When thinking of dogs and cats, the first thing that pops into most people’s minds is “enemies.” You’ve probably heard the saying “they fight like cats and dogs” when describing people who do not get along or always fight (think siblings).
So, it’s natural to be concerned if you plan to introduce a Golden Retriever to a household with an existing cat. Or perhaps you have a Golden Retriever already, and you want to add a cat. In either case, it’s quite normal to wonder if Golden Retrievers get along with cats.
The Golden Retriever, as a breed, generally gets along well with cats due to its friendly, kind, and tolerant nature. However, proper introductions, socialization, and training are necessary to teach your Golden Retriever to coexist peacefully with a cat.
Not every breed of dog is good with cats. Some dog breeds have a powerful prey drive and were bred to kill small animals. Other dog breeds such as hounds were bred to chase, and herding dogs were bred to herd livestock. While those breeds might not be well suited (although doable) to having a cat in the house, different dog breeds are a much better fit. And, the majestic Golden Retriever is one of these breeds.
While Golden Retrievers can be well-suited to a home with a cat, there are a few issues that a household should be aware of before combining the two. Understanding all the potential concerns and challenges is vital in ensuring a peaceful coexistence at the very least, and if you’re lucky, maybe even a friendship.
Why Makes a Golden Retriever Well-Suited To a Household With a Cat?
As noted earlier, breed characteristics are fundamental when considering combining a cat and dog within a household. Some traits, more than others, lend themselves well to a home with multiple pets, including cats.
The Golden Retriever’s temperament is a hallmark of the breed and is described by the American, UK, and Canadian Kennel Clubs as “kindly, friendly, confident, and trustworthy, and aggression or hostility towards either people, dogs, or other animals, is not in keeping with the breed’s character.” Instead, the typical Golden Retriever is good-natured, highly intelligent and obedient, and with an exceptional eagerness to please its owners.
The Golden Retriever is a sporting dog and was bred to retrieve downed waterfowl. That innate instinct generally gives them a gentle mouth. It’s very typical for Golden Retrievers to be mouthy and carry things, and they are very soft when doing so.
That soft “mouthiness” typically means they are instinctually adapted to better bite inhibition. When combined with their friendly and kind nature, this trait lends itself well to a house with other pets (cats) and children. However, bite inhibition still needs to be taught as a puppy and reinforced throughout a dog’s life. It’s just a bit easier with Goldens due to their softer mouths.
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Golden Retrievers are renowned for their high levels of intelligence and obedience. The breed ranks fourth in Stanley Coren’s The Intelligence of Dogs. Only the Border Collie, Poodle, and German Shepherd rank ahead of the Golden Retriever.
According to Cohen’s research, Golden Retrievers are in the top tier and learn commands in about five repetitions and are obedient 95% of the time.
Why is intelligence so important? Trainability and obedience.
Trainability and Obedience
Intelligence is essential in training. The brightest dogs ranked the highest in obedience command trainability. Golden Retrievers are exceptionally trainable because of their intelligence, food drive, and desire to please their handlers.
As such, Goldens are very obedient and excel in obedience trials. Punishment or harsh training methods are not recommended or necessary. Golden Retrievers respond very well to positive and reward-based training styles.
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High trainability and obedience are traits that lend themselves well in teaching a dog to get along with a cat. And the Golden Retriever has these qualities in abundance.
Other Factors to Consider
Your Golden Retrievers Unique Personality
Any dog owner who has had multiple dogs of the same breed can attest that each dog has a unique personality. Golden Retrievers are no different. Goldens have their own quirks, preferences, likes, and dislikes.
Your Golden’s unique personality must be considered when a cat is involved. Most Golden’s are tolerant, loving, and biddable dogs and do not have a powerful prey drive like other breeds. But they are still individuals.
Some Golden’s may not be as tolerant as others and retaliate if engaged. Some Golden’s may resource guard, and interactions during feedings need to be managed if a curious cat is involved. Some may have a stronger prey drive and chase more. Personality does matter and needs to be considered.
When and if your Golden Retriever was socialized with a cat is important as well.
Older dogs who have not been raised with a cat may view it as a small animal to chase and capture. The earlier you can introduce a younger Golden Retriever to a cat, the better you can manage the interactions. And, the easier it becomes to teach your Golden Retriever to be mindful of your furry feline.
