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Why Do Dogs Chase Cats?

Dog and cat staring at eachother.
Dog and cat.
Puppy and kitten.
Young kittens.
Pair of smooth-haired Dachshund puppies.
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  • Originally Written By: Y. Chen
  • Revised By: Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2014
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Dogs chase cats for multiple reasons, including instinct, boredom, annoyance and bad moods and protection of their space, possessions or owner. People often can teach them not to engage in this behavior using positive reinforcements, although it does take a big time commitment. The breed of the animal affects their tendencies and is a consideration when approaching this type of training.

Instinct and Prey Drive

One theory about why dogs chase cats is that they are natural predators. Before people began training and keeping them roughly 12,000 years ago, canines were wild pack animals that relied mainly on instincts to survive. The “prey drive,” which makes them want to chase and catch other smaller animals to eat, was fundamental. Modern owners typically keep their animals well fed, so there generally isn’t a need for a domesticated dog to eat a cat, but nevertheless, the desire to run after one still can be incredibly strong.

Boredom and Fun

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In contemporary society, many individuals have to leave their pets home alone much of the day as they work, run errands or perform other tasks, and like people, any animal that doesn’t have much to do can get bored. Some canines chase cats for the same reason they hide stuff around the house, bark at neighbors walking by or play with their favorite toys: They’re just trying to break up the monotony and keep themselves occupied. Getting close to or even catching whatever they’re chasing also can provide a little bit of an adrenaline rush, so it’s essentially not much different than a person snowboarding, skydiving or participating in some other “extreme” activity.

Annoyance

People often portray canines as being constant aggressors, but the reality is that felines have different personalities, and some have quite a high level of natural ferociousness. Sometimes, a mean cat actively will antagonize other animals, asserting control over a specific space or item. In other cases, one might just want to play, so he’ll do things like gently bat, pounce or nip. Either way, a dog can get extremely annoyed, and he might chase the pesky kitty away just to get some peace and quiet.

Bad Moods

Just as a person’s mood can shift through the day, dogs generally don’t feel the same way 100% of the time. They move through periods of being happy, sad and excited, and they can get frustrated and angry, too. If they don’t have another immediate outlet, they might chase just to let their feelings out, not unlike an individual who goes to the gym to blow off some steam.

Protection and Control

When dogs still had to fend for themselves, the ability to defend space and food was critical, and the one that was best at it usually become the alpha or dominant member of the pack. Domestication has not completely eradicated their desire to keep what they have and to establish a hierarchy, and in fact, most experts believe that one kept as a pet sees his owner as his “pack leader.” When a feline or something else comes too close, it can trigger the dog’s instinct to protect the area for himself and the alpha, so chases sometimes result.

Stopping the Behavior

When dogs and cats chase each other for play, both animals can receive some benefits, such as getting exercise and having something to do. Even so, it can be dangerous in some cases, such as if one of the pets inadvertently runs into the street during the chase, and many canines outweigh their feline counterparts several times over. For these reasons, it’s usually best to try to curb or gain control over the behavior, even when it’s not malicious.

It typically isn’t possible to do away with an animal’s instincts altogether, so the best bet usually is to try to redirect them. If the chasing is happening out of boredom, for example, owners can provide pet toys or puzzles around the house. People also can use things like treats as a reward for coming when called and stopping the chase — it’s generally better to reinforce the positive behavior than it is to repeatedly punish the negative action, although a firm vocal command is fine and reinforces the owner’s authority. Professional trainers do not advise hitting except in very rare circumstances, such as police training where an animal needs to be able to fight through being hurt, because this type of discipline usually only spurs him to be more aggressive and bite. The ideal circumstance is for an owner to teach the dog to ask for permission for most activities, including chasing, by looking at him first.

Different Breeds

Breed can be a factor in whether a dog chases cats — among other things — a lot. Pit bull terriors and Rottweilers, for instance, are known for being more aggressive. Training and proper treatment has an enormous influence on whether an animal behaves well, so most trainers assert that it’s not truly appropriate to label any one breed as “bad,” but owners should be aware of these tendencies and be willing to go through the extra work that might be necessary when the pet is “hardwired” to pursue or fight.

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Discuss this Article

anon348574
Post 15

Pitbulls, terriers and rottweilers are just as aggressive as any dog, if raised wrong. I don't think that breed has anything to do with it, just more or less the background, sometimes genetics and even energy level. I have a dog who has none of those breeds and it's tons of work to get her out of the chasing habit.

kylee07drg
Post 14

I think the reason that little dogs chase cats is simply for play. I have a couple of dogs that are smaller than most cats, yet they run and jump after them for fun.

