My husband and I have a 7-year-old black lab mix that we adopted from the Humane Society 6 months ago. We went through basic training and received an AKC CGC certificate last month. He has moderate energy but sometimes exhibits high levels of excitement and/or anxiety. As he is getting more comfortable and confident in his new home, I have noticed some changes in his behavior around our cats that I worry may escalate into a problem in the future.
We went through slow introductions with our two indoor/outdoor house cats with very few issues. Three months in, the cats and dog were generally accepting of each other and were able to lay relaxed near each other in the same room. The general behavior was for the cats to ignore the dog and the dog would avoid the cats. We got to the point where they would take treats at the same time in close proximity. The cats would even became curious and come sniff the dog's feet or tail while he slept. Our bedroom is a dog-free zone where the cats can retreat if they don't want to be around the dog. The cats eat in the kitchen while the dog eats in his crate in the living room. They're generally fed at the same time, with the cats getting their bowls first.
In the last week, however, the dog has rushed at the cats several times when they come to the door for mealtime. Also, whenever the cats are inside and make any noise or sudden movements the dog quickly rushes at them to investigate. The cats used to just stop in place and stare him down, but now they run and hide. I see the dog becoming more interested in and excited by chasing the cats. The some of recent events were unprovoked by sound or movement and he's even barked and growled at them at least once to incite a flee response in the cats. Most of these events have taken place in our living room. The cats are retreating more to the bedrooms and closets to sleep in the house and becoming more skittish when eating.
How can I prevent my dog from rushing at my cats? What actions should I take if it does happen? What are the most effective training methods for getting my dog to not react to the cats?
Your help is much appreciated!