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7-year-old black Labrador Retriever mix shows a lot of aggression toward the cat.

I recently adopted a 7-year-old black Labrador Retriever mix, Jackson. I already have a 2-year-old cat I've raised since he was 6 weeks old. This cat is my baby. He's very friendly and lovable. Anyway, the new dog shows a lot of aggression toward the cat. Whenever the cat goes near the food dish or his toys, the dog growls and then lunges. I'm afraid the dog is going to kill my cat. We don't leave the animals alone unsupervised for now, but in the future we hope to. The cat, which still has all his claws, shows no fear of the dog even after he lunges. I'm at a loss as to what to do. By the way, the dog is great in every other way: obeys us, is housetrained, and doesn't chew.

The bad news is, if you ever leave the animals loose together, unsupervised, you are crossing your fingers and taking a chance. I'd be hard-pressed to take the kinds of chances with my "baby" cat and a 7-year-old dog with an unknown history that could result in the cat being injured or killed. What you do know is the dog shows a propensity to be aggressive toward the cat; even with claws on, a cat can be killed by an aggressive large dog. At 7, the dog isn't forming opinions about the world and the other inhabitants that share it with him; he is pretty well "set" in his ways.

While problem behaviors can be modified with varying levels of success for dogs at any age, the only way you'd know for certain they were OK together when you weren't home would be try it and see what happens. That feels too much like gambling with your cat's safety to me. Some dogs have a very strong predatory drive and respond to cats as prey rather than playmates. Dogs that are raised from puppyhood with cats seem to relate to them in a social manner, and are rarely aggressive toward them. But dogs that may have spent many years chasing various "varmints," possibly including cats, from their yard, or that have spent long hours coveting a taunting cat from behind a window or fence may mean serious business when they make contact.

So my advice is, enjoy your new dog, and work to modify his behavior with the cat when you are home. Enroll in an obedience class, even though he is mostly wonderful, to improve his respect for, and connection with, you. When you are home, keep him on a training collar and leash, close to you, for as many hours you can stand, having him follow you about the house as you tend to tasks. This will give the cat a bolstered sense of security, while working to reduce your dog's dominance and territoriality. Dogs that spend time attached to their trainers learn to take cues from their people rather than their own impulses. This allows independent ideas, such as bolting after the cat, to be impersonally (no attention to the dog at all) corrected. Instead, attention should be reserved for times when Jackson is behaving in desired ways. I strongly suggest you work on teaching tolerance when you are home, but plan on continuing to confine one or both animals when you are not home, to prevent mishap.

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