I am not one for recommending keeping cats outside. There are too many bad things that can happen to them out there, from hawks to dogs to cars to nasty people who just hate cats, the list is long.
In your case, I would have to agree with your husband that it would probably be better to rehome the younger dog, as long as you know for sure that he is the culprit. He may just have been engaging in rough play with the kitten, but if he is a terrier or terrier mix there is a chance that he was just following his instincts and getting rid of a small animal, which is basically what terriers were originally bred to do. In some cases, if you bring them up with kittens from a very young age, they can be taught to respect that cats have just as much right to live as they do. But if they have not been taught this, they can be deadly to cats and other small animals. I know several people who breed terriers and they will not sell their puppies to people who also have cats because the dog-attacks-cat scenario is so common when the dog is a terrier.
As far as the cats scratching your furniture, there are steps that can be taken to see that this doesn't happen. Cats ARE trainable. Putting scratching posts around your house and making sure the kittens are shown how to use them, and then enforcing their use, is one thing you can do. There are little rubber nail caps that you can buy that you apply to the kittens' claws that prevent the claws from scratching if they do happen to scratch at your furniture. It's helpful to use the nail caps combined with training them not to use the furniture to scratch, and usually by the time they learn that furniture is not for sharpening claws, you can forego putting the caps on the nails.
If you don't think you have the time or the patience to train the kittens, it might be best to find good homes for them with people who either know how to teach them not to claw things, or with people who are used to cats and who realize that with a cat in the house, the furniture usually ends up taking a back seat to their habits. You don't want it to end up causing strife between you and your husband because the cats will end up being relegated to the great outdoors in the end, which really isn't safe for them.
Why not visit our MedHelp Cats Community? I'm sure that Savas, the community leader over there, will have a list of good ways to get kittens started on the road to being feline good citizens. :)
Thanks for the quick reply but I was really hoping to train the dogs, not the cats. That is why I posted in the Dog community. Most of what you had to offer was about cats being "trainable". All of our other cats get along well with the dogs but they are all adults. There are no cars or nasty people around as we live on hundreds of acres called a "ranch." I hope I get more suggestions here. Otherwise it looks like we'll have to find a new home for our younger dog, not a terrier, as you assumed, or keep the cats in the house until they're adults.
Any chance of hiring a veterinary behaviorist? You certainly can train your dogs to see the cats (and any other creature) as a part of their pack. Without seeing for myself what is going on with the individual animals, I couldn't begin to give you advice on exercises to accomplish it though. I have two dogs and two birds.
Every dog we've ever had has learned that the birds are part of the pack and off limits - even if the birds fly down to the floor. That lesson seems to have carried on to the outdoor birds as well. Every other small wild critter is fair game, but not the birds.
The thing is, you need to set the dogs and cats up together to recreate the unwanted behavior so you can correct and redirect it. That means time and effort on the part of both you and your husband. Are you up for that? It's so important for a trainer to actually see what's happening. A dog who is playing too roughly would need different techniques than one who is actually responding to a strong prey drive.
For any behavior technique to be successful, your dogs also need to learn basic obedience through positive reinforcement. Is that already in place?
This isn't a hopeless situation at all. You only need some basic tools. Check with your vet and see if he can recommend a behaviorist rather than a typical obedience trainer. You can learn a lot even with just a couple of sessions.
I know what you say makes sense. Our animals have always lived together in harmony. I know if I take the kittens outside the dogs will not bother them, but at almost 6 mo the kittens I know are going to be very apprehensive around the dogs. Then if I were to leave them alone who knows what might happen. I figure if they look like adult cats to the dog in question, he will leave them alone. I don't know if I could find a dog behaviorist around here (central Texas) but I'll give it a try. Thanks for the good feedback.
I'm jealous that you get to live in central Texas! We're stuck out here just west of Houston and want to move somewhere near Wimberley or further west one of these days. The more rural the better. We're sick of worrying about flooding here!
When I was a kid we had a dog (Fox Terrier cross) and two or three cats, one of whom had kittens. Kittens used to sleep in the dog's bed with the dog, and get washed (tongue-licked) by the dog! But that was because, as Jaybay said, they were viewed by our dog as 'members of the pack'
The dog I have now, sweet lovely girl though she is, would probably view a kitten as prey. That's only because she has had no 'pack-exposure' to cats and kittens. We have never had one in our house with her.
Once a dog receives rehabilitation from a dog psychologist/behaviourist, it can turn all that around.
I do hope you can do this. That way your dog might be able to stay with you. It is definitely worth the effort if you are willing to go down that route.