Despite the age-old tales of cats and dogs not getting along, many dogs and cats will happily live together and form a close bond. However, they are two very different animals that will not necessarily blend well together and is very dependent on each individual dog and cat. So, what about German Shepherds? They are big dogs, is it safe for them to live with cats? And how should we go about introducing a German Shepherd to its feline housemates? Let’s find out!
German Shepherds were originally bred for herding and are often used as working dogs. For this reason, they may have a strong drive to chase, herd, and protect. This instinct isn’t ideal around cats and the drive to chase must be discouraged with their feline housemates. However, they are very loyal, intelligent, and love to be kept active, so can be easy to train. Using a positive re-enforcement training method with your Shepherd around cats can help them integrate into the feline family. Shepherds love to work and please their owners so training them how to behave around cats is likely to be a welcomed challenge for your dog.
Here are some great training tips for German Shepherds that will help new pet parents take care of their new pup.
All dogs are individuals and not all dogs can, or should, live with cats. Similarly, not all cats are suitable to live with dogs. German Shepherds dogs have a large mouth and a potentially very powerful bite. Chasing or catching a cat could be fatal and incredibly stressful for the cat. For some dogs, their predatory drive is so strong it is not safe to leave them with cats. A slow and gradual introduction of your German Shepherd to cats is advised in a safe space with physical separation if necessary. Consulting with a qualified veterinary behaviorist is advised if you are unsure about introducing your German Shepherd to your cats at home.
Little and often is key. Introducing your dog to your cats should be slow and steady, gradually building up the time spent with them over time and decreasing the distance between them. Chasing behavior is very rewarding for dogs so it is vital that they don’t get to practice this behavior with cats.
Young dogs and puppies are more likely to adapt quickly to living with cats, however, no dog is too old to learn and be trained. All dogs are individuals and will have different behaviors around cats!
Scent is an important form of communication in both species. Try introducing both pets to each other before bringing the new furry family member home by placing a blanket or toy that smells of your new pet in the environment. Ensure cats and dogs have their own space to retreat to with bedding, food, and water. Cats feel secure when they have ample space and know where their escape route is through doors and windows. Physical barriers such as doors or baby gates may be needed in the short term whilst trying to integrate your cat and dog into the family.
For initial introductions keep your German Shepherd on their lead or a training line. Allow the cat to move around the house or space freely, do not force an introduction by placing the cat in front of your dog. Reward calm behavior such as lying down or sitting. Rewards can be food rewards or using clicker training. Further information about clicker training can be found in this guide. The aim is for your dog to ignore the cat and continue his daily business. Start by allowing your German Shepherd to see the cat but keeping them separate with a pet gate or glass door. Once you have the behavior you desire, allow your dog to smell the cat whilst on a lead. Gradually, increase the length of the lead and the time spent together, working towards taking your dog off his lead completely.
If your dog goes to bark or chases the cat, then simply move away, and try again at a greater distance until they learn that an alternative behavior, such as sitting, is wanted, and therefore rewarded. Don’t tell your dog off for unwanted behavior around your cat, this may be confusing and could result in a negative association which could make the behavior worse.
Introductions should always be at your cat’s pace and there should always be space for the cat to move away easily if they want to. Do not restrain your cat when introducing him or her to dogs, even by holding them in your arms as this reduces his or her ability to run away if they are scared. Do not leave them unattended together until you are confident that they get along and are safe together.
More helpful advice on how to manage cats and dogs in the household together can be found in this article.
Cats are much smaller and more vulnerable than large breed dogs such as German Shepherds. However, this doesn’t mean that cats can’t cause harm to your dog. If a cat is threatened or feeling scared by your dog it might scratch or bite. Cats have sharp claws and cause skin wounds to your dog that are at risk of infection. The biggest risk of cat scratches is to your dog’s eyes. A scratch or swipe to your dog’s eyes could result in a corneal ulcer which can have serious consequences. Particular care needs to be taken with young puppies as their blink reflex isn’t fully developed until 12 weeks of age making them more vulnerable to an eye injury. Cats will generally choose to escape a situation rather than attack, so always ensure they have an escape route when they are together and never leave your German Shepherd and cat unattended until you are confident that they behave well together.
If you want to own a cat and a dog together, German Shepherds can be a good choice. A slow introduction to one another is key after extensive training. Young dogs and puppies are more likely to adapt to socializing with cats, and with time many German Shepherds can live happily with cats.