✔ This article was reviewed for accuracy by a licensed veterinarian.
One of the great unknowns is whether two pets will get along in the same home. Before you bring them together, you play out all the possible scenarios in your head, and some can be a little scary. If you have either a German shepherd or a cat and want to add the other one to your family, you may wonder: are German shepherds good with cats?
Mark Manson, a two-time #1 New York Times bestselling author, writes life advice that doesn’t suck. (His words, not mine.) He has a post titled “The Fear of the Unknown” in which he states:
“In these situations of great uncertainty, our animalistic instincts kick in and we assume the worst. After all, if there is so much uncertainty that you have no idea what to do, you might as well operate off the worst-case scenario in order to protect yourself.”
So you’ve run through the scenarios and you may have assumed the worst — which is completely normal. As you want to protect yourself, your current pet, and your potential future pet.
The answer, unfortunately, is: it depends. It depends on quite a few variables like temperament, territoriality, and prey drive. We provide all the information you’ll need below!
- Prey Drive of German Shepherds and Cats
- Jealousy Between German Shepherds and Cats
- Use Positive Reinforcement
- Basic Dog Training
- The Effects of Spaying and Neutering
- Separate Feed Times For German Shepherds and Cats
- Getting Exercise
- Show Consistency
- When It Doesn’t Work Out Between German Shepherds and Cats
The Temperament of German Shepherds
One of the most important variables in how well a German shepherd will do with a cat is the temperament of the German shepherd.
If you already have a cat but you are looking to get a German shepherd, it’s best to get a puppy that will be able to grow up with the cat. The cat can keep the puppy in line when he gets too playful, and the two of them will be around the same size. The dog will keep its relationship with the cat as it gets older. This leads to fewer temptations to chase the cat down or to attack.
Raising a German shepherd puppy has its own challenges, as these dogs are intelligent and may try to resist training. But, this breed likes to please its humans. If you raise it to be gentle with a cat, it will want to please you by doing so.
If you have a German shepherd and are thinking about adding a cat to your family, you need to intimately understand the temperament of the dog.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Does he have a high prey drive?
- How does he act around animals that are smaller?
- Does he play rough with other animals?
If your dog goes crazy every time he sees a cat through the window, it might not be the best idea to bring one into the house. However, much of his temperament will be from his raising. So if it’s a dog you raised from a puppy, you should know just how your German shepherd dog will react.
It’s also important to realize that he won’t act the same way with every cat he meets. German shepherds and cats don’t follow the same playbook every time they interact.
If you know your dog to be gentle and eager to please, you may know your dog to be one that will be gentle with cats, even if he barks at them when he sees them outside. Trust your instincts when it comes to your pet. If he has been good with his training and has been well socialized, you may be able to teach him to be good with cats.
There are certainly many German shepherds who have cats in the home and like them, or, at least, tolerate them. However, there are certainly German shepherds who won’t tolerate having a cat around them. You need to be familiar enough with the dog to know which of these he is.
The Temperament of Cats
It isn’t just the German shepherd’s temperament that affects their relationship. It’s also about the specific temperament of the cat.
The individual personality of the cat will have a lot to do with their reaction once they are in the same room as a dog. There are cats who can’t stand dogs and will hiss and claw at them. There are also cats who make dogs their best friends.
You need to know whether the cat has had any socialization with other animals. It’s worth noting whether he gets scared or assertive when dealing with other animals as well. Even if you have a German shepherd who is gentle, no one wants to have a cat that is constantly terrified by a dog.
- Has the cat ever seen a dog before?
- Has it ever been around another animal?
- How does it act to people who visit?
Think about the answer to all of these questions before adding a dog to the home. An overly aggressive cat may cause a lot of trouble by picking a fight with a German shepherd. However, a cat that is calm and gentle around others may not cause any problems with a dog that has been well-socialized.
