Q from Stephanie K.
My neighbor recently moved and was going to take his bluetick coonhound (1 year old) to the ASPCA. Being the sap that I am, I offered to take him in. The problem is, I have an older cat and didn't know that could possibly be a bad idea.
I've had this guy for about a week now, and he's seen my cat and it seemed like he just wanted to check her out, but of course she got nervous and started to run, which I guess may have triggered his hunting instinct? He didn't seem aggressive, more so "What in the world is that? I HAVE TO SMELL THIS STRANGE THING!" Can these two learn to get along? He's a sweet dog and has even become my jogging partner, so I really don't want to get rid of him, especially because the poor guy’s been abandoned already.
A from Emmy Sue
You don't say where you are, which may be relevant to what hunting training your bluetick may have had already. In some parts of North America, blueticks are typically used to hunt raccoons, in other parts they are more commonly used to hunt black bears or mountain lions. There's a great book about mountain lion hunting with blueticks called The Call of the Hounds by Del Cameron. You might enjoy reading it.
At only a year, your hound may not have had much hunting training at all, or may have been slow to start, trying the patience of his previous owner. Coonhounds usually have a hunting "switch" which turns on suddenly. Typically, this happens between 6 months and two years, but for some it can happen earlier or as late as 4 years. This can be very abrupt, so a hound that doesn't hunt cats one day can suddenly start hunting cats the next day. Given the age of your hound, you should be careful about leaving him alone with your cat for another year, especially in an enclosed outdoor space. Typically, a cat can climb to a safe space faster than the hound can get to him, but you may have to spend a lot of time getting your cat down from trees, and a few hounds even learn to climb trees!
However, that does not mean your hound cannot be taught to get along with "his" cat quite well. Coonhounds rarely generalize to accept all cats, but they can learn to respect "their" family's cats, or certain individual cats in their environment. A few never learn, but that is mostly hounds that have already been hunted on cats. It’s not unusual for hunters to begin training their hound pups on barn cats or other semi-feral cats before switching them to other game. Remember that a hound is bred to chase his quarry up a tree and hold it there while barking his fool head off until his hunter comes to kill the game; he is not bred to kill the game himself, although some hounds will do that if the hound doesn't believe his hunter will come to his aid or is very fast and can catch it before it climbs. And a lot of hunters, like me, use hounds for "catch and release" hunting. The hound doesn't care whether or not the quarry is dead at the end of the hunt, only that his handler praises him for his work treeing and holding the game. Hounds want you to be their partner, and to respect their work. Doesn't sound like yours is a cat hunter yet, but it could turn into one if there's nothing better to sniff out in his environment, so you need to teach him to use his nose on something less problematical for you. You could take up coon hunting, which I did with my first hound, but most pet owners don't want to do that, and it is not necessary. However, I find that going to a competitive coon hunt or two gives you some insight into how coonhounds work, and that helps you get into their mindset.
To start with, make sure that whatever enclosure surrounds your yard will stop the hound but leave an avenue of escape for the cat--something like a wire fence with a large mesh or at least a tree for the cat to climb to safety. In the house, give the cat a place to escape to also--a tall cabinet or a sturdy (not cardboard) box with a cat sized opening or a cat door through a closed bedroom door. Remember that coonhounds will jump onto a table or counter with all fours until taught not to, so make sure the cat really has a safe retreat. While many cats can hold their own swatting a hound on the nose from a counter, a really motivated hound will allow himself to be shredded to get to the cat.
Most hounds can be taught to use their nose on anything you want them to, and not on things you don't want them to, so you have to redirect your hound's nose to something other than cats. If you live in an environment with a lot of more interesting things to hunt (raccoons), he probably won't waste much energy hunting your cat, but if he isn't trained to redirect his nose on something else, he will remain interested in hunting the cat. So, if you don't want to hunt, you need to tire out his nose doing something less destructive. You could take up some dog sport using his nose, or you could just play "scent games" with him. There are directions for some simple scent games on the late Suzanne Clothier's website here: https://suzanneclothier.com/article/scent-games-educating-dogs-nose/ (registration is free, but you have to register to see the information). These can be fun. You might also ask around at your vet or pet food store for "scent trailing" or "nosework" classes. Or, a lot of coonhound owners teach their hounds to seek out their kids.
It’s important that you teach your hound that you and your family value your cat. The easy way to do this is by letting the cat sit on your lap and petting it when you are all in a room together. If necessary, tie the hound back so he can't get to the cat while you make a fuss over it and ignore him. If you need to, reprimand him verbally or squirt him with a squirt bottle if he tries to lunge at the cat. Hounds are usually very eager to please and will get the message quickly if you make your wishes known clearly.
I would be careful about leaving cat and hound together in a confined space for awhile. In a few years, they may sleep leaning against each other, but while the hound is still young, he may wake up and forget he's not supposed to hunt his cat, so make sure the cat is in another room with a closed door while you are out, or crate the dog. Also, an outdoor running cat is more likely to trigger the hound's hunting instinct than an indoor sleeping cat, so don't leave them alone and unsupervised together in a yard until you are confident they get along.
Most hunting hound owners will dismiss the idea of a coonhound living peaceably indoors with a cat, but I know of a lot of pet homes with both hounds and cats and no issues. I used to keep two hounds in an apartment in Brooklyn NY, and while they were inveterate alley cat hunters, they were fine with certain cats in stores that offered alternatives they cared about, like the bakery. The baker used to give each a roll, and they completely ignored his mouser.
Good luck with your new hound.