Once a behavior is well established, such as in an older dog, it becomes more difficult to change that well-ingrained trait. In other words, it’s typically easier to teach a puppy to be respectful of a cat than an older Golden Retriever who has had no such training. However, training an older Golden is not impossible; it often requires more attention to managing the environment, supervision, and training.
The Cat’s Temperament
Equally important, if not more so, is accounting for the cat’s temperament. Cats can be formidable and cause damage to a dog, especially a naive and playful puppy who doesn’t understand the cat may not want to play.
Cats can be especially leery of dogs if they have not encountered one before or if the interaction was not positive. Like dogs, the best time to introduce a cat to a dog is as a kitten.
Still, older or senior cats may lack patience. They do not appreciate the exuberance of a puppy or the curiosity of an older dog. Golden’s also like to chase, and cats run as an escape mechanism. In addition, cats and dogs communicate differently, and it takes time for your Golden to understand the cat’s sounds and body language.
As such, it’s essential to be mindful of your cat’s temperament. For example, if your cat is aggressive, older, or shows hostility, then that needs to be factored into how you manage the relationship. On the other hand, if your cat is familiar with a dog and more gentle, caution is still advised, but training is more manageable.
A cat may take exception to a dog in the house. Often, people fear the dog hurting the cat, but it’s equally likely your cat may harm your dog. Likewise, a cat may see a small puppy as easy prey. So be mindful of both the dog and cat.
The cat should always have the ability to escape any interaction. Issues usually arise when the cat can’t run. The cat may feel threatened or overwhelmed, even if your Golden Retriever is playing and means no harm.
Age can play a factor in a cat and dog getting along (or not) with each other. For example, a senior Golden may be less interested in the cat and more gentle in its interaction. At the same time, an old cat may be less patient with exuberant puppies or energic adults.
Golden Retrievers are especially curious and playful as puppies, and this puppy behavior can extend well into adulthood. Age, along with temperament and personality, should always be considered in interactions.
Golden Retrievers, depending on gender, can weigh between 55 to 75 pounds. Goldens can be exuberant and not understand their size. So, a 75-pound dog pouncing on a cat or running over the top of him to greet you is understandably a concern.
Large dogs such as the Golden Retriever need to be taught not to chase and to be gentle with the cat to avoid injuring it during interactions.
Training a Golden Retriever To Coexist With a Cat
Golden Retrievers are high-energy and playful dogs, and this is especially true of Golden puppies. Unfortunately, while this energy may be part of their charm and appeal, it is not an attribute that most cats find appealing, especially older ones.
Before discussing training your dog with a cat, six items will help you better prepare when teaching your Golden to be mindful of your cat. Keeping these in mind will help you prepare and better manage the process.
- Keep it Positive
- Start Early
- Take your time
- Safe Spaces
- Separate Feeding Areas
Training a puppy or older Golden Retriever to be considerate of a cat is not as easy as teaching a dog to sit or lay down. It’s an interaction with another animal. So, bank on this taking some time. Golden puppies especially can be challenging since they are curious and playful.
If you understand the process will take time and include many setbacks and regressions, you go into the process with the right expectations.
Keep it Positive
Aligned with patience is keeping it positive. Golden Retrievers do best with positive training methods, and harsh training methods do not align with their sensitive nature. Losing patience and yelling, or using aversives or punishment will cause more issues than it will solve.
The earlier you start training and managing the dog-cat interactions, the better. Letting your Golden Retriever have free access to your cat early on establishes bad habits, which are much harder to deal with later on. Golden’s, as discussed, are smart – fourth overall out of all dogs smart. So, allowing them to chase or interact with a cat without rules teaches the dog that it is acceptable.
You can’t blame the dog for doing something that you have taught is acceptable behavior. Never mind the potential harm you’re putting the dog into and later on the cat. An adult cat can inflict a startling amount of damage to a puppy or juvenile Golden. In turn, a full-grown Golden Retriever can kill a cat quickly.
Take Your Time
Finally, take your time. Training dog-cat interactions is a marathon, not a sprint. Taking your time and being patient lays the foundation for fewer issues later on and avoiding negative interactions. Rushing things can set you back a few steps. Once an undesirable behavior is well set, it’s much more difficult to undo, so establishing good behavior early on will save you some time and anxiety later on.
So it’s too important to go into training with your reasonable expectations. And to expect the training process to take some time. How much time? It could take up to a few months before your dog and cat can comfortably be in the same room together, and even then, constant supervision is required.
