One big lesson we learn at Holiday Barn is how to read a pet’s body language. Body language, or “kinesics”, speaks volumes about how an animal feels. Understanding kinesics makes us more compassionate hosts to our canine and feline guests, and may protect us from an aggressive move. In the wild, animals of all species use body language as their primary source of communication. Just like our spoken language, each species has their own way of communicating…their own “vocabulary”. The “vocabulary” of a cat and a dog is very different.
You just don’t Understand me
As an illustration of this difference, let’s look at how cats and dogs first react to being introduced to an unknown animal or person. Most dogs will approach a stranger boldly and enthusiastically, ready to check out something new and exciting. A cat will likely move slowly, sizing up the stranger for a period of time… maybe do a little hissing… before even getting close enough for any physical contact. Dog: Forward and undaunted. Cat: Reserved and cautious. Now, what if we introduce the dog and the cat? When the dog “boldly and enthusiastically” approaches the cat, he will either get smacked, or the cat will flee. The cat will see the dog’s “enthusiastic” body language as a threat. His rapid approach would be considered aggressive. If the cat runs, the dog thinks that’s a sign that she wants to play so he begins to chase her.
Misinterpretation of body language is the major problem between cats and dogs. In the above introduction, each completely interprets the other’s body language and signals incorrectly. Neither understands the motivation of the other. Happiness, playfulness, fear, dominance, aggression, etc., is all displayed in different ways by cats and dogs. Their kinetic vocabularies vary immensely.
I Don’t Hate You, I Just Don’t Understand You
Misunderstood actions by each species present a challenge in dog and cat relationships. It’s not that dogs hate cats, or that cats hate dogs… it’s just that they don’t understand each other. It’s easy to see how a situation could quickly deteriorate if left to their own understanding, however, dogs and cats are not “natural enemies” as has been historically depicted. But, to be fair, they’re not really “natural friends” either.
This Can Work
Despite their differences, we throw cats and dogs together in our homes and expect them to get along. In fact, the Humane Society of America estimates that 163.6 million households have both a dog and a cat*! How can that possibly work?
Our Trainer, Amanda, recently brought two kittens into her home of 5 dogs, and the adjustment has gone smoothly. Amanda believes that her kittens were very well socialized early on and their positive experiences set the tone for the acceptance of their new canine brothers and sisters. Proper socialization of both species with each other makes a huge difference.
Maybe the best way to assure a peaceful “blended family” is to attempt to match personalities. If you have a playful cat, try pairing her with a playful dog. Or start them out young: Most puppies and kittens will attempt to play with each other, as long as one is not overly fearful or timid. A more mature cat may be better suited as a “sibling” to a non-energetic, older dog. Nevertheless, many people successfully bring cats into a home with dogs (or visa-versa) of all ages who have not experienced any interaction with the other species. Some believe the two only “tolerate” each other simply to make the owner happy. Could it be the dog or cat is just ignoring the intrusion of the new pet in hopes that at some point it will go away? Then before they even realize it, both have adjusted to having each other in their lives.
Let’s Be Friends
Over time, a cat and dog will most likely work out the kinks and live peaceably together. As a matter of fact, many will become best friends. There is nothing cuter than a dog and cat cuddling together, or joyfully and playfully frolicking without inhibition.
Need a good laugh? Check this out! “MUST HATE DOGS”, by CatChannel.com: Funny-why do cats hate dogs? http://www.catchannel.com/cat-faqs/do-cats-hate-dogs.aspx