Willie and Tucker Fighting

Maxy24

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#1
You know how everyone jokes about how cats are always in charge of the dogs in a household? If the dog steps out of line the cat will, erm..teach him a lesson with his claws. Yeah, that doesn't work so well here. Willie and Tucker have always had a decent relationship. I mean Tucker doesn't really like either of the cats but has always been nicer to Willie than to Neko. Tucker has always responded to fear with his teeth, it's just who he is. So in the past when Willie would swat at Tucker (usually when Tucker was running by playing with a toy) Tucker would snap at him but not make contact. If Tucker saw it coming he might not even do that because it wasn't really scary, it was more if he was caught by surprise. Every once in a while Tucker and Willie would have a more serious "scuffle", usually if Willie was on an elevated surface and smacked Tucker from above, Tucker would jump up to snap at him and Willie would continue to swat as Tucker repeatedly snapped and snarled. But again, not much contact, at least not on the dogs part. One word from me and they stop. I can think of maybe two times in the past 5 years where Tucker really bit him, in both cases Willie had made him yelp beforehand. No damage was done to either party. We've never really thought it was a big deal-Tucker was responding to Willie being a jerk and was not hurting him and they stopped as soon as they were told (and in most cases that isn't even necessary). Plus it was infrequent.


However in the last week we've had 3 incidents where Tucker has bit Willie, last night being particularly scary and prompting me to write this. Again though, no blood, although last night Willie lost a big tuft of hair and has a bald spot. I'm afraid that eventually there will be blood. In all cases Willie smacks Tucker, usually in the behind, but I wouldn't say he's hurting him at all most of the time. In many cases it's a very half hearted playful tapping of his back legs that causes him to turn and snap/bite. Last night Willie was sleeping on the couch in the middle seat, Tucker walked by him on the couch (there was space and Tucker did not step on him) to get from where I was sitting over to where mom and dad were. As he went by Willie swatted his butt. Tucker turned and jumped right on top of Willie, biting him at least once on the back/shoulder as Willie tried to run away. It was hard to see if he bit repeatedly because they moved so quickly, Willie was literally a blur. I screamed at Tucker so he stopped and Willie ran away. When I found Willie he was all fluffed up and his pupils were fully dilated. He lost a bunch of hair tufts but was otherwise okay. The is the only time I've ever seen Tucker leap on one of the cats aggressively like that.


I'm concerned and not sure how to handle it. On the one hand Willie starts it every time and needs to keep his paws to himself. Not really sure how to accomplish that. On the other hand Tucker is WAY over reacting. I think part of the issue last night was because they were both on the couch (Tucker used to be a little possessive of the couch with the cats back when he was an adolescent) and Tucker was moving towards mom (his favorite person). I also thought maybe Willie's nails might be an issue. I usually keep them clipped so they are not sharp but he was overdue for a clipping and they were quite pointy. I clipped them after the fight, so hopefully that prevents Tucker from reacting so severely. What would you do to work on this?
 

hiero

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Wow. Sounds like an escalating situation! The kind of thing that does not make for good predictions! :eek:

I think your key here is changing the cat behavior, more than the dog. Nice to change both, of course, but you gotta work with what you got. I would try to teach the cat to stay out of the dog's proximity altogether.

I have had some good luck training cats in the past, but in particular, I am thinking of the swat technique. Unlike dogs, cat moms do, sometimes, train their kittens by swatting them when they misbehave. And cats seem to learn better from negative input than dogs do. Since you are the human the cat has bonded to, this should not generate bad avoidance hostility at all. In unfamiliar cats, this sort of negative training can get an undesired result. Like they associate you as a bad thing and avoid you. And I don't recommend "the swat" for frequent use, either, as I think that would also end up with a cat who was avoiding you.

But on rare occasions, when I needed a drastic and dramatic change, an open handed, well-timed swat could do the trick. I had one cat who kept getting up on counters and into food. Didn't listen, and I finally gave her a big swat that bowled her head over heels across the room. And never had the problem again. That cat and I lived (and traveled sometimes) together for 13 years, and when she passed she got an engraved wooden coffin. She was a story all herself.

