Chasing is a natural instinct for a dog, but it is not appropriate behavior in your home when directed toward your cat. The following guidelines can help you deal with this behavior through management (preventing the problem) and training (motivating the dog to change his behavior).
Management means arranging the environment to prevent the behavior. Ideally, this happens right from the start, so your dog never has the opportunity to act inappropriately, and your cat doesn’t have to endure it! Prevention of the inappropriate behavior is very important, since cat-chasing is a self-reinforcing behavior (i.e., the more the dog chases, the more he wants to repeat it). So, if you’re introducing a new dog or cat to your household, please read the resource called “How to Introduce a Dog to a Cat.”
If at any time during the introduction process, the dog barks, fixates on the cat or tries to chase the cat, remove the dog from the situation so he cannot continue practicing inappropriate behavior. This also works with a dog who already has a tendency to chase the cat. Have a quiet area (a crate or a bathroom, for instance), a place that your dog already associates with good things, where you can take him.
The instant your dog starts to behave inappropriately toward your cat (chasing the cat, whining or simply becoming fixated), calmly lead or lure him away from the cat to the pre-designated area. You should act calmly to avoid arousing the dog even more and you should avoid speaking to your dog. After a minute or two, release your dog in an equally low-key manner. If the dog comes back and repeats the inappropriate behavior toward the cat, he should immediately go back to the “time-out”area.
To increase the chances of success, reward your dog for desired behavior. Reinforcing appropriate behavior teaches your dog what you want him to do (i.e., behave appropriately around your cat). Prepare a ready supply of great tasting training treats — small bits of whatever food your dog finds most enticing. As soon as your dog looks away from the cat, praise him profusely and give him a treat. Repeat every time your dog ignores the cat. Your dog will learn that whenever he sees your cat, rewards are forthcoming from you if he looks away from the cat.
You are training your dog to perform a certain behavior (looking away from the cat) upon seeing the cue (the cat). Just make sure the treats you are giving are more desirable to your dog than the fun of chasing the cat! Once you’ve established what you want your dog to do (ignore the cat) and you’ve reinforced that behavior many times, you may choose to allow the dog more freedom around the cat.
At some point, you may need to help your cat change her association with your dog by feeding her tasty kitty treats while she’s in the dog’s presence. (During this exercise, make sure the dog can’t chase the cat.) Also, modify the environment so that your cat has a safety zone, a place that is inaccessible to your dog. Set up baby gates to create safe rooms, provide lots of high perches for your cat, and always supervise your dog when the cat is around.
If the chasing persists, the motivation for your dog could be boredom or he could need more exercise. So, give your dog appropriate outlets. For instance, make sure he gets plenty of exercise. This can be physical exercise (e.g., running off-leash, playing with another dog friend, playing fetch with you, swimming) or mental exercise (e.g., learning basic cues and fun tricks, using food puzzles, learning nose work). A tired dog is a good dog, and tired dogs do much less chasing. Also, provide a variety of appropriate chew toys. Some ideas for appealing chews are stuffed Kongs, pressed rawhide and frozen broth. When you give your dog chew toys, make sure you give them to him in a room away from the cat, to prevent resource guarding.
A reward-based training program such as this will teach your dog to listen to you, provide him with alternative behaviors to perform, and exercise his brain. In summary, be consistent in training and reward appropriate behavior; be persistent with removing your dog from the situation if he’s behaving inappropriately; and make sure your dog’s social, physical and mental needs are being met. Finally, never leave your dog alone with the cat unsupervised, since behavior can never be guaranteed.