Just as getting a puppy can help German shepherds grow up liking cats, getting a young cat can help with this process as well. A young cat won’t be as set in his ways as a mature cat. And he might just love getting a new friend!
Prey Drive of German Shepherds and Cats
All cats and dogs have varying levels of prey drive. This drive causes the animal to want to attack smaller animals. Cats usually have this as applied to birds and rodents. Dogs, and especially working breeds, may have this toward a number of different animals that are smaller than they are. This can include cats.
As a working breed, German shepherds were originally bred to have a high degree of prey drive. Many German shepherds will likely have the instinct to chase cats.
They don’t tend to be as good around cats as more sedated breeds like a Golden Retriever. Of course, this can be addressed for German shepherds by socializing them with other animals when they’re young.
Another problem that can come between cats and dogs is the need for cats to run. They want and need to run, and this may activate your dog’s prey instincts. When you teach your dog to stay, you can have a moving toy nearby so that the dog can learn to ignore that fast motion without giving chase. Treats, or another form of positive reinforcement, are vital in training the dog to ignore a cat with the zoomies!
German shepherds were bred to be dominant and to defend their territory against other animals.
This quality often means that German shepherds often aren’t as good with cats as many other large breeds of dogs. A high degree of territoriality can cause a dog to react swiftly when a cat is in his bed or general space.
Before introducing the two future roomies, you need to know how territorial the German shepherd is. If you are getting a puppy, there are many training techniques that can be used to get them to tolerate other animals in their space.
Jealousy Between German Shepherds and Cats
Another personality factor is jealousy. Jealousy can be a powerful emotion in pets, and they may not want to tolerate another pet getting any attention.
A good way to break down jealousy is to play with both of them at the same time. When they play at the same time, they will also want to rest at the same time. This can be the start of a bond between them.
Just make sure not to give one of them more time than the other, or jealousy may start to build. This can be hard when the dog wants to play and the cat may not be in the mood or vice versa.
In these cases, just make sure the cat doesn’t see all the time you spend with the dog. Also, make sure that the dog doesn’t see all the time you spend with the cat.
Just remember to play with each pet in the way they like to be played with. A cat has no interest in playing fetch. A dog will likely have no part in watching you twirl around a cat teaser. This can make it difficult to play with both at once, but very rewarding if you can accomplish it.
Use Positive Reinforcement
“The best way to train your pet is through the proper use of positive reinforcement and rewards while simultaneously avoiding punishment.” VCA Hospitals is clear in their belief that positive reinforcement is the ultimate tool in training your four-legged roommates.
When you are trying to get German shepherds and cats together, always use positive reinforcement. Using negative reinforcement can cause both animals to associate each other with negativity and upset.
Monitor for Positive Interactions
Try to “catch” them when they’re interacting well together and reward them for that interaction. When they are playing together gently, you can reward that behavior. When they are sleeping next to each other, you can reward that.
Watch this cute video which shows an example of a great introduction and pairing of friends!
Use Treats and Love
Using treats is an easy way to drive home a lesson. However, you can also use ear scratches and tummy rubs to add to the positivity of the interaction. Even the tone of your encouraging voice is positively reinforcing the behavior.
Manage Early Interactions
It’s a good idea to introduce the cat to the dog slowly as a part of your dog’s behavioral training.
- One way to do this is to get the German shepherd dog to stay. Teach him to stay for as long as you are commanding it.
- The next step is to introduce some distractions to the area so that the dog learns to stay in position. This is important even when there are things going on around him. Distractions are guaranteed in the real, dog world!
- The third step is to introduce the cat to the area and keep the dog in place. Use the stay command and use treats to keep him there.
- Then, you can get the cat closer and closer to the dog while keeping him in the stay position. This can work well on young dogs, though it might be harder for older dogs who didn’t have any training when they were young.
Basic Dog Training
In addition to teaching your German shepherd not to chase or attack cats, it’s a good idea to train him to understand several basic commands. This establishes you as dominant to the dog, and it teaches them ways to behave.