Now, there are factors that would make me a bit more cautious recommending this in your case. Your cat is already an adult. He/she is likely to forgive you for being swatted within no more than a day or two. I've never had a cat who was not already timid respond to this kind of treatment by becoming timid. Very much unlike dogs. Typically they might get ticked off for a day or two, but it does not seem to negatively impact their self-image, nor their image of you. And it does change their behaviour.

You know your cat better than I. Using a swat certainly won't help to teach the cat to come! But start by a wave of a hand towards the cat. Sometimes this is enough. You will know right away. If it needs more, a little pop of the fingers on the cat's head may be enough. But cats, I think, are a bit tougher than dogs in this regard, and they think you are just a bigger cat.

I don't claim to be any sort of expert cat trainer - just have had many cats. Trained a few to come on recall, but never any tricks.

But you need to break that cycle of semi-violence these two have. What you describe certainly sounds like an escalating conflict. I think you somehow need to teach one or both to give the other more space. And, since the cat is instigating - he/she should be the primary training target, IMO.

As for the dog - positive association training. Create situations where the cat and dog are close together and treat the dog somehow in reward. Objective here is to refocus the dog's thoughts away from "UGH, the CAT", to "Hey, it's the cat!"(= something nice). Main problem with that sounds like it would be restraining (retraining?) the cat so the cat doesn't do the claw swat.

i hope you find a good solution!
 
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pinkspore

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#3
Oh joy, it sounds like your cats and small dog have a similar dynamic to my household. The cats love whopping the dogs every chance they get. Ru is basically a cat toy, they easily outweigh him by double and clearly they know it. Every so often James will cross the line and send Ru into a tiny fit of berserker rage.

I'm not entirely certain that cats learn from negative consequences. I have never had any luck with anything but a squirt bottle, and smacking them for jumping up on stuff was an epic failure. I once lost my **** at my brother's cat for repeatedly leaping onto my plate of food on the table in front of me, and ended up clotheslining her in midair a number of times before I finished eating. This did not seem to trouble her in any way. At any rate, if Willie was going to learn to keep his paws to himself via negative consequences, I would think the instant dograge would have done it already.

My tactic for fostering good dog/cat relations has long been to reward the dogs anytime the cats do...anything. Cat pingponging wildly through the house? Good dog. Cats wrestling with each other on top of the fridge? Cookie time. Cat hissed at you? Major treat party. It took a lot of effort in the beginning, but has really helped me remember to perpetually acknowledge the dogs for putting up with the pet equivalent of crazy homeless people. We started out with a lot of look-at-that with the cats, and casually rewarding anytime the dog glances at the cat. My bigger dogs are reactive bite-monsters and it has really helped up their comfort level in the house.
 

Maxy24

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#4
I appreciate your help but I'm not going to hit my cat, especially not right after he gets bit by the dog, I think that's punishment enough. It also doesn't help that scolding the cats is a big trigger for Tucker to go chase and nip the cats. Me punishing Willie will likely cause Tucker to pursue him, it's better to make the whole thing no big deal for Tucker in all ways possible. I think a big part of Willie's problem is that he's a cat and has a really hard time ignoring fast movement. I mean a lot of the time you can see the instant regret Willie has when he goes for Tucker- he knows Tucker is going to try and bite him. But Tucker ran by him really fast and Willie just had to try and catch him.

In any case, since the fight I wrote about there have been no more serious incidents. I didn't realize at the time but Tucker DID yelp, the fight just happened so instantly that I must have tuned it out in favor of the fight. But by brother who was not in the room heard it and so did my dad. So that makes me feel a bit better about the severity of his reaction. I think Willie's nails being long and sharp must have played a big role in the issues they were having that week. I've seen Willie swat at Tucker twice since the fight and in both cases Tucker did his normal turn and air snap.


