I did try some of Nancy Williams "response prevention", approaching the trigger until Vanya went a little over threshold, then walking backwards with him until he calmed down, treating him, then approaching again. Well, that's the theory, anyway. Here is how the approach was described to me:
"Patient dog approaches trigger. At the point of reaction, the dog is turned away from the trigger towards the handler (hence the equipment) with the handler backing up until the dog stops reacting. Then the dog is fed. For the dogs whose focus is on visiting, the dog is simply allowed to reapproach, although a combination of treats and reapproach can work too."
This sounds similar to the classic cat-desensitization exercise recommended on PBRC
"What you need:
- One cat-aggressive pit bull
- One very mellow cat
- Lots of treats
- A Gentle Leader head collar
- A good strong, leather leash
- A lot of patience!
When you get to the point where the dog is getting used to the pattern (if I aggress, we go the other way), what you will be looking for is unsolicited looks. You want the dog to turn and look at you before the leash gets tight. That's when you know you're making progress! The whole point to this is so the dog gets the pattern. When they see a cat, you want them to look at you to get the treat, not look at the cat.
Get closer only when the dog isn't reacting as intensely. Also, don't do this for more than a few minutes at a time at first. This is intense stuff for dogs! This also does not cover outside cats! If they see a running kitty outside, they're gonna go after it! Staying calm and having patience is key.
And finally, is this a surefire way to get your dog to love cats? No way. But, can you get your dog to the point of being in the same room with that particular cat and not freak out? Yes, if you're diligent about it."