I always have a pouch full of food rewards hooked to my pocket or belt when I walk my dogs. It has stopped many a potential dog fight or cat pursuit! My favorite go-to treats are Charlee Bears from Amazon. They are small and perfect for training with only 5 or less calories per treat. They have healthy ingredients and my dogs love them.
As we walk, I am on the lookout for a cat’s presence. Every time I hear a growl or feel a tug at the leash, I whip out a handful of treats and toss them to my two dogs who are pretty good at catching. I always accompany the treats with the appropriate command like leave it, wait, no, or come pending the situation. Sometimes I just screech, Treats! and that almost always stops them in their tracks and gets them to turn back toward me. They have a strong association with treats and good behavior.
Quickly Change Direction
Another very effective way to remove your dog’s focus from chasing a cat, is to simply turn around and go in the opposite direction. You may need to do this very firmly and with some effort, but once you start walking away your dog will forget about the cat pretty quickly and find some new things to interest him.
Suddenly changing direction is especially effective when you are hiking on a trail and come head to head with a another dog or some other critter you need to avoid. Just do an about face and move away to stop a chase or encounter. The faster the better if your dog tends to be a really reactive type of dog.
Teach Your Dog Impulse Control
When dogs get into flight or fight mode stopping them can be a challenge. Finding ways to break some of their basic impulsive reactions will go a long way in channeling this behavior. As an example, I use the wait command a lot with my dogs when serving them their breakfast and dinner. I first ask them to sit, then wait. I sometimes also have to tell them back, if they are too close to their eating area. Then I set their meal down and say release. If they break from these commands before I give the the go ahead, I pick up their bowls and we start over.
The wait command is also really important when I am letting them out of the car. I need a chance to get a hold of their leases and check for traffic before they come bounding out the door. One time one of my dogs had somehow unhooked her lease from her halter. She jumped out of the car just as a car was driving down the street. I yelled wait! at the top of my lungs, and fortunately, my dog froze in her tracks and just missed getting hit!
Commands like these teach your dogs to think and pay attention to you. The more you practice them the more embedded they will become within your dog’s brain. Other things like agility training and puzzle toys may also help with your dog’s impulse control by causing him to think before he takes action. But key verbal commands are always the most important training for impulse control.
Avoid Toys that Might Fuel Your Dog’s Prey Instinct
A lot of trainers discourage giving dogs toys that squeak or move around a lot like a small animal might do. This just encourages their prey instincts. I have seen a lot of toys on retailer websites that have batteries to move them around and create sounds. But they are very expensive, and I am not sure they are in the best interest of your dog’s mental health.
Sometimes there is nothing better than a simple play toy like an old sock that can keep your dogs entertained (they love the smell), Just stuff one sock inside another and tie it in a knot. Socks make perfect toys for a good old fashioned game of fetch or tug of war.
I do buy my dogs some stuffed animals that look like squirrels, since they seem to love them a lot. But the kind I buy do not squeak or move. And, my dogs just seem to love chewing on them, tossing them around, and playing tug of war. See my resource page for dogs toys to learn more about my recommendations.
Get Your Dog to Associate a Cat with Something Else More Interesting
When my dogs and I are out walking and encounter Henry the Cat, I tell my dogs that cats are just a part of life, so, get used to it! Seriously, (I do tell them that) but I also will stop walking when they start tugging toward the cat, and say “Cat–Treats, Cat–Treats”. I repeat this several times as I pull treats out of my pouch.
Desensitize Your Dog to Being Around Cats
In a future post, I will address how to get dogs and cats in the same household used to one another. But for now, suffice it to say that dogs can be trained to be less reactive to cats even if living under the same roof. In fact, my neighbors have trained Nelson and their cat Huckleberry to not only live together, but they have become best friends.
My neighbor on the opposite side of our yard used to have a beautiful rust colored cat named Sam. One day Sam started digging a little under the fence, until he could get his paw underneath it. I couldn’t figure out why my dogs kept running over to the fence and barking. Then I saw this cute little rust colored leg and paw swishing back and forth under the fence! My dogs were going nuts trying to figure out who was attached to this paw!
I invited my neighbors to came over to visit with their two adorable toddlers. We decided it would be good for Sam to visit as well. So, they brought Sam and kept him on their laps. We tried to introduce him to the “girls”. The visit went pretty well except Charlotte, who is part cattle dog, tried to nip at his feet. After a bit of this, we decided we had some success, but time to take Sam home!
Managing Your Dog if He is Already on the Scent or Chase
Pay Attention to Your Dog’s Ques when He is About to Chase a Cat
I can always tell when Henry the Cat may be lurking about, as my dogs start to shift their focus and start to growl or whine. If we are walking down the street and this cat is nearby, they may stop dead in their tracks and begin to stare in the cat’s direction. I often don’t even see the cat. But I can tell by my dogs’ reactions that he must be close by.
Pretty soon I will spot him peeking out from behind a bush. By this time my dogs are getting very agitated and starting to tug at the leash. So, I wrap the leash more firmly around my hand and move them on toward our destination, which is the local park. I sometimes have to stop and give them some treats with the mantra “Cat–Treats”. This usually distracts them enough to break their impulse to chase after Henry. Even though this typically works, I still have to be on my toes to head this problem off at the pass!
What to Do if the Chase has Already Started
I will admit that I have failed to pass the prevention steps to cat chasing.
Recently, I was walking my dogs home from the park, and we started to enter our garage. Just as I opened the door leading into the house, I let go of their leashes so they could run inside. Usually they are eager to go in for a drink of water and and to plop down to rest.
But on this particular day, they suddenly did an about turn and ran out of the garage. My new neighbor’s cat, Huckleberry, was apparently sitting outside his garage next door. My dogs sensed his presence and decided to take off after him. To my horror, they chased him all the way down the street and back again.
Fortunately, my neighbor was heading home with her dog Nelson (also part cattle dog), and she caught up with Charlotte. At the same time, my other dog, Georgia, ducked fast as lightening under the car where Huck was hiding. In the next instant she ended up chasing a fleeing Huckleberry back toward our house and onto our other neighbor’s front porch.
There they stood, both staring at each other hissing and whining. Georgia is not much bigger than Huckleberry, and they seemed to be frozen in a standoff. By that time my neighbor had managed to get both Charlotte and her dog back home, and I was able to grab Georgia. I tucked both dogs away inside my house, and Huckleberry ran to the safety of his backyard.
This whole event ended up with a vet visit for Huckleberry and a scolding for my two dogs. They knew they were in trouble! We made reparations, our sincerest apologies, and later gave Huck some new toys.
Prevention is Always the Best Strategy
But never again! It could have been so much worse!
I let my guard down for just a moment, and it could have resulted in a more critical and damaging fight. Not only can dogs seriously bite cats, but cats can scratch and damage a dog’s eyes. Hopefully with more training and conditioning, my dogs will eventually learn to respect both of their new canine and feline neighbors.
So, as I said earlier in this post, it is so much better to simply never give your dog an opportunity to chase a cat! Take it from one who knows!
Deanna Euritt is a dedicated dog enthusiast with over three decades of experience in raising and training a diverse range of dogs, including many rescue pups. Her practical expertise is rooted in real-life experiences, where she has successfully navigated the challenges of nurturing rescue dogs into confident, well-adjusted companions. Residing in Northern California, Deanna’s days are filled with adventures along trails and beaches with her beloved dogs, Charlotte and Georgia. In her writing, she offers insightful, compassionate advice to fellow dog lovers, leveraging her extensive personal journey in the world of dog care and training. See About Us.