Tag Archives: animals

Dogs v. Cats

I remember as a young child thinking that dogs were the boys and cats were the girls and they were the same animals otherwise.  I think most kids go through that stage.  What is interesting to me, is that though we learn differently as we get older and realize there are girl dogs and boy cats, we somehow keep the expectation that dogs and cats are the same animals in many ways.

Maybe it’s because they’re both four-legged, furry and (most of the time) have big ears and tails.  We do regard them as having very different temperaments:  dogs are extroverts and cats are introverts.  Or put anther way:  dogs are friendly and cats aren’t, but that’s not the whole story! It took bringing a puppy into my established two-adult-cat household to teach me how very differently cats and dogs communicate with the world.

