When I first brought home my boxador, Sophie, she was about 12 weeks old and my cat was about 3 years old. I had no worries because I knew my cat, Pascalina, would stand her ground and “train” the puppy. However, when I adopted Eva the Diva, my pit-mix, she was already three, and I knew from working with her a bit that she had a very intense prey drive. She absolutely loved chasing and biting anything that moved, mainly tennis balls, but she had also done some bite work. And I had seen that when she had an object in her grasp, she was hard pressed to give it up. This intensity scared me a little bit when it came to the idea of bringing her home to meet Pascalina. Although Pasca was very adept at putting my other dogs “in their place” and basically put up with less crap from them than even I did, I had no idea how to introduce this adult pit bull to her. I guess I had some of those preconceived notions about pit bulls and prey drive, and how they are not “safe” with cats. Well, all that has since been put to rest. Of course, when I first brought Eva home, she did show a very intense interest in Pasca, but we never once had any incident. I honestly can’t even say if I used any particular technique other than careful observation (a wait and see, or hope and pray sort of strategy). And now they snuggle up like proper sisters any chance they get.
The thing I hadn’t known then, which I later learned from Natural Dog Training, is that the more prey drive a dog has, the EASIER they are to train. You just direct the flow of their energy wherever you want it to go. As long as you are the one who can resolve their deepest need to hunt, play, and bite, then your dog should happily get along with any member of the family. Natural Dog Training also helped me to teach her that it’s okay to “let go.” Now I use bite work to train her into a down stay, heel, etc.
The other very important thing which Kevin Behan (creator of Natural Dog Training and author of Your Dog Is Your Mirror) taught me which has informed so much of my dog training since, is that the prey controls the predator. This is why you want to be more like a moose than an alpha pack-mate. If you’ve ever seen this video, it's clear that a small fury prey-like being has no trouble whatsoever being the “boss” of a larger predator:
When we were getting ready to move in with Wayne and his two three-legged cats (adopted from the MSPCA), some of my old fears returned. It was unknown if his cats had ever lived with dogs before. I didn’t want the experiment to end badly, so I asked Kevin for some advice. He said that in order to make sure the cat “trains” the dogs, you can put the cat inside a wire crate and introduce the dog that way. This is so the cat has no way to run from the dog, because running away would arouse the dog’s prey drive. Once the cat has learned that it can train the dog in this way, he should be able to do it outside of the crate as well. So I did this a couple times with each of Wayne’s cats and there was a lot of hissing, but Eva eventually lost interest in the cat in the crate. And so when we brought them all together it really took less than one week for the dogs and cats to figure everything out, and for everyone to settle in, and for me to feel comfortable that there weren’t going to be any issues.
And so it breaks my heart to think of all those pits in shelters who have a high prey drive, and maybe have shown a little too much interest in a cat during a behavior test, and then they get forever labeled as “no cats.” Because most animal lovers I know who go to shelters to adopt already have at least one or two animals at home and a lot of these include cats. It’s so much harder to get adopted with this label. I’m sure if Eva had been labeled this way (which in a proper shelter she most likely would have been) I never would have taken her home. And now look at her: just a polite little pit bull around her three-legged house-mates.