Living With A Dog That Kills Cats

“Dear Adam: I have a German Shepherd female, age 2yr, 7 mo who attacked my Sheltie and nearly killed her. This concerned a bone. Then one month later, she repeated the dog aggression.

We also have a yellow Lab who interacts with the Shepherd with no problems. They play together every day. After the attack on the Sheltie, the Shepherd killed a stray cat and has grabbed and bitten another cat.

We live on a 16 acre farm and have 10 cats, all well cared for, current on shots and all fixed. They keep the rodent population down and are also pets, but stay outside with access to the barn. We have 3 acres around the house fenced for the dogs. The cats also interact in this area.

Is it possible to train the Shepherd to leave the cats alone so that she can access the fenced area? I do not want any more animals hurt or killed.

The Sheltie is the house dog and will never be in the same area again with the Shepherd, but I cannot control the cats. I do not want the cats killed, one by one. If specific training will work, please advise. I am seriously considering finding the Shepherd another home, but she is a well bred dog (Ch sire and dam) and OFA certified. The Shepherd is fine with people. No signs of aggression at all. She has basic obedience training – Beginning and intermediate. All of the problems have surfaced since she turned two year old. Sincerely, Joyce S.”

Dear Joyce: Thanks for the e-mail. Well… you’ve got a tough situation. Here are your options, ranked in various levels of how much effort you’ll need to put in and what is reasonable to expect:

1.) The dog will likely never be able to be unsupervised in the same area as the cats.

2.) You can get the dog to ignore the cats while you’re in his presence… but when you’re not, all bets are off. He may ignore them, but he may not.

3.) Since it’s a life and death matter (for the cats, anyway)… your goal should be to create ABSOLUTE AVOIDANCE to the cats. I’d start by first teaching the dog basic behaviors, as outlined in this book. Next, using the ‘down-stay’ exercise, I’d incorporate the electronic collar, and place the dog on a ‘down’… also using the 6 foot leash. Don’t use the electronic collar to make the dog go into the down position. Just use the leash. Now, let the cat walk by… perhaps 10 feet from the dog. As the dog lunges for the cat, say, “No!” and stimulate the dog with the electronic collar on the high setting. Then, reissue the ‘down’ command.

4.) Repeat this exercise several times, over a period of several days.

5.) When you feel you’re making progress, and you see that the dog is turning his head AWAY from the cat when it walks by, then you are likely ready to progress to the next step.

6.) Let the dog wander in the area while wearing the long line and the e-collar. The dog will almost always fixate on the cat before taking action. At this point… when he locks on… you need to say, “No!” and stimulate him with the collar on a medium setting. Be aware to have the long line in your hand, so that he doesn’t have enough slack to lunge forward and grab the cat. If your timing is off, you will screw everything up. If you’re complacent, and the dog gets his mouth around the cat AND THEN you stimulate him, the result will be that he thinks that the CAT is causing him the negative sensation, rather than you… and you will end up making the aggression worse.

7.) If you do it right, he will cease the aggression in your presence because: – He respects you. and – You demonstrate that your corrections are super motivational, and you’re not messing around.

8.) The truth of the matter: It’s going to be easier to find the dog a new home where the new owner will not have so many “cat” issues. But don’t get me wrong… it’s just a matter of being honest with yourself about how much time you want to invest in dealing with the problem.

9.) With the proper time and work, the behavior will become manageable… but likely never to the point where you can become complacent.