Why Herding Dogs Don’t Live Well With Cats. Or, Do They?

People will often ask why herding dogs don’t live well with cats. Well, there are several answers. Unfortunately, we tend to want to have definitive answers about the behavior of particular breeds or animals. However, living with them, you realize that they aren’t that much different than humans.

Some are fun and friendly.

Some are shy and reserved.

Some dogs love cats, some don’t, and one might enjoy a particular cat but not another.

While there are breed tendencies, not every dog or cat is going to check off every behavior box assigned to their breeds. 

So, can herding dogs live with cats? Herding dogs would list their relationship status on Facebook with cats as It’s Complicated. It depends on the individual dog, the particular cat, and how they come together. 

If you have a herding dog and are considering getting a cat, or vice versa, you should prepare yourself. Some herding dogs don’t live well with cats. But, there are plenty that do. We will get into specific scenarios, environments, and age ranges of herding dogs and cats that seem to lend well to happy coexistence. 

Why you should trust me

I didn’t have my first herding dog, Kayla until I was nearly thirty. I married into the house that she ruled over. A few years after she passed, we brought Shellie home, who handily took over managing the household. Lastly, we brought Bernie home last year. Lucky for all of us, Shellie is still in charge. 

I live for these dogs. Their happiness, health, and comfort sit alone atop the priority list. Is that normal? Probably not. But, I do extensive research about herding dogs, even when I am not writing a blog post. If that time and effort can help other dog parents along the way, that’s a bonus. 

What about my dogs interacting with cats? Shellie, now nine years old, has never chased, looked directly at, nor acknowledged the existence of any cat.

Bernie, a few months shy of two years, is always on a leash. He has tried to chase the neighbor’s cat nonetheless. But, he also tries to chase bicycles, cars, leaves, squirrels, blowing snow, and anything that ever moves or makes a noise of any kind.

Shellie could probably share our space with a cat that respected her space. Bernie? We’d probably need to give Bern a little more time to sort out the world before introducing a cat to our family.

My two Shelties, Bernie on the left and Shellie on the right

Why Herding Dogs Don’t Live Well With Cats

Some herding dogs don’t live well with cats.

Some herding dogs live very happily with cats, and some could care less.

As I have often found over the years, our herding dog’s behavior has a lot to do with breeding and instinct. But, more often than not, their behaviors directly align with the opportunities, training, and environment that we provide. Yes, I said it. We humans, above and beyond instinct, are responsible for our pup’s behavior: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the in-between.

Nevertheless, herding dogs are prone to behaviors that a cat may find, shall we say, unattractive? Nipping, nudging, and herding behaviors are not favorites for us humans. We know what it is and why the dogs have these behaviors. But cats? What do they think of these behaviors?

Cats, in general having a fondness for solitariness.

They don’t understand what herding is and are most likely not going to welcome these behaviors.

The worst-case scenario is a cat will see the behaviors as a threat.

From my own personal experience with my Shelties, I know that they lack a fundamental understanding of, and appreciation for, personal space. This could also give a cat a reason to pause. Also, depending on the cat, the exuberance of herding dog breeds could be a problem.

What if I have a resident cat and want to bring home a herding dog?

Bringing a dog, whether it is a puppy or older, into your home with a resident cat, takes planning and slow and deliberate introductions. At a minimum, the following steps should be considered:

  1. Your cat should have a designated retreat where he will feel safe. Ideally, a room where the dog is not allowed to enter, that has everything that the cat needs (litter box, food, water, entertainment).
  2. Know the dog’s limitations and understanding of any commands.
  3. Exercise and feed the dog well before the introduction so that he is most relaxed.
  4. With the cat tucked away in a safe space, let the dog roam the house and learn the cat by smell. Then take the dog outside and allow the cat to get used to the scent of the dog he left behind.
  5. Bring the dog back inside. Keep the dog on a leash for initial introductions to the cat. Expect the typical cat reactions like hissing and retreat.
  6. Allow them to observe each other from a distance. Don’t force them together, and reward the right behaviors with treats.
  7. Gradually allow them to get closer as their individual comfort levels dictate.
  8. Repeat as needed for a few days. If your dog is responding well to commands, and the cat is curious and not nervous, keep your dog leashed, and drop the leash while staying within grabbing distance.
  9. If all goes well, allow the dog off-leash, with supervision.
  10. If all doesn’t go well, seek help from a professional trainer.