Keep in mind that Golden puppies generally have less impulse control, which develops as they get older. So teaching a puppy to behave in a cat’s presence takes some time.
Start teaching rules and boundaries from day 1.
Both your Golden Retriever and cat need a safe space. A safe space where they can retreat to feel secure and comfortable. Often both dogs and cats can feel stressed, and they will gravitate to someplace to recharge and decompress.
For cats, its safe space may be someplace higher up or their own room. For dogs, it’s a makeshift den, such as a crate. So allow the cat and dog to have those, and prevent the cat or dog from encroaching upon the others “fortress of solitude.”
Our dog and cat will often retreat to their safe places when kids are around or even when they’ve had enough of us adults. Their space should be respected just like you expect other members of the family to respect yours.
Separate Feeding Areas
Food is a high-value resource, and depending on the temperament of your cat and dog, they may guard it aggressively. However, resource guarding is less common in cats.
It’s best to feed them in separate areas or at different times under supervision. Golden Retrievers are typically very food-driven, and so if your Golden is showing any resource guarding behavior, it’s best to keep the cat away. And, circumstances can change quickly even if there have been no issues during mealtime in the past. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.
Step 1 – Control the Environment
The most important thing you can do is control the interactions. And, that means you will need to employ a house line, which will be one of the most vital tools when training your dog, as discussed below.
For those who might not know, a house line is simply a leash that you keep on your dog while in the house, allowing you to prevent unwanted behaviors. It keeps your cat from a joyous, bouncy, exuberant puppy or curious dog, and it saves both from potentially harmful interactions.
If you have a Golden Retriever puppy, then it’s wise to limit its freedom early on. Crate training your Golden puppy or utilizing a playpen or containment area allows the puppy to be contained when you cannot supervise it.
Puppies are curious and move fast, and cats are curious and stealthy. Therefore, it’s safest to have a new puppy contained when you cannot supervise it.
Step 2 – Allow Them To Get Used To Each Other
Do not allow your Golden Retriever puppy or dog to chase the cat around the house. Dogs like to chase small furry things, and some dogs especially more so if they have a strong prey drive. Others see it as a game. Golden Retrievers are no different, and while their prey drive is not as strong as other breeds, they love to chase things. It’s their retrieving nature.
The initial goal is to allow your cat and Golden to get used to each other at a distance. They need time to smell, see, and hear each other without interacting. It establishes the understanding that the other is a permanent part of the family and that they are there to stay. Dogs and cats explore much of their world through their noses, allow each separately to smell where the other resides.
Please do not allow them to interact freely or get nose to nose at this point. Each needs time to get used to the other and to learn boundaries. The faster you try to go, the more likely the chance for negative interactions. Take a week or even two to allow them to get used to each other at a distance and without interacting.
During this time, teach your dog its basic commands. Your puppy or dog must know how to sit, lay down, stay, look at me, and leave it at a minimum. These commands will become very important later on during the introductions and socialization phases. Teaching marker words such as “yes” for rewards and “no” for no rewards is also useful.
Step 3 – Ensure Both Are Calm and Relaxed Before Any Interactions
Interactions go much more smoothly when both the dog and cat are relaxed. For example, if a new Golden puppy is full of energy and wants to play, it will want to chase or interact with the cat. Conversely, a cat in an anxious or high-energy state is more inclined to feel threatened and react negatively.
Ensuring your puppy or dog has had adequate physical and mental exercise and play before any interaction or training session is critical. Doing so expands your Golden’s energy and ensures they’re in a calmer and more relaxed state. Your cat should also be in a favorable or relaxed state, and having a more relaxed puppy or dog helps in that regard.
Step 4 – Introduce Them Slowly
Once you have given your cat and dog time to get used to each other and have them relaxed and calm, you can make the first introduction. The first introduction should be with a divider such as a gate or a glass/screen door. The goal here is to allow the cat and dog to get close without the risk of injury or negative interaction.
Once your Golden and cat seem relatively relaxed during such interactions, it is time to allow them to interact in the same room. However, it would be best if you controlled the exchanges during this time. Meaning, the dog needs to be on its houseline or leash, and the cat needs to be able to flee if it chooses.
Also, ensure the room you choose is not one of their safe spaces. As discussed earlier, both your Golden and cat need their own safe space. Pick a neutral room for interactions.
