Are German Shepherds good with Cats?
I get that question a lot!
And to be honest, almost any animal species can live in complete harmony with another. Just check out this cute video of an Orangutan and her Tiger cub babies!
I know you're not here to watch cute videos of Orangutans and Tiger cubs!
You're here because you want to know how to train a German Shepherd to like cats.
And you're not alone!
A couple of days ago Jo, a reader at GSC left a comment asking for help with her kitty-doggy duo…
Just found this website and I love it. Our GSD, Kiara, is 13 weeks and my partner’s grandma has raised them but it is my first GSD. She’s a beautiful dog. We’ve had no problems introducing her to other dogs or walking loose lead, she can focus when another dog walks past.
However, we have a cat and that pushes her thresholds higher than anything. She pins the cat via the neck to the floor, which I noted is what they were trained to do to sheep. I want to break this behaviour asap before she is too big and accidentally hurts the cat.
Her jackpot treat is boiled chicken and the dog and cat can sit next to each other happily when I have chicken in my hand. But if I’m not watching and the cat walks/runs past she goes him and often won’t let go even if I grab the chicken.
We’re trying to teach ‘leave it’ before she gets to the cat but when she’s too excited it doesn’t work. Any tips you can help with?
And a while back I got this email from Tracey, another reader here are German Shepherd Corner…
Please advise if you are able to offer any advice/help with getting my GSD puppy used to my cat? She is 4 months old and I think her prey drive is making her charge at the cat every time she sees her.
The cat hisses at her if they see each other through a window or door, which causes my pup to start jumping and barking. If the cat tries to go outside to do her business and my pup sees her, then she charges the cat.
I really need these two to get along and realise it might take some time. I have tried to bring them close together with my puppy on leash but she just goes over the threshold no matter how much I try to calm her or offer treats.
I hired a professional dog trainer to help too and followed the advice of bringing in my puppy on a leash and trying to get her to calm down when she sees the cat, then reward her for good behaviour, but so far there has been no positive behaviour.
As you can see, both pooch parents have a firm grip on the understanding of how their German Shepherd's are wired. And how their triggers and thresholds affect their behavior.
If you're new to these concepts, I suggest you check out my article on triggers and thresholds before you start this training.
So, if your heart belongs to a kitty cat and a German Shepherd this guide will help to teach your furry friends to get on like a house on fire!
Although, you should be aware of the fact that some kitty-doggy duo's will never become bosom buddies. But even if they end up mutually disliking each other without fireworks it'll be a win for your household.
It's all about the Kitty
This is one situation where I think the solution should be looked at from your cat's point of view.
Firstly, cats are more ‘strung’ than most dogs.
They also have thresholds that they reach faster. And they can stay peeved for much longer – sometimes even days.
Secondly, they experience negative situations, like being faced with a bouncing 4-month-old puppy, much more intensely than dogs do.
Lastly, cats move like 50 caliber bullets, even when they're not trying to. And your German Shepherd is a herding dog.
So their instinct is to chase and pin down anything that moves at pace. And your kitty cat fits the bill there.
See how this can get messy very quickly? Even if your puppy is on a leash?
4 Fundamentals to Success
So just a few things before we start…
If you push too quickly, your pets will fail. So aim to set them up for success.
Here are a few ways you can do that…
- You know your pets best, only you can make the call to move forward or stay put.
- It could take weeks or even months before there's total harmony. But total harmony means you never have to worry about your cat jumping through a window or your dog having their eye scratched out.
- Going slow is good but going slower is even better! Giving your kitty and dog enough time to be fully comfortable with each other before moving forward means you'll have more success.
- You will need to micromanage every step of this process.
5 Steps on How to Train a German Shepherd to Like Cats
Step One – Total Separation
So most people who get in touch with me have already done the introductions and then realize it might be trickier than they originally thought.
If this is you, be prepared to go right back to the beginning and start the reintroduction from scratch.
In this first step you'll need to separate both pets completely – visually and physically. The best way is to keep them in different parts of your home.
Of course you'll need to make sure you spend quality time with both pets individually. This should not feel like isolation or punishment for them.
They should have plenty of interactive toys to keep them busy and regular human contact.
Step Two – Introducing Scent
You should start this step as soon as possible.
The aim here is to allow contact, but only through scent. Using 2 towels or soft toys, rub one on your cat and the other on your dog. Then expose the opposite pet to the scent of the other.
I’d go for one week with this step but if you feel a longer period is necessary then go with your gut. You know your pets best.
Step Three – Make Good Things Happen
Next, let them both associate a good thing in the vicinity of each other. I suggest feeding them both on opposite sides of a closed door. It sounds silly but both animals have powerful olfactory senses, and will be able to pick up on the other’s scent.
I'd go as far as feeding them a little something extra nice during this step. See it as a high value treat. That will even make a cat commit to ‘working’.
Step Four – Face-to-Face
Once both pets cope in a calm manner with scents and sounds it’s time for face-to-face introduction. Your cat should be in a crate and your pup on a leash.
There should be no physical contact. And you should start at a distance. Like for example, you and pup in one corner of a room and kitty in a crate in the other corner.
Increase distance slowly. I'm talking real slow here. So for example, on the first meeting just keep to one side of the room without moving forward.
If you move forward and one of them reacts negatively like;
Or gets excited like;
Go back to the distance where this was not happening and start again.
Step Five – Physical Contact
This is the last step and the one which is likely to take the longest.
Once there’s no reaction from both pets when the distance is narrowed you can introduce them physically.
This time, put your pup in a crate or playpen. Or separate them with a baby gate.
This step should be done in a room with the door shut. You don't want your cat bolting.
But make sure your cat has lots perches and elevated spots. Cats feel safe when they are high up. And it's one of their natural life preserving characteristics.
Allow your kitty to approach your pup. Not the other way around.
At this point introduce treats for your dog when they are behaving in a calm manner, while kitty approaches and investigates at her own pace.
Expect this step to go very slowly. Because your kitty cat will likely approach and then retreat again.
But the main goal here is to get your puppy to be totally calm when your cat is around.
Whatever you do, don’t leave them unsupervised!
Keep the sessions short and increase the time slowly. At some point you might need a good book to keep you busy while things progress.
Be ready to take steps forward and then back again.
But persevere, and you’ll have success.
So there you have 5 solid steps on how to train a German Shepherd to like cats!
And just before you go…
- Start with small steps.
- Gradually increase difficulty.
- Acknowledge small victories.
- Be persistent.
Kitten on a Blue Fence – Flickr