It’s a curiosity I know many cat-walkers or budding cat explorers have – what happens if you encounter a dog when walking your cat? It is natural to have fears concerning dogs, I completely understand. Here’s how we handle encountering dogs when walking our cats – Tala and Mara. Although we tend to explore more rural areas, we encounter dogs on almost every single walk that we do (once we met 10 dogs on one walk), so we have come to expect it as part of our adventures. Naturally, we try to safeguard the girls from any unexpected encounter – whether that’s a dog or anything else that could spook or endanger them outside.
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There’s a great benefit in exploring with another person. Usually, me and my partner walk them together. We try our best to keep the girls in between us and that allows the person in front to act as a lookout. If we see someone with a dog approach, we call back and alert the other person. We relay as much information back as we can, whilst getting the girls ready for the encounter. Tala is pretty bold and usually, she can be stood to the side whilst a leashed dog walks by, but if we are erring on the side of caution, we pick her up and she perches on a shoulder. Mara gets whisked up and ‘thrown over’ a shoulder into an open backpack. When we wear a backpack, they are always open just in case we need to put either of them inside in a hurry.
It's still quite uncommon for dog walkers to encounter cats outdoors. We always feel it's important to make all of those encounters positive not only for us and our cats but for them and their dog too. They don't know how their dogs are going to react but they are commonly very pleasantly surprised. I think most dogs are baffled to see a cat out walking like them, instead of lingering around at the bottom of the garden!
We empathise with dog walkers and aim to make our exchange super light-hearted. Sometimes people say, “Oh, my dog doesn't like cats” and you know what, that’s fine! Our responsibility is to keep our girls safe and secure, and with that accomplished, we reassure the dog walker that it’s perfectly fine for them to walk by. If they feel their dog needs more space, we’re more than happy to oblige.
There’s no expectation from us when we meet dogs – we don’t expect every dog to be super well-behaved all the time because we know that even the best-behaved dogs can act differently when they are caught off guard and this impacts every situation differently so every encounter is unique.
As much as we try to avoid it, Tala (and Mara) have both been chased by a dog. Reflecting on those situations, I know that they could have been prevented if we had done things differently. On one occasion, Tala was chased by an off-leash dog. She wasn’t close to me which made her more difficult for me to get to and handle. She was being defiant and wasn’t following my direction or commands. An off-leash dog ran towards us and naturally, she got a fright and she ran. I know this sounds terrifying but her natural instincts kicked in and she was able to get herself to safety by running up a nearby tree. I have to take responsibility for that encounter. We can’t always rely on others to “do their part”. I should have reacted quicker and I didn’t. These encounters for me, are part of the process. We learn and the cat learns too.
It would be a lie to say that we never have unpleasant encounters but these are rare. Every nice encounter we do have is an opportunity for us to build our cat’s confidence around dogs, and to introduce more people to cat exploring. All we can continue to do is try and be best prepared, but remain open-minded and be kind to those that we meet.
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