I would like to do some counter conditioning with him around the cats. For instance I'm having an issue where the cats rub Tucker and it makes him super uncomfortable. He freezes, licks his lips, and has whale eye the whole time. Right now I try to either call the cats away nicely (like I said I can't sound angry or I'll increase the chance of him going after them) or make funny noises to get Tucker's attention of of the cats. But I think I'll start adding some treats in there too. I'm not sure how to treat in the context of being swatted though as there would be very little chance of me being able to reward him before he snaps at the cat, so I'd be treating him after he snaps/bites. Not sure how that would work out behavior-wise.
 

milos_mommy

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#5
I wouldn't reward Tucker after he snaps at the cats, but definitely amp up rewarding for general interactions with them especially if he's starting to get uncomfortable.

I wouldn't allow them on the furniture together, either. I would not invite Tucker on to the couch or immediately direct him down if the cat is already on the couch, and reward him if the cat jumps up while he's there. If you're able to, maybe work on teaching the cat an "off" cue as well.

I think this sounds more like a cat issue. Tucker is acting exactly as I'd expect, especially from a dog with his fear issues and history. Aside from desensitizing him to the cat swatting at other things around him and approaching him in general (as it sounds like he's quite uncomfortable with them), I'm not sure you can teach Tucker not to react that way.

I don't know much about cat behavior, and I wouldn't know how to approach teaching the cat better self control as far as swatting at a dog for moving (or at all). I think a lot of this will be management (not letting them on the furniture together, keeping Tucker from approaching the cats if they're up high, etc).
 

hiero

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. . .
I'm not entirely certain that cats learn from negative consequences. I have never had any luck with anything but a squirt bottle, and smacking them for jumping up on stuff was an epic failure. I once lost my **** at my brother's cat for repeatedly leaping onto my plate of food on the table in front of me, and ended up clotheslining her in midair a number of times before I finished eating. This did not seem to trouble her in any way. At any rate, if Willie was going to learn to keep his paws to himself via negative consequences, I would think the instant dograge would have done it already.

My tactic for fostering good dog/cat relations has long been to reward the dogs anytime the cats do...anything. Cat pingponging wildly through the house? Good dog. Cats wrestling with each other on top of the fridge? Cookie time. Cat hissed at you? Major treat party. It took a lot of effort in the beginning, but has really helped me remember to perpetually acknowledge the dogs for putting up with the pet equivalent of crazy homeless people. We started out with a lot of look-at-that with the cats, and casually rewarding anytime the dog glances at the cat. My bigger dogs are reactive bite-monsters and it has really helped up their comfort level in the house.
Great advice, and wonderful stories! However, I will note that you said your brother's cat did not respond to "clotheslining". I may not have said this, but negative training does not work well if you are not the cat's SO (human or humans). Cats are not so single-buddy minded as dogs, but they do have a narrow range of "family" or "buddy" response. Outsiders leave a different message than insiders.

I appreciate your help but I'm not going to hit my cat, especially not right after he gets bit by the dog, I think that's punishment enough. It also doesn't help that scolding the cats is a big trigger for Tucker to go chase and nip the cats. Me punishing Willie will likely cause Tucker to pursue him, it's better to make the whole thing no big deal for Tucker in all ways possible. I think a big part of Willie's problem is that he's a cat and has a really hard time ignoring fast movement. I mean a lot of the time you can see the instant regret Willie has when he goes for Tucker- he knows Tucker is going to try and bite him. But Tucker ran by him really fast and Willie just had to try and catch him.

In any case, since the fight I wrote about there have been no more serious incidents. I didn't realize at the time but Tucker DID yelp, the fight just happened so instantly that I must have tuned it out in favor of the fight. But by brother who was not in the room heard it and so did my dad. So that makes me feel a bit better about the severity of his reaction. I think Willie's nails being long and sharp must have played a big role in the issues they were having that week. I've seen Willie swat at Tucker twice since the fight and in both cases Tucker did his normal turn and air snap.


