We have 3 cats and 2 dogs. Sometimes it seems like a lot of ‘people’ to manage, as of course each has her or his own character and quirks. Recently we’ve had to resort to some pretty stern measures to achieve harmony.
Olive has lived with us the longest. She used to live with our neighbours, but when they went overseas about 7 years ago, she came to us. She’s now about 10 and growing creaky. She’s clearly the boss, though, and has strong opinions about the world and her place in it.
She’s also totally unpredictable and we’ve had to warn visitors not to pet any of the cats as Olive will smooch around oh so lovingly and then bite, sometimes hard and deep.
Since the first day we brought the puppies home, in February 2007, Olive has stood for no nonsense. She made it very clear that it was her house, and they should respect her. They do.
Aphra and Ares are siblings, and now all of 6 years old.
Ares is an outdoor, rough and tumble kind of cat who all too often has scars and scratches. He’s a solid and well-muscled boy. When he does turn up indoors though he loves a cuddle and can be a bit of a clown.
Brave as he must be in his battles out in the neighbourhood, he runs when he sees the dogs, and that’s a bad thing. When they first arrived he and Aphra both made themselves scarce.
Aphra, looking a bit wild-eyed here is a total sweetie. She’s an indoor type of cat, cuddly, and sweet. She also runs from the dogs, but sometimes has a huge spat with her brother and seems to now be aiming to replace Olive soon as the dominant cat. Occasionally, with some encouragement, she will let the dogs know that she has her boundaries.
A huge problem, for the last 15 months now, is that Sasha will chase both Aphra and Ares. Before we even know what’s happening, Sasha hears a cat come through the catflap or jump down from eating and is off at tremendous speed to chase her quarry. We extract ourselves from whatever we’re doing to go and put a stop to the chase, but by the time we get there it’s all over.
We’ve tried all kinds of things, on the advice of our dog trainer, but nothing has worked, and the more success Sasha has, the more ingrained the bad behaviour.
Sasha and Oshi are siblings, despite appearances, and now 18 months old. Sasha’s the dominant dog, a free-thinker, and pretty smart. She’s the kind of dog who sometimes picks up a stick and carries it round — for a while. She has a very clear sense of self — for example, she wears her raincoat on wet days, but only because she knows she has to. She clearly would rather not, but accepts the fact that she won’t win any arguments about it.
But she has this thing about cats, and in spite of every discouragement, sees it as her mission in life to chase or stalk Aphra and Ares. She stalks Olive a bit too, but respects Olive’s boundaries.
He’s a cheerful fellow, always on for a spot of fun, and a follower. He desperately wants to be part of a pack. While Sasha will see a group of dogs and seem to say to herself:
Hmm, everyone else is over there doing that, I wonder what I should do?, Oshi just jumps in and plays.
He doesn’t have the cat harassment gene, but as a follower he’ll always join in. After 15 months of cat chasing on Sasha’s part, Oshi’s starting to think it’s something a dog does.
With all attempts to stop the behaviour having failed, we’ve finally brought in the big guns. Enter the electronic collar.
I resisted for ages, convinced we didn’t need what seemed a cruel and harsh device. But the cat chasing had to stop. It was our last resort. We talked to others, who vouched for its usefulness, and finally borrowed a collar from Jo and Craig, our dog trainers, who instructed us in its use.
First I tested it on my own hand. The highest setting gave a definite ‘sting’ but wasn’t a big ‘shock’. I watched the instructional DVD, and then dedicated a day to beginning Sasha’s behaviour modification. Before long she was paying undue attention to Aphra on the couch. I pressed and held the button on the remote. After a series of beeps Sasha received the biggest surprise she’s ever had. Fortunately, at the same moment, Aphra hissed and swatted Oshi, who was also far too close.
Sasha’s now had the thought that perhaps stalking cats isn’t quite the fun activity she used to think it was. Of course, one ‘event’ hasn’t fixed the problem. We’re now working on embedding the new attitude. She knows the beep can be followed by a sting, so often all we have to do is press the ‘beep’ button as a reminder that she should look elsewhere.
I think the cats are a bit tired of being ‘crash test dummies’, but before too long we’re going to be a much more relaxed household. I was reluctant to go down the electronic collar route, but it’s the only thing so far that has actually garnered Sasha’s undivided attention to the law in our house.
If you have a recalcitrant dog with a serious problem, then I’d be happy to say that the training collar seems to be working and would be worth a try. I still think it’s appropriate to exhaust other techniques first though.