This video shares more extensive tips to introduce cats and dogs.

Can Herding Dogs Live With Cats?

To answer this question, I wanted to get some folks’ insights that happily coexist with cats and herding dogs.

I asked for some input from members of a Facebook group that I belong to called Sheltie Owners.

Out of the forty responses that I received to the big question “Can herding dogs live with cats?” it was clear that most herding dogs, Shelties at least, found a way to happily live with cats and vice versa. Some completely ignore the cats, some are afraid of the cats, and some cats and dogs can’t get enough of each other.

It seems that there is a tendency for dogs and cats to get along best if they are introduced young. But, on the other hand, Robert M. said of his pair, “Missy was a full-grown cat when I got Zephyr as a puppy. They get along fine with each other.”

So, can herding dogs live with cats? Absolutely, under the right conditions.
Whatever your situation, take the appropriate steps to ensure that the dog and cat feel safe during initial introductions. Always be aware of an animal’s cues. Most importantly, never force a dog and cat, or any animal for that matter, to interact.

Adding a herding dog to the family

Have you got a cat already at home? Are you contemplating growing your family with the addition of a herding dog? Carefully consider your cat’s temperament, previous interactions with dogs, and socialization.

Adding a cat to the family

Already have a herding dog in the family? Thinking about getting a cat? Consider your dog’s herding behaviors. How good he is with verbal commands? Think about your dog’s previous interactions with other animals.

Related Questions

What dog breeds are best suited to cats?

According to the AKC website, a few dog breeds are more likely to welcome a cat into the pack. In fact, most of the breeds listed are more tolerant of, not just cats, but most other animals in general. The list includes:

  • Basset Hounds
  • Beagles
  • Bulldogs
  • Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
  • Collies (a herding dog)
  • Golden and Labrador Retrievers
  • Papillion, and
  • Pugs.

What are the worst dog breeds for cats?

Depending on when an introduction of a cat and dog occurs, individual temperaments, and training, most dog breeds should be able to live with cats.
Pet writer, Paula Fitzsimmons, suggests that careful consideration is necessary before mixing cats and certain hunting group dogs like Greyhounds, Whippets, and Terriers.

Are German Shepherds good with cats?

German Shepherd trainer Hunter Reed thinks that under the right conditions, German Shepherds and cats are likely to live happily together.

Once again, the advice is to carefully considering your GSD’s or cat’s personality, age, and previous socialization.

Then engage your pets with a controlled introduction. Controlled methods include:

  • Scent swapping
  • Face time through a glass door
  • Face time inside
  • A restrained face to face meeting; and then
  • An unleashed face to face meeting.

What guard dogs are good with cats?

These guard dogs breeds when trained well, have the potential to get on well with cats:

Under the right circumstances, proper introductions, and socialization, these breeds will welcome a cat into their pack.

What large dog breeds are good with cats?

Many large breeds can be taught to live with, and even love their cats. Most notably, Standard Poodles, Golden Retrievers, and Labradors tend toward friendly personalities that make them agreeable to sharing space with cats. However, I will stress again that the introduction will make a huge difference.

What small dog breeds are good with cats?

Dog lover and blogger, Sara Andrews, found that Chihuahuas will get along great with cats under the right circumstances. Also, if you have a cat and are considering bringing a dog into the family, a Maltese or a Pug could be the right choice.

Interested In More Information About Herding Dogs?

Author - Eileen

Eileen is dog mom to 2 Shetland Sheepdogs - Shellie and her pup Bernie. They enjoy a couple of walks each day plus 2-3 sessions with the frisbee or Chuck-it! She enjoys many road trips with her dogs. She has tent camped all over the U.S. The dogs love exploring new hiking trails. Regardless of the season, Eileen has plenty to share with you about outdoor dog life whether it's in the Rockies in winter, Massachusetts in the summer or Oregon and Minnesota in between. She loves to find new off-leash parks while traveling.

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