THE IDEA that pets fight like, well, cats and dogs, is a popular one, but it's not always grounded in reality. We've known plenty of pets who had interspecies friendships, sharing a bed or sofa, grooming each other and playing together. Even when animals aren't best buds, they often coexist comfortably, tolerating each other's presence with little fuss.
But conflict can bubble up any time people live with more than one animal of any species. Maybe one is old and grouchy, while the other is a young whippersnapper. Or, one is bossy and the other is too mild-mannered to stand up for herself. Whatever the case, the secret to helping them get along is to understand their behavioral differences and work to meet the needs of each of them.
Here we take a look at four situations that can cause problems, with tips to help all of you live in harmony. In most cases, the secrets to conflict resolution call for good management of resources and space, training, behavior modification or separation.
* Food fight! Your cat's got no interest in your dog's food, but the dog growls every time the cat walks by his bowl. When it comes to meals, dogs don't like to share, and your cat's mere presence may be enough to set off his guarding reflex. Take the simple route to solve the problem: Feed them separately. That's a good rule of paw any time you have multiple animals. It's stressful for our domesticated predators to eat in the presence of another animal, even if normally they get along. Feed each animal in a separate room or in their crates, ideally placed so they can't see each other eating.
* A not-so-merry chase. Dogs like to chase moving objects. Cats run when they see danger (i.e., dogs). It's tough to extinguish such an instinctive behavior in dogs, but a couple of techniques can help to minimize the problem. Work with a trainer to improve your dog's recall (come when called), even in the face of a fun distraction, such as a running cat. Give him a great reward so he thinks coming to you is better than chasing the cat. Be sure your cat has a place he can escape to, such as under the sofa or up a cat tree. The best solution, when you can do it, is to bring up a puppy with a cat so he learns respect from an early age.
* Whose is it? Whether we're talking beds, toys or other high-value objects, one pet may lay claim to an item the other wants. The easiest solution is to purchase duplicates, so there's one for everybody. You should also teach the "give it" or "drop it" command so you can remove the bone of contention and put it away when pets fight over it. With resources such as your time and attention, try to do fun things at the same time with each pet. Take dogs on walks together, pet animals at the same time and give treats at the same time.
* Battle of the bed. Who gets to share your sleeping quarters when a new pet moves in? An animal who is used to sharing your bed with you may not be willing to share space with a newcomer as well. And it can get crowded with more than one pet on the bed, even if they're small. Your original pet should take precedence, but a better solution may be to give all the animals their own beds and reclaim yours for your sole use. You might even find that you sleep better.