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Cat Proofing your Malamute

Qimmiq Tales - Oct 2003

Ganik and The Cat
By Bob Sutherland - Oct 14, 2002 (Originally written for publishing in The Howler)

Ganik is an adopted 6 yo male mal with an incredible prey drive. A couple of days after we picked him up, he hotly pursued 2 mating butterflies almost dragging me down the trail. Grass blowing in the wind is susceptible to his prowess.

He is also a very loving and gentle dog around people, and because of his original upbringing (neglect and abandonment), it's essential for him to be indoors with us. Which meant a successful introduction to The Cat (Poody) was an absolute necessity. Our approach was to introduce him to the cat hoping eventually he would accept him and not act aggressively.
Basically we hoped for a gradual desensitization.

Our first step was to bring him indoors and walk him by the cat just to gain some familiarity between the two. We secured the leash to his choke chain, wrapping it around my waist just in case we needed a deadweight to slow him down. For the first day or two he walked by showing quite a bit of interest in Poody but wasn't allowed the room to move towards him. We kept him moving and when he showed some interest just said things like 'ah, ah, ahhhh'. Or a simple long and polite "noooo". His charging the cat was not an issue because of the secure hold we had on him and his distance away from the cat. If he showed too much of an interest, like suddenly moving or moving in the cat's direction, we moved him right out on by. A successful passing by the cat was lauded with "Gooooood Boy" and lots of attention. These introductions started with animals at opposite ends of a room, and eventually wound up with walking the two right by each other.

After a couple days of introduction, we moved to sitting with Ganik on the floor with Poody on the couch This was delicate, because Ganik 's predatory instinct was still high, and we wanted him to approach the cat, but didn't want to scare Poody into running. So we lauded him with the same old soothing verbal and touching strokes when he acted appropriately and cautionary tones when he was too aggressive. By holding and petting both of them, they each received some good positive attention and feedback, which might be why they stuck around a lot longer than they normally would have. Our idea was to show Ganik the cat, but not let him get out of control. But if his enthusiasm was unwanted or too strong he was gently removed. We must have brought the animals together an incredible amount of times to positively train them.

We let them approach closer as Ganik consistently showed less interest in snapping at the cat and Poody showed less interest in running from him. It was at this point that both animals were close enough to smell each other (and they did). But this was tricky because too quick of a
movement from either animal caused a big negative reaction in the other. At one point, he was 2 inches away from the cat, and the cat gently laid his paw and claws on his snout. He backed off. We kept applying the same long syllabled verbal and touching strokes.

After we felt Ganik had sufficient self-constraint, we put the cat in our lap, called him over and stroked both of them. Because of our vulnerability, any hint of aggression at this point called off the visit. It was here we realized Ganik was more interested in attention than the cat. We saw when we petted Ganik, Poody sat up and started rubbing himself on our hands. And we saw when we petted Poody, Ganik was all over us for attention. It seemed like Ganik's desire to snap at Poody was overcome by his need for attention.

We figured it was time to let the animals approach each other at their own pace. We still watched all of their interactions at a distance, to make sure Poody was ok. But we hardly had to say anything because Ganik's interest changed to smelling the cat. And we began to realize we didn't need to be so vigilant.

We recognized they could be left "alone". Nevertheless, we alternated from leaving them alone and petting both of them, reinforcing attention for the one meant attention for the other. This started their mutual attraction and bonding. Which now finds both of them showing up for
pets, sleeping on the same pads and hanging around in close proximity watching us.

We ask ourselves now, what worked in our favor? Poody was already accustomed to living with an enthusiastic malamute. He did not run when challenged, preferring to sit or lay when threatened. Ganik, even when enthused and prey driven, also has a strong desire to please and be loved. Most crucial to the process, we felt it was Poody's staying put when threatened. We felt this tremendously lessened Ganik's prey desire.

Easing them together in as many non-threatening ways as we could find, while rewarding both of them was time consuming. At times we wondered if a successful integration was ever going to happen. Our persistence paid off, making for worriless relationships for all of us.
And what can be more entertaining than a malamute sharing his space with a cat?

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