German shepherds want to make you happy, so learning commands falls well into their nature. The most basic commands are: sit, stay, and come. You might also want to add down, lay, or a similar command to his roster of commands. Positive reinforcement is the key to all of these commands.
If you want to further refine the training. you might take your dog to a training course. These can be extremely helpful for dogs who are bred to be dominant and need to learn how to follow directions. When your dog can follow directions well and isn’t used to being defiant, it may be a good time to start the steps toward introducing your dog to a cat.
Before introducing these pets to each other, make sure that you have enough time for dog training. Introducing the two roommates to each other will generally go better when the dog knows just how you want him to behave.
The Effects of Spaying and Neutering
Cats and dogs that are not spayed/neutered can be more aggressive than ones who have been. If there is a level of aggression that is still unacceptable, spaying and neutering either or both of your pets can be helpful.
Neutering has been proven to reduce aggression in male dogs and is recommended by veterinarians for all pets.
Puppies generally can be spayed or neutered at around the 6-month point. Kittens can get these procedures done much sooner — usually around the 8-week old mark.
Separate Feed Times For German Shepherds and Cats
One of the times that dogs are at their most dangerous is when they’re eating. It’s a good idea to feed the German shepherd and the cat at different times and in different areas.
The dog can easily get territorial about the areas where his dish is located, and he might feel the need to defend that area. Feeding them at different locations also means the animals will not be interested in each other’s food. This can help in avoiding a fight or generally negative interaction between them.
Additionally, dogs should not eat cat food and cats should not eat dog food. These animals have different nutritional requirements. Cat food has too many proteins for a dog’s diet and can cause allergies, gastrointestinal issues, dermatitis, etc. On the other hand, dog food has fewer proteins and can cause various nutritional imbalances in cats.
While there are many bonding activities that the dog and cat can do together, eating is not one of them. So keep German shepherds and cats in a separate room when feeding!
Some dog breeds need more exercise than others, and German shepherds are squarely in the “more” category. As shepherding dogs, they are bred for a lot of daily exercise, and they may get grumpy if they don’t get it.
Getting plenty of exercise can also keep a German shepherd from starting a fight with a cat just to find daily stimulation. German shepherds need to be taken on brisk walks or taken to a dog park in order to get that much-needed exercise.
Before getting a dog of this breed, make sure you will have enough time to give them regular exercise. They generally need about an hour a day of exercise, minimum.
One of the most important things to do when training your dog to tolerate a cat is to be consistent with the message you send to your German shepherd. If you sometimes react to chasing and sometimes don’t, you are sending mixed messages to your dog.
They may not know quite how to behave or what it is that you want. Behavioral training is an ongoing process that should be done over a long period of time. This helps as your dog gets the right behaviors reinforced again and again.
The German shepherd should learn to react quickly to your command and not be distracted by other things. This is what will allow you to introduce the dog to a cat and will end a chase or fight if one breaks out.
When It Doesn’t Work Out Between German Shepherds and Cats
There are some dogs and cats that simply aren’t meant to live together. If there is constant fighting or the dog won’t stop chasing the cat, there is the potential for violence and injuries.
If the dog or cat is older when they’re introduced, they may not be willing to accept the other one in their space. This is especially true when one of them is a senior.
When a dog and cat just don’t have the right temperaments for each other, it’s best that they do not live together. Keeping them in the same house can lead to a multitude of problems, and it makes it very difficult to keep your cat safe. It can be draining on your well-being as well, bringing the morale of the entire household down.
In these cases, re-homing one of them may be needed. We recommend seeking out a professional trainer as your last effort to keep them together.
Overall, have patience and watch for telling behavioral clues when the two get together. It may take a while to get your dog properly trained, and it may take a while for the cat not to run away from the dog at every opportunity. The younger the two of them can start out, the easier it will be for training to help them to tolerate each other.