Managing Cat & Dog Encounters
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Dogs, they happen to be a part of every cat owner’s fear.
Don’t get us wrong, we love dogs! But not all dogs love cats and vis versa.
And when we’re walking a cat on a harness, and come across a dog, it is hard to determine if that dog likes cats. Particularly when they are bounding up to you – how do you know if it the dog is coming up to you in fear or anger?
Most dog owners are lovely, and the moment they realise you have a frightened cat they will work with you to calm their dog down and separate it from you and your cat.
However, walking a cat on a leash is not common yet. Most dog owners don’t realise this is something they need to keep an eye out for.
Nikki & Sawyer are a pair of Siberian Forest Cat tomcats, who explore their local river parks on the weekend and also go on multiday adventures to national parks.
As expected they do meet dogs while they are on these adventures.
We asked their Mum, Marley, about their experience with dogs.
“Dozens of dog owners have laughed with us, and told us we made their day - they never expected that when they stepped outside to walk their dog, that they would end up running into cats being walked. The majority of them are very happy to see us, and welcome an interaction between their dog and Nikki.”
Scary Experiences with Dogs
However, Marley told us that they did have a scary experience with a dog when Nikki was young:
“About 6 months into their training, I was walking Nikki back from a nearby park (about 3 blocks away) down my residential sidewalk when suddenly a vehicle pulled into an alley across the street from us and a woman got out, followed by her unleashed dog.
I'm not sure if they were being dropped off and intended to walk home, or what was happening, but the unleashed dog saw Nikki, and then darted across the street (in front of a vehicle that had to slam on it's brakes to avoid hitting it) to try to maul him.
Nikki scaled my winter jacket and stood on my shoulder, spitting and yowling in distress while the dog jumped all over me to try to get to him.
I could not reach for the dog's collar to try to subdue it, that would've lowered Nikki into it's range. Hollering "stop, down, sit," and flailing my hands and feet at it didn't slow it down one bit either - so I stood there for 30 or 40 seconds, under attack, until the owner could cross the somewhat busy street and try to wrangle the dog away.
But then the dog played hard to get!
It circled Nikki and I a dozen times, still lunging at us, while the owner circled me to try to catch it.
When she finally got a hold of it's collar, she didn't speak a word of apology to me; rather she glared at me and mumbled something as she dragged the hysterical dog away back towards the alley and their vehicle.”
It is easy to be turned off from continuing training after that experience. However, Marley used it as an opportunity to learn:
“After that experience I learned that I had been naive; not everyone appreciates seeing a cat on a leash.
And not every dog is as well-trained as Nikki and Sawyer are.
I grew up with dogs and love them as equally as I love cats, so I had assumed that all dogs we encountered would be leashed and behaviorally prepared to see other animals - because that's just what I would do and had done as a dog parent.
Of course though, that's not the case, and I learned the hard way.”
To make sure that Nikki and Sawyer are safe on future adventures, Marley made a small change:
“On future training sessions and walks, I invited all of my friends and family to join me, so that whenever possible, there would be an extra human to shoo away a rogue dog if it came to that.
John, I and Nick still try to employ that practice. Especially if we are going on a bigger adventure - like hiking in the mountains where we are more likely to encounter people with unleashed adventure dogs.
We also have a cat-backpack so if they need to be sequestered safely away, they can be."
99% of the dogs we do encounter are either familiar with cats and have no problem with Nikki and Sawyer, or they are the type of dog that likes to bark at us as we pass them... but they are leashed.
The latter usually have owners who are irritated that we dare walk CATS; seeing us as the reason their dog is now excited and impossible to handle. We get plenty of dirty looks from that crowd.”
Happy Experiences with Dogs
While Nikki and Sawyer have had a handful of negative interactions with dogs, they have had more positive interactions with dogs.
“Now that Nikki and Sawyer are full-grown Siberian Forest Cat tomcats, they are massive! Nikki is 20lbs and Sawyer, a bit smaller.
I think that changes the dynamic of dog encounters quite a bit.
A lot of the dogs we meet on trails or sidewalks are genuinely intimidated by them (or at least of Nikki). You can see it in their face when we approach; they are used to interacting with smaller cats and aren't quite sure what to make of huge ones on leashes.
In addition to that; Nikki is utterly fearless when meeting new animals, despite that one very bad experience as a kitten.
