The truth about cats and dogs is that dogs are not always the bullies–many cats stealthily torment their canine roommates. It isn’t about physical size; it’s all about attitude. Bully cats want to control practically every situation. They may even attempt to push their people around, too, by demanding meals when they want them and nipping hands when they have decided they have received enough petting.
If your cat is a threat to your dog; there’s help. According to Arden Moore in The Cat Behavior Answer Book (Storey, 2007), bully cats do not accept punishment or corrections, but they do have a weak spot–they want attention. Use that to your advantage. Retraining a bossy feline is much like training a dominant dog. Start by exercising your cat more frequently to expend some of his excessive energy and turn his attention to you instead of your poor dog. Protect your hands by engaging him in games with a fishing pole toy or cat teaser (a coiled wire with a small bundle of lightweight wood on one end that moves erratically, imitating the movement of a butterfly).
With regard to protecting your dog, the first step is to stop the attack. Look for early warning signs and stop a fight before it starts. Right before an attack, a cat will typically dip his head, arch his back end, and shimmy a bit. If you see this, try to remain calm. Scolding and high-pitched shrieks may only serve to fuel any aggression. Instead, step in and try distracting with food treats, a favorite toy, or spend a moment rubbing under his chin. Cats can’t be happy and mad a the same time.
Separate the two when you cannot be around to supervise them. Avoid having them together during high-energy times, like at mealtimes and when you arrive home. Reintroduce them when they are both tired–for instance, after you have played with your cat and taken your dog for a brisk walk. When you do reintroduce them, keep your dog on a leash and let him learn your cat’s signals. Do this until you see that both pets are calm. Then unleash your pup. Finally, make sure your cat’s claws are trimmed to avoid any injuries.
Do you have dog versus cat in your home? Does your cat wear the pants in the family? Share stories of your bully cat in the comments…