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Aggression toward cats

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Hello! I'm new to the forum and to border collies and am looking for some help about my dog's behavior toward my newest cats. I have always had golden retrievers and have one now who is 8 and a corgi who is 9. Last spring my husband and decided to adopt a golden mix puppy who was about 15 weeks. She had a golden's coloring except for some black on her in various places. The rescue volunteers, my husband and I all figured she was probably mixed with German Shepherd, but as the months went by it became quite apparent that she's mixed with border collie. Among many things, she's smart as a whip and can jump like you wouldn't believe - well actually you would, being bc owners!


When we adopted Jessie, we had 2 cats at the time. She chased them a bit but quickly learned that wasn't allowed and now she's friends with them. In August we adopted another cat and then a 4th in December. Having had cats almost all my life, I knew that the new ones would need their own space away from the dogs until they adjusted, so I put a baby cat at the bottom of the stairs so the new cats could stay upstairs to feel safer. They have food, water, litter boxes and a cat tower so have everything they need if they want to stay up there or they can come down if they would like.


My problem is this: Jessie thinks the two new cats belong upstairs and aren't allowed to come down. If she sees one of them on the stairs, or even near them, she goes absolutely crazy and I'm not exaggerating; she's like a different dog. She jumps on the back of the couch and barks and growls and tries to lunge at them. I tried putting one of the cats in my room (downstairs) and having Jessie on a leash, treats ready to reinforce good behavior, but the second she sees the cats, she lunges, barks, growls, anything you can think of. I've tried this many times, thinking she'll eventually get the idea that ignoring that cats gets her treats and praise, but it's not working and it just stresses out the cat. Also, you can literally see the look on her face change; it goes from being a sweet, intelligent, happy look to one of a predator who's out for blood. It's not that she just doesn't like the 2 new cats, she literally looks like she wants to kill them. She gets almost in a trance and won't listen to me.


I've done tons of research and have tried everything short of hiring a trainer. She's very good with the leave it command, but it has no effect around the new cats. I've tried exercising her like crazy, then having her meet one of them, treats in hand. What is interesting and gives me hope,though, is that if one of the cats is on a high windowsill downstairs, for example and I constantly treat Jessie for ignoring her, she'll do okay. Same if I am holding the cat. You can see her try to calm herself down - she'll take breath and look away. Since Jessie has decided it's okay if I hold the cat of if I bring the cat downstairs and put her in the kitchen on the ledge in the garden window, I have hope that she can learn that the cats are allowed downstairs. It's just a matter of her learning not to go into attack mode when she sees them trying to come down.


As I said, I've tried almost everything from making a deep, loud noise at her when she barks at them, to clicker training, exercising. I think this aggression must come from territorial issues, rather than a hatred or fear of cats, because she's completely fine with the 2 cats who were her before we adopted her. I hate the fact that I have to put the dogs in the room in order for the 2 new cats to come downstairs - a divided household isn't going to work. I know we have a lot of furbabies, but animals are my passion and I'm involved in animal rescue. I've always had 3 dogs and 4 cats until the last few years when the oldest ones passed on and never had an issue with everyone getting along. I realize Jessie is her own dog and may not be as laid back with the group I have, but she has to learn she can't bark and lunge at the 2 new cats. It's not acceptable behavior and I really worry that if she were to catch one of them she would hurt it.


What are some things I can do to help Jessie realize that it's okay for the new cats to be here and to not be aggressive toward them? Cat sites will tell you to put the dog in her crate in a room where the cat will be and let the cat explore, but they literally won't set foot on the stairs if they know Jessie's anywhere besides the bedroom (door shut) or outside, but even that spooks them because Jessie will bark and lunge at the door if she sees them. My corgi had issues with herding the cats, but I was able to get her to stop and all my goldens have been love bugs, so I've never had experience with this type of issue. As I said, Jessie is extremely smart, learns commands very quickly and has a will to please, except when it comes to training her not to go after the new cats. That's part of why I'm at a loss. She's so stinkin' smart and knows her behavior is wrong, but she doesn't care. I might not be able to correct this behavior myself and may need to bring someone in to help, but thought I would see if any of you have any ideas or insight about the situation.


Sorry this is so long, but I wanted y'all to have all the info. Thanks so much for any advice!!

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