Why do dogs chase cats?

Dear PetPlace, Why Does My Dog Chase My Cat?

Dear PetPlace,

I have two dogs and a cat. One of the dogs is very young though we don’t know her exact age, but the vet estimates she is under a year old. She has been with us for a couple months and has a bad habit of chasing our cat. While the dog doesn’t seem to be attacking her, our cat is older and not interested in the dog’s attention.

Our other dog has no interest in the cat, and they get along by ignoring one another. So, why does our new dog still chase my cat, and how can we work with them to break this habit and get some peace at home?


Exasperated Pet Owner

Dear Exasperated,

Dogs chasing cats is a tale as old as time, is it not? I understand the frustration you’re experiencing with this recent chaos in your home and the added stress your cat must be feeling. Dogs and cats are both descended from predators, and, despite domestication, have very different outlooks on, and approaches to, life. So, to the human eye they seem to be at odds with one another.

But that’s not always the case. As with your example, you said your dog doesn’t seem to be attacking the cat, but rather chasing her. There are different biological instincts that are activating in your puppy (under one year is still a puppy) and redirecting that energy when they’re young is crucial to returning peace to your home.

Why Do Dogs Chase Cats?

Dogs are driven to chase cats from pure instinct called “prey drive”. Dogs are descended from wolves, and their hunting instincts were valued during domestication. Many breeds have come about due to the selective breeding of hunting traits like stalking, searching, or even killing. Even though most modern cultures do not use dogs in this manner any longer, the instincts are ingrained in dogs from generations past.

This is also why some breeds like German Shepherds, Beagles, and even Yorkshire Terriers can seem aggressive to smaller animals; their instincts are telling them that the animal is prey. Other breeds not historically bred for hunting and defense may not have as strong a prey drive, which could explain why your other dog is disinterested in your cat.

Alternatively, dogs have a different outlook on life than cats. They are pack animals and play for them often involves chase and rough housing with siblings and other members of their pack. It is natural for them to view the other animals (including humans) in your household as part of their pack, and, therefore, your puppy is attempting to engage your cat in play, but your cat is not buying into it. They are simply speaking different languages.

Without knowing more about how your dog interacts with your cat and other animals and their breed, it’s hard to really say which instinct is driving your dog’s actions. No matter why your dog is chasing your cat, it is important to put a stop to this behavior. Fortunately, the training is the same regardless of the reasoning behind the action.

Why Is It Important to Stop My Dog Chasing Cats?

In your example, your dog is chasing your cat at home. The biggest reason to stop this behavior as quickly as possible is to protect your cat. Even if your dog doesn’t physically harm your cat, the action is stressing her out. Just like with humans, stress has a negative impact on your cat’s physical health. Cats can easily develop anxiety, and the need to constantly be wary in her own home may trigger that in your cat.

Physically, your cat may develop symptoms of chronic stress like bladder infections, diarrhea, vomiting, patchy fur, or sores. But she may also start to act out. Is your cat suddenly aggressive towards you or your family? Is she noticeably more destructive by spraying urine or scratching furniture? These are common issues cats develop from stress.

You don’t mention this in your letter, but if your dog is chasing cats throughout the neighborhood, there are additional dangers to your dog. If the cats are feral, there’s a chance they may be rabid or have a disease that could spread to your dog. This is especially dangerous if your dog is not up to date on their vaccinations.

You also may face legal ramifications should your dog attack a neighbor’s cat. Depending upon the laws in your location, you could face fines, or your dog may face scrutiny from officials. It is important to abide by all local ordinances. Always keep your dog on a leash when they’re outside, especially while you are training them not to chase cats.

How Do I Train My Dog Not to Chase Cats?

Training your dog not to chase a cat is like any other training venture. It will take repeated practice and encouragement to engrain the desired behavior in your dog. While you work with your dog, give your cat a safe space where the dog is not allowed or does not go. This will help her to relax and escape when she feels overwhelmed.

Review the Basics

Your puppy is still new to your home, so it’s likely you’re still training them on the basics like come, sit, and stay. If that’s not the case, take this opportunity to review those commands before you introduce any new ones. New commands like leave it or heel make good additions to your dog’s training, and you’ll need a combination of them to redirect your dog’s attention away from your cat.

Introducing Distractions

Start your training sessions apart from the cat with your dog on their leash. Once they get the hang of the expected commands in a controlled environment, you’ll want to start offering distractions. This could be other members of your household, their favorite toys, or even your other dog.

The key here is to allow your dog to become distracted with the new stimulus so that you may distract them by redirecting their attention. Use the commands you’ve been working on based on the individual situation at hand and be sure to reward your dog with affection and treats when they do what you want.

Reintroduce Your Cat to Your Dog

Once your dog is reliably obeying commands with distractions, bring your cat back into the equation. With your dog on a leash, bring your cat in, and use the same commands to distract your dog if and when they try to chase your cat. Make sure you remain in control of the situation and environment until your dog can be called off the cat or no longer goes after your cat at all.

Other Ways to Keep Your Dog from Chasing Cats

Training is just one part of the equation. You can also help prevent your dog from chasing cats by keeping them engaged. If your dog gets bored, they may be more likely to chase the cat for entertainment or play, so make sure your dog has plenty of toys and activities to keep them occupied.

Engage your dog in play and walks regularly to help release excess energy. If your dog is chasing your cat because they are playing, keeping them physically active will help prevent that from happening.

Until your dog has stopped chasing the cat entirely, don’t leave them unsupervised. Make sure they have separate spaces until your dog’s behavior changes for your cat’s safety and peace of mind. Keep working with your dog if there are any relapses in behavior. Good luck bringing peace to your home!