They chase the cats the same way they chase each other. Though cats don't necessarily want to take part in a play session that involves biting, they will always run the other way and let the dogs have their fun.

lighth0se33
Post 13

You know, this is so true! Dogs will chase anything that moves. Mine even chase me if they see me running, though I know they aren't going to do anything bad to me if they catch me.

The onset of arthritis in dogs is about the only thing that can keep one that has been chasing cats all its life from chasing them any longer. One of my dogs finally stopped chasing the neighbor's cats once she turned twelve. She just didn't seem to think it was worth the pain anymore.

I know the cats are grateful, but seeing my dog lie there and do nothing when they come into her territory is disheartening to me. I feel like she has lost her fight.

orangey03
Post 12

My dog used to chase cats until she met her match one day. This cat would not be intimidated, and my dog took an awful beating to the nose.

She screamed all the way home, and when she got there, she had bloody scratches all over her nose, which is the most sensitive part of a dog's body. She has not gone near a cat since. In fact, she will run the other way if she sees one!

OeKc05
Post 11

@golf07 – It sounds like a good reason to not have your cats declawed, doesn't it? I understand that pet owners are just trying to avoid getting scratched, but if you cat is ever going to go outside, you shouldn't remove any of its claws, in my opinion.

My friend had her cats declawed, and she left them outside while she was at work. A pack of neighborhood dogs came by and killed them.

Her cats were pretty big, and the dogs were only medium sized. I think that if the cats still had their claws, they could have taken the dogs. At least, they could have scared them into staying away.

ddljohn
Post 10

Has anyone thought that pet owners have a hand in this as well? I certainly do.

My dad doesn't like cats and much to our dislike, he actually taught our dog to chase cats out of our yard. My dog wasn't doing this before my dad trained him to do it.

I'm sure there is more than one factor that causes dogs to chase cats, but the attitudes of the pet owner must be important too. Don't you think so?

ysmina
Post 9

@anamur-- There might be exceptions to the rule, but dogs do generally dislike and chase cats and it is because of instincts. I think some dogs don't do that because they live with kittens as puppies and think that cats are the same as them. But like I said, these are exceptions.

serenesurface
Post 8

I don't think that this is all about instincts. I grew up with both cats and dogs in my household and they were best friends. My dog never chased our cats. Most of the time the cats were sleeping on top of my dog and they even shared food with each other.

If dogs chased cats simply out of instinct, then my dog should have done the same. I also know other households that have both cats and dogs and don't have any problems.

andee
Post 7

When you think about it, cats do the same thing. They instinctively go after anything that moves. They will chase animals that are smaller than them and kill them. I have an outside cat and she is always leaving me things she has chased and killed on the doorstep. I am never surprised to see a mouse, bird or rabbit that she leaves for me to get rid of.

sunshined
Post 6
I have seen dogs chase cats and kill them. Not something you want to see every day, but it sure happens. It's when the cat gets scared and runs that is usually the problem. I can't say that I blame them when a 100 pound dog is after them.

I don't know if the breed of dog makes a difference or not. I have a yellow lab that has always been gentle with cats, whether they are our cats or stray cats.

In the winter the cats will curl up with the dog. I am sure sleeping with her keeps them warm as she gives off a lot of heat. You would probably never see something like this in the wild, but in a domestic situation I think they enjoy each others company.

myharley
Post 5

If dogs are raised with cats around, they don't usually chase them. I had a golden retriever that grew up with cats and never chased them. She wasn't really interested in playing with them or chasing them. The cats were more interested in her, and she simply tolerated them.

She would growl at them if they became too much of a pest. They would get the hint and leave her alone, but I never had to worry about my dog chasing them around.

golf07
Post 3

If cats will stand their ground and not run away from a dog, the dog won't usually chase them. I have had a dog that would kill strange cats that wandered in our yard. She would leave my cat alone, but would chase off other cats and if given the chance, would kill them.

My vet said that if cats have their claws and don't run away, the dog will learn very quickly who has the upper hand. They really don't want to get scratched in the face. A lot of dogs like to chase cats just for the fun of it and never intend to hurt them at all - it is like a game for them.

helene55
Post 2

Interesting to think that the concept of training sheep dogs and drug dogs connects to the chasing cats instinct; while it makes sense, I guess I had never thought of it that way. Pavlovian training, and other forms of psychological conditioning, really can work wonders on animals.

sherlock87
Post 1

I have rarely heard of a dog actually killing a cat during play or chasing, although it is possible for them to kill smaller animals like rabbits and other rodent pets. Generally, I would recommend supervising play between these animals, at least until you can gauge how they interact with one another.

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