Pet parents who are lucky enough to live with both dogs and cats know that there can be a special relationship between these two domesticated animals — one of which was intentionally brought into human households for their talent and loyalty and the other, well, an opportunist who adopted us because of our warm couches and ample supply of vermin. However, today, as your happy pooch chases a not-quite-as-happy kitty from the kitchen into the lounge, you may be wondering what your dog thinks of your cat, and whether or not this special relationship is actually a friendship.
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After studying brain scans of two adorable pups, researchers at Emory University discovered that canines are hyper-focused on the facial expressions and body language of their humans.
So, do dogs spend as much time and effort understanding the features and gestures of cats too? Just what do dogs think of cats? Well, it turns out, dogs think about a lot of things. And they have opinions about cats too.
Do dogs know cats aren’t dogs?
Animal cognition scientist Dominique Autier-Dérian suggests that dogs, or canine familiaris, are capable of visual species descrimintation.
That's a fancy way of saying that your dog should, in theory, be able to recognize other dogs, merely by looking at them. So it stands to reason that dogs most likely will discriminate themselves from squirrels, rabbits, butterflies, and, yes, even cats.
This was among the key findings of a landmark study conducted at the Department of Animal Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. Dogs were able to visually identify the stimulus in the experiments — an animatronic cat.
However, even if your pooch can't identify cats visually — they can most likely recognize cats by smell.
In his research, commonly referred to as the "yellow snow study," animal behavior specialist Dr. Marc Bekoff reveals that dogs pretty much understand all known phenomena through smell, including who made the snow yellow (gross), the difference between roast beef and broccoli (yum), and that cats smell like cats — and not dogs.
What does your dog think of your cat? Well, so far, they think that cats are not dogs.
Do dogs understand cats?
A recent study published in PlusOne by veterinarian researchers from the University of São Paulo confirmed that dogs and cats do understand each other.
"It is true that they speak different languages, but they seem to understand each other well and interpret each other's approaches in the right way," said lead researcher, Laura Menchetti. "Thus, aspiring owners should not blindly believe popular assumptions, but both knowledge and respect for species-specific pet behaviors are essential to establish a balance in the household."
Menchetti discovered that cats and dogs both show interspecies communication skills that lead to increased cooperation with each other when living in the same household.
Furthermore, Menchetti concluded that both dogs and cats communicate with the other through body postures, facial expressions and (totally cute) vocalizations.
So, do dogs understand cats? Yes, they do — but not in the same way that two humans who speak the same language understand each other.
Do dogs think they can be friends with cats?
In a classic dog-behavior study that answers the question of whether or not dogs can bond with cats, researcher H. Spurway revealed that the two domesticated pets actually fulfill each other's deeply repressed instincts.
"I suggest that in European and American cities dogs and cats form a commensality in which the cats provide the stimuli releasing the chasing instinct of dogs, and dogs the stimuli releasing the flight instinct of cats, thus mutually satisfying otherwise starved drives," says Spurway.
It turns out, when your dog chases your cat around the house — not only are they both getting a little cardio, but they are supporting one another's mental health by triggering chasing and flight instincts.
Do dogs think that cats can be good friends? Yes, and we have photographic evidence to prove it.
In summary: What do dogs think of cats?
While the behavior of rowdy dogs and cats may suggest otherwise, many pet parents report harmony between the two, especially at bedtime.
Dogs and cats may interact differently outside the home, but for the most part — the ones who cohabitate disprove the old adage of "fighting like cats and dogs."
Here's how scientific research answers the question of what does my dog think of my cat?
- Your dog understands the non-verbal communication signaled by your cat
- Your dog is triggered by movement and will chase when your cat runs
- Your dog looks to your cat to fulfill their "chase" instinct
- Your dog will cooperate with a cat when living in the same household
- Your dog can discriminate between themselves and your cat — they do not think cats are dogs (although, this cute video of Mako the CatDog may be an exception)
Many veterinarians and animal behaviorists believe that the key to a healthy relationship between dogs and cats begins with a formal introduction. But if it's too late to properly introduce your dog to a cat, then this guide to training a dog and cat to like each other may come in handy.
- The Escape Drive in Domestic Cats and the Dog and Cat Relationship
- Cats and dogs: Best friends or deadly enemies? What the owners of cats and dogs living in the same household think about their relationship with people and other pets
- Observations of scent-marking and discriminating self from others by a domestic dog (Canis familiaris): tales of displaced yellow snow Author links open overlay panel
- Dogs’ responses to visual, auditory, and olfactory cat-related cues
- Visual discrimination of species in dogs (Canis familiaris)
- What is your dog thinking? Brain scans give glimpse