Step 5 – Reward Patience and Calm Behavior
For your first interactions, ask your Golden to sit or lay down and look at you. Give your Golden lots of treats when it sits or lays down in the presence of the cat. You want your Golden to learn that calm behavior means rewards and looks to you during the interactions when the cat is present.
A hyped-up exuberant dog, pulling to get to the cat will only get your cat agitated. Calm energy from your dog will go a long way to keeping your cat relaxed as well.
These first interactions should be at a distance unless both animals are very relaxed and calm, and even then, it’s best to initially introduce them at a distance. Once your Golden reliably listens to you and is calm, then you can begin to move the interactions closer each time.
Be mindful of your cat as well. A curious cat may want to come to check out the dog if it is in a calm state, and it’s best to keep both at a distance until you feel comfortable making the nose-to-nose introductions. Remember, you control the interactions.
It’s also good to do brief training sessions daily. A little each day will yield better results and prevent overwhelm for you, the cat, and your Golden Retriever.
Reward your cat for calm and relaxed behavior as well. The goal is to teach the cat and dog that being in each other’s presence is positive and rewarding.
For Steps 1 to 4, always keep your Golden Retriever either tethered to you or ensure your holding the house line. You don’t want to allow freedom at this point. That comes next.
Step 6 – Allow More Freedom
Once your Golden reliably shows it can calm around the cat at a close distance and reliably listens to you in those situations, you can let go of the leash. This is where a house line is useful. You drop the house line and allow for free interactions, but you still have the means of grabbing the leash should things not go so well.
However, supervision is still necessary. You should shadow your Golden and be ready to grab the houseline if the cat shows aggression or the dog wants to play or is getting ready to chase a fleeing cat.
During this roaming time, periodically ask your dog to sit, lay down, and look at you. Reward heavily for good behavior. Also, ask your Golden to leave it and to stay when getting too close to the cat. Reward again. You’re teaching the dog to leave the cat alone or sit (or lay down) and stay when commanded.
Your cat and Golden may decide to smell one another at this time, and that’s fine, provided they’re both calm and relaxed. For example, they may come nose to nose, or your Golden may smell your cat’s rear end.
Dogs are scent-driven, and they gather information from other animals from their butts. Your Golden is trying to do the same with the cat.
Provided your cat is calm and your dog does not get forceful, they can interact. Just be prepared to intervene if things go south. If they both stay relaxed and chill, reward both the dog and cat for the positive interactions.
One word of caution. It may be tempting to drop your guard at this point if the interactions are going well. Don’t. It’s not uncommon when training to have some regression. So expect it, especially with a puppy.
If your Golden chases your cat or wants to play, then quickly and CALMLY intervene by gently restraining it with the houseline while saying no.
Redirect your dog’s behavior to a more appropriate game of fetch, tug, or some playtime outside. Be patient, positive and don’t lose your temper, yell, or punish your dog.
Step 7 – The Long Term
Once your dog and cat can coexist peacefully in the same room and your Golden listens to you reliably in the cat’s presence, you can allow more freedom. However, you still need to ensure boundaries are in place for the long term.
For example, it is good to place the dog or cat in their respective safe places when leaving the house. Allowing unsupervised access to each other, even if they have peacefully coexisted for a long time, is not recommended. If you’re not around and an interaction spirals into something negative, there could be dire consequences without someone available to intervene.
As discussed previously, each of the pets should have their own dog and cat-free zone. Please place them in those spaces when you are gone and when the cat and dog will be unsupervised.
Both areas should include water, a bed, and some toys. Your cat’s space should also have its litter box and a scratch post. Baby gates and cat doors are useful tools for containment devices. Crates, playpens, and gates are great for dogs.
Understanding the temperament and personality of your Golden and cat is essential when introducing the two. Establishing rules and boundaries and providing each a safe space is also necessary. On your part, having reasonable expectations, patience, and a positive attitude will, over the long run, make the teaching process much more comfortable.
You can also take comfort in knowing that Golden Retrievers are among the best dog breeds for getting along with cats. The Golden is typically very calm, naturally intelligent and biddable, and with an exceptional eagerness to please. Training is usually relatively easy, and the Golden learns quickly. The breed is also amiable and tolerant and does not possess a strong prey drive.
As a whole, you could not ask for a better group of traits in a dog if you are, or plan to be, a cat owner. Not only are Golden Retrievers typically good with cats, but they may become good friends or, at the very least, learn to coexist peacefully. The key is to take your time, control the environment, supervise as necessary, and train, train and train some more.