As soon as a dog comes into view ahead of us, he decides that he wants to befriend it, so he tugs on the leash as hard as he can to trot up to it and aggressively sniff it's nose (once we judge it to be friendly and the owner signals that it's alright).
I think dogs are put-off by his confidence and so even the ones who might have otherwise tried to bark or play some kind of dominance game simply end up standing still, sniffing him back, and looking bewildered.
Sawyer isn't a fan of dogs, but he doesn't outright dislike them either. He is curious - from a distance, and that works fine for the dogs too.
I can't think of just one positive dog encounter, because we have had so many!”
And sometimes those interactions give us a giggle:
“While walking Sawyer down the same sidewalk where Nikki and I had once underwent an attempted mauling, we passed a man walking his very young, very small puppy. A yellow Pomeranian who could've fit in my hand.
In hindsight, I should've moved off of the sidewalk and allowed them to pass first, or I should've asked the man if his dog was comfortable with cats, but Sawyer didn't slow down and I didn't see a reason to stop him since he was in a groove - his training was going well.
As we caught up to the dog and owner, the dog started visibly shaking and then peed itself on the spot. I couldn't blame it - Sawyer was at least 5 or 6 times it's size - and a cat!
I hurriedly apologized but the man didn't say anything, just scooped his puppy up and headed back the way he came - on the opposite side of the road.”
Preparing to meet a dog
Marley has a few suggestions on how cat owners can prepare for dog encounters while they are out and about:
“Having an extra human present has been very helpful to us, so I would suggest to all potential cat owners that they enlist their friends and family if at all possible.
Expecting the worst of every dog you see isn't a bad idea either; it's better to be safe than sorry and it just takes one undisciplined dog to ruin your walk... or worse.
Cat backpacks have the added benefit of giving cat parents peace of mind, there is no downside that I can see to having one in your arsenal!
Walk at times of the day when less dogs will be out and about; i.e. mid-afternoon since people typically walk their pooches in the morning before work, or in the evening right after work.”
What to do when you meet a dog
When you inevitably encounter a dog, your cat will fall into two categories: it will either be upset or not upset.
If your cat is scared and upset
Marley reminds us that "the first thing you need to do is reassure your cat."
A hissing cat is more likely to inspire aggressive feelings in a dog than a cool, calm and collected cat.
If your cat is upset, turn around or move off the trail or sidewalk as much as possible until the dog has passed or is out of sight."
If your cat is not scared and upset
"View it as an opportunity for a bonus lesson!
Assess the dog's body language and judge if you think it is friendly and well behaved/trained (they sometimes aren't even if their owner claims that they are)
When you are 10 or 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) away, ask the owner if it is alright for your cat to approach/ let the dog approach.
Then let your cat choose whether it wants to meet this new creature, or just watch it from afar.
Hold your leash very tightly and be ready to pick your cat up/ get in-between them and the dog should moods change.”
How Dog Owners Can Help
While You're Out and About
If you’re a dog owner, and am wondering what you should do if you see a cat out and about, Marley has a few thoughts on what you could do:
“Simply shouting ahead to us that they are approaching would be greatly appreciated, since, given the opportunity, we could take steps to move over or make the cats aware of the dog before it's too late.
Most people in our city already do this as a common courtesy, but it would make a big difference for those that don't.”
And while training you dog it would be great to make “sure that your dog is properly socialized with small animals before they go out would be big, too.
If a dog has a deep-seeded problem with cats that can't be broken, I don't think they 'shouldn't' be walked, of course, but the owner needs to take additional steps to always have them under control and be considerate of other pets and pet parents."
We hope that with rise in adventures cats, dog owners gain an understanding about cat and dog interactions while they are out and about.
As Marley points out “Nikki and Sawyer, and all other cats, don't have less of a right to enjoy fresh air and exercise just because they are cats!
There is actually a man who owns a giant tortoise named Franklin in my city whom he famously walks as well - dog parents should be prepared for meeting all sorts of critters, not just other dogs.”
And cat owners can also be prepared to meet dogs while they are walking their cats on a leash.
Together, cat and dog owners can play their part to make adventuring safer and more enjoyable for all our furbabies.
Catexplorer would like to thank Nikki & Sawyer's mum for sharing their experiences with us.
Follow Nikki & Saywer's adventures on Instagram (@nikki_forest_cat).
Have you encountered a dog while walking your cat?