Are Dogs Better Friends Than Cats?

By Allegra Ringo

For centuries, humans have fought over the age-old question: cats or dogs?

Dog lovers argue that dogs, who co-evolved with us over many millennia, are the only species that truly understands and appreciates humans. Cat enthusiasts insist that although cats may not show it in the same overt ways as dogs do, cats do understand humans, and may even love us. But who is the better friend to humans: dogs or cats?

Dog and cat lying together on the grass
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A recent survey attempted to collect data on people's perceptions of their pets' emotions. The survey was headed by Minori Arahori of the Psychology Department at the Graduate School of Letters at Kyoto University in Japan and appeared in the journal Behavioural Processes. The pet owners owned either a cat or a dog and were asked to describe various behaviors that they observed in their pets.

The survey began by asking the owner to describe their relationship with their pet. This data was analyzed to determine whether the owner thought of their pet as a "member of the family." Interestingly enough, the majority of people considered both dogs and cats to be a part of their family. However, the survey found that this feeling was much stronger in dog owners. Dogs were 15 percent more likely to be described as family members (73 percent for cats as opposed to 88 percent for dogs), according to Psychology Today.

Other findings showed that both dog and cat owners perceived basic emotions (happiness, anger, fear, etc) in their pets. However, when it came to perceived complex social emotions, such as sympathy or compassion, it seemed that there was a significant difference between cats and dogs, with dogs coming out as much more likely to demonstrate these emotions.

Does that mean that cats deserve their reputation as aloof and unsympathetic? Maybe. John Bradshaw, a cat behavior expert at the University of Bristol and author of the book Cat Sense, theorizes that cats don't really understand us. Bradshaw says that in his research, it's clear that "dogs perceive us as being different than themselves: As soon as they see a human, they change their behavior. The way a dog plays with a human is completely different from [the way it plays] with a dog."

Asian boy  holding american short hair  kitten
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Here's what Bradshaw has to say about cats: "we've yet to discover anything about cat behavior that suggests they have a separate box they put us in when they're socializing with us ... Putting their tails up in the air, rubbing around our legs, and sitting beside us and grooming us is exactly what cats do to each other."

The authors of the aforementioned survey concluded that "compared to dog owners, cat owners perceive their pets as less emotional." Between this conclusion and the research done by Bradshaw and others, it's difficult to make the case that cats understand us as well as dogs do. Of course, personalities vary by individual pets. However, on the whole, cats are less responsive, less trainable, and less excited to see us than dogs are.

So: cats or dogs?

Answer: both.

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