“Kiss the Kitty”

Kishi and Miko live with three cat brothers: Tucker, Sylvester (Syl) and Teddy.  Tucker is the eldest brother at 14 years old; Syl, who joined us just last year, is 8; and, Teddy is 1 and still all kitten.

I’m often asked if the “girls” get along with the “boys.” My response, “They have to…”

There are breeds of dogs and rescued dogs that do not live well with cats. Shiba Inus do get along with cats when they are properly socialized.

I had 2 cats, Bo and Tucker, when I brought Kishi home. Bo and Tucker had lived with my first Shiba, Tag, who was still alive when I got Kishi. (Tag had canine cognitive disorder making him care less about whether or not another dog was in the house.)

A new puppy was a big transition for the cats, thus I prepared ahead of bringing Kishi home, and eventually getting Miko. Preplanning and reading as much as you can about introducing dogs and cats will help prevent any unwanted interactions, including aggression or excessive “playing.” This is what worked when I got Kishi, and later, Miko.

  1. The day before Kishi arrived, I trimmed the cats’ nails as short as possible to prevent Kishi getting scratched. (I do not declaw or condone declawing.)
  2. Baby gates and the puppy crate were the most important tools for introducing the puppies to Bo and Tucker. I bought gates for blocking off the “safe” rooms where the cats liked to sleep and where I kept their litter box. And, baby gates allow a puppy and cats to see, hear and smell each other without direct interaction.
  3. Kishi’s crate was her resting place and where she stayed when I was at work, in the shower, or out of the house for any reason. Bo and Tucker quickly learned they could sit outside of the crate and watch Kishi, further helping their trust.

Calm and assertive behavioral training was preplanned for Kishi and Miko. Here are the most important 4 things I did to acclimate the cats and puppies.

  1. Obedience Training. I researched and found reputable trainers. I used some dog-dog socialization strategies for dog-cat, and I talked to the trainers about other techniques they’d recommend.
  2. Prevent barking at the cats. Kishi and Miko were taught to not bark at the cats. I’d use a calm yet firm “no” when they barked out of excitement or if they wanted to play. Expect to repeat this training many times and be forgiving when puppies forget. Shibas are smart and quickly understand what’s expected of them. And be able to discern a warning bark from a play bark. Miko will let out a play bark if she wants Syl or Teddy to chase her.
  3. Don’t bite. “Kiss the kitty” was a command I never expected to be the most important phrase I taught the girls, especially Miko. Shiba puppies can be very “mouthy,” meaning they like to taste and chew almost everything as they are discovering their world.I had 2 challenges when it came to Miko trying to (play) bite the cats. First, Tucker was never aggressive; he’d just squeak when the girls got near him, making him a fun, live play toy!! And second, Miko was an exceptionally mouthy puppy.

    Each time I’d see Miko start to nibble at Tucker’s long fur or bite his ears, I’d tell her, “No. Kiss the kitty.” This went along with me teaching her what “kiss” meant when she’d lick my chin or cheeks. She quickly learned what “kiss the kitty” meant and to this day I use it to remind her that none of the cats want her to nibble at their whiskers (a story for another post).

  4. A dominant dog can make it more difficult to establish a cohesive dog-cat family. Kishi is this dog. Her toys are HER toys; her food is HER food; and Kishi thinks that what she wants is how things will be, for everyone.If you have a Shiba that challenges your authority and/or wants to dominate other dogs and cats, seek out information and professional training to help you with this behavior. I did!

    When working on Kishi’s interaction with the cats, I use a very firm “no” along with “sit and stay” commands. And, I use all of the obedience training we did when she was a puppy, which is reinforced daily, especially when Kishi thinks the cats are getting too close to HER toys. More aggressive dogs will need additional, professional training. Please ask your veterinarian for recommendations.

Remember to enroll your Shiba puppy in obedience training as soon as s/he is old enough and properly vaccinated. Shiba puppies need early socialization and training, and both will be needed throughout your dog’s life.

I’m going to finish this post by listing a few things I didn’t do when I introduced the girls to the cats.

  1. I never scolded the cats because the dogs were entering their home.
  2. I didn’t leave the puppies unattended when they interacted with the cats.
  3. Shibas think they own everything. And, they don’t know a cat toy from a dog toy. Refrain from just taking a cat toy from a puppy and scolding them. Use a “trading” strategy. I always traded one of the girls’ toys for a cat toy. This prevents the puppies from becoming possessive.
  4. Frustration doesn’t help. Stay calm, be firm, and always be kind.


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