Why Do Dogs Chase Cats?

Dogs chase cats for the simple fact that dogs are inherently programmed to chase furry animals that flee. In order to better understand this instinct, it requires taking a closer look into a dog's evolutionary past. Whether a dog chases cats with the intent to kill or just play, is something that boils down to many individual factors such as the dog's breed, temperament, training and socialization levels and the context in which the chasing occurs.

Many dogs chase cats and the behavior is so popular that you will see it portrayed in many cartoons and movies. However, just because dogs chase cats doesn't mean that dogs and cats are destined to being lifelong, natural enemies!

Dogs can be taught to not chase the family the cat, however, care is always needed in supervising a cats' and dogs' interactions, no matter how well they seem to get along. There are countless stories of dogs killing cats and many of these these mishaps could have been avoided. 

A Matter of Instincts 

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A cat's quick movements attract the dog, inciting him to chase

Dogs chase cats for the same reason they'll chase a ball or Frisbee: fast movement triggers their predatory instincts. Although dogs nowadays are fed in shiny porcelain bowls and wear collars studded with rhinestones, they remain hunters at heart. 

Back in the days, the ancestors of the dog relied on fleeing animals as part of their diet. It was normal therefore for them to want to chase any furry animal scampering away as it meant "meal time". 

Nowadays, although dogs are fed kibble from bags or food from cans, those hard-wired instincts still remain. Anything that moves fast, evokes in them the thrill of the chase.

 All of the dog's body seems to have been built for the purpose of chasing: dog ears are attracted to crackling sounds made by animals that move around dry leaves and grass and dog eyes are equipped with thousands of movements receptors meant to capture fast movements. Their bodies are fast in responding to any sensorial hints suggesting prey animals and are quivering to spring into action.

However, just because your dog wants to chase cats, doesn't mean he's a bloodthirsty killer who wants to enjoy cats for supper. He is only doing what his instincts suggest. Chasing cats though is not a behavior that should be encouraged nor allowed for dog to rehearse for both the dogs' and cats' sake. 

Did you know? When dogs chase, this instinctive behavior is known for releasing  endorphins. "This chemical circulates in the blood, raises the pain threshold, and increases stamina. Endorphins are released during practically all instinctive behaviors,"  explains Clarissa von Reinhardt in the book: "Chase, Managing Your Dog's Predatory Instincts."

A Matter of Dog Breed

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For some dogs prey drive is so powerful the chase risks ending in the death of the cat

Not all dog breeds are created equally. Some dog breeds have a stronger propensity to chasing fleeing animals because they were selectively bred for chasing and their "predatory drives" have been accentuated for many years. 

For instance, sporting breeds such as golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers were selectively bred as hunting partners. They were rushing towards downed birds shot by the hunter and retrieving them. 

Huskies were often left to fend for themselves in the winter and this may have involved chasing and killing small, fleeing animals. Sighthounds such as greyhounds and salukis were known to hunt down hare over vast open lands in the desert. Herdings dogs were bred to chase and herd unruly livestock.

Even some of the smaller dog breeds can prove to be problematic. Many of the smaller terriers like Jack Russells were selectively bred to fearlessly pursue prey animals and can often be found chasing cats up a tree. 

However, when it comes to dogs, no generalizations can be made. Even within the same dog breed there may be variances. For instance, some dogs are bred from working lines used for successful hunting. These dogs may have considerably stronger prey drives compared to dogs of the same breed bred exclusively for being companions.

A Matter of Context

Some cat-chasing behaviors in dogs are more likely to occur in certain contexts. For instance, some dogs may do well with cats they are familiar with and share the household, but may feverishly chase neighbor cats who happen to visit the yard or surrounding properties. 

Many dogs do well with cats in normal settings, but may chase and even attempt to attack cats when cats happen to get near resources such as food, bones, toys and even sleeping places. Some dogs may also lunge and chase cats if they happen to get too close to their favorite people. 

There may also be circumstances which may cause dogs to become more reactive than usual. For instance, a dog in pain may snap at or chase cats when  under normal circumstances would not. 

Some dogs who are stressed may become more reactive.  A dog who is highly aroused by an outdoor trigger, may at times redirect to the cat if the cat happens to be nearby. This is known as redirected aggression in dogs. 

There are also cases of mishaps occurring due to unusual events. For instance, not too long ago, a frantic dog owner contacted me because her dog killed her cat. The dog and cat were raised together and got along well, but that unfortunate day when they were playing together, things likely got too rough or it might have been a case of predatory drift.

Regardless, although it may be difficult to accept, it is quite normal for dogs, (unless trained otherwise), to be interested in chasing fleeing animals, considering that for many generations  chasing was a part of the dog's job in the human world.

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Many dogs will chase cats, and then once they have them cornered, they forget why they chased them in the first place

Now That You Know...

Of course, not all dogs chase cats. Some dogs may be scared of cats or perhaps had a bad experience with one. Others may have low predatory drives or may be too old or just plain lazy. 

Often dogs who do not have chase cats have learned to inhibit to a good extent their chasing instincts courtesy of early socialization and consistent training. Many dogs successfully live with cats and often they have been reared with cats from an early age. If your dog chases cats, following are some tips to manage this issue.

How to Stops Dogs From Chasing Cats Outside

  • Tell your neighbor to prevent his cat from roaming the neighborhood. This is to prevent potential injury and death to the cat. Risks are not only limited to the cat being chased by your dog, but also risks of the cat being run over a car, the cat being poisoned or attacked by other animals. 
  • There are several options nowadays to keep cats contained without sacrificing their love of being outdoors. Examples include "catios," outdoor kennels and special enclosures that can be adjusted to a window.
  • If your dog chases cats on walks, train your dog to perform an alternate behavior such as the Look at That dog training game that can be applied to when your dog sees cats at a distance.

How to Stop Dogs From Chasing Cats Inside

  • If you have a new dog go gradual in the introductions. Don't just go cold turkey, give each animal some time to adjust. 
  • Allow them to get used to each other's' smell. For instance, you can pass a towel on your dog and pass one on your cat and then swap towels. 
  • From a distance from the cat, with your dog on leash, practice the Look at That dog training game. Give your dog a tasty treat every time he looks at the cat. Gradually progress to asking attention when there is less distance, higher distraction (like the cat moving faster) and for longer periods of time. If your dog can't focus, this is a sign he isn't ready for that level of closeness/distraction yet. 
  • Prevent your dog from chasing cats. Rehearsing this self-rewarding behavior will allow it to put roots and become more and more difficult to overcome. 
  • A good management plan can help prevent chasing. Install baby gates (several models have a small door at the bottom to allow a small cat to go through while a large, clunkier dog cannot) or other barriers to prevent chasing from occurring. 
  • For dogs of the same size as the cat, you can install a baby gate and have a perch mounted on the top so that the cat can climb over the gate as needed.
  • Make sure your cat always has an escape route so that he's never cornered. Cat trees and shelves can come handy. 

 

 

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