I would like to do some counter conditioning with him around the cats. For instance I'm having an issue where the cats rub Tucker and it makes him super uncomfortable. He freezes, licks his lips, and has whale eye the whole time. Right now I try to either call the cats away nicely (like I said I can't sound angry or I'll increase the chance of him going after them) or make funny noises to get Tucker's attention of of the cats. But I think I'll start adding some treats in there too. I'm not sure how to treat in the context of being swatted though as there would be very little chance of me being able to reward him before he snaps at the cat, so I'd be treating him after he snaps/bites. Not sure how that would work out behavior-wise.
You obviously know much more about the situation than I do. AND, I commend you on how WELL you know what is going on in the interaction between the critters. If swatting the cat for swatting the dogs would trigger Tucker to chase the cat? Well, you are absolutely right - bad idea! You have a complex situation. You may have to judiciously apply some small behaviorial changes AT THE RIGHT TIME. I would still encourage you to discourage the cat from swatting at the dog altogether. But you are the person on the scene, who will best know how to make this happen!

I do know something about training cats. For many years I traveled frequently for business, and this just did not work well for dogs. I had a few, typically some sort of rescue, in that time, but they always soon went to better homes, as I could not give them the attention and time they needed. Cats are far more self-entertaining, and usually are far less needy in terms of activity. So, I've had a few. Or, more than a few. Some cats take training better than others. But I have found, when I am the cat's human, that I can usually get avoidance behavior. I will say that swatting cats is NOT like negative training for dogs. Cats learn avoidance behavior quickly and well. And they do not take it "personally". I prefer NOT to use it, but it has its place.

But, as I said, hopefully validating what you said: you have more characters here to consider than just the cat.

If it continues as an escalating situation, I do not like to consider where it will end. If it was an aberration, and is more or less self-correcting? Hey, cool! No worries then! I like milos_mommy's advice (below). I am pretty sure you will figure out what you need to do, but I notice she also encourages more distance between the two critters.

I wouldn't reward Tucker after he snaps at the cats, but definitely amp up rewarding for general interactions with them especially if he's starting to get uncomfortable.

I wouldn't allow them on the furniture together, either. I would not invite Tucker on to the couch or immediately direct him down if the cat is already on the couch, and reward him if the cat jumps up while he's there. If you're able to, maybe work on teaching the cat an "off" cue as well.

I think this sounds more like a cat issue. Tucker is acting exactly as I'd expect, especially from a dog with his fear issues and history. Aside from desensitizing him to the cat swatting at other things around him and approaching him in general (as it sounds like he's quite uncomfortable with them), I'm not sure you can teach Tucker not to react that way.

I don't know much about cat behavior, and I wouldn't know how to approach teaching the cat better self control as far as swatting at a dog for moving (or at all). I think a lot of this will be management (not letting them on the furniture together, keeping Tucker from approaching the cats if they're up high, etc).
Good luck!
 

hiero

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#7
Realized I wanted to add something. If a cat is mature, and strong-willed, teaching avoidance behavior is a more delicate situation. We had one rescue cat, Sprocket we called him. Great cat. He was aggresive with dogs, and would immediately approach and intimidate dogs several times his size. I think that was what caused his eventual demise, as he disappeared one morning on being let out before dawn. I'm thinking he either met a coyote or a bear, and they turned out to be a little better at handling themselves than your typical dog.

But my point is I am not sure I could have retrained him to stop the confrontational behavior. I never tried, but he was a pretty sure-of-himself cat. He was a rescue, and so at least a few years old when he came to live with us.

I'm not sure where Willie fits on this spectrum. Maybe he came to you as a kitten. In which case you have a better chance of changing his behavior. Maybe he didn't. Maybe he is "smart" for a cat - maybe not. You are on the front lines, so that's your call, eh? :) If Willie came to you as an adult cat, with all his bad habits in place, it would be harder to redirect him. If he came to you as a kitten or a young cat, he is more likely to take correction from you.

I think all cats see us as just some sort of big cat. If they come to us young, they see us as some sort of big parent cat. Research apparently validates this view.

When young, cats learn avoidance behaviors from their parents VERY quickly. Like in one observation. Unlike dogs at that age, cats will learn quickly from observed behavior. That template becomes the future filter for how they deal with the world. It is hard to undo, but is also situation specific. So, you can teach a cat not to "be a cat" in certain situations.

I've never tried to describe this before, so I am probably using way too many words trying to get my thoughts across.

Regardless, you are obviously "in touch" with your pets, and I am sure you will find a way to make things work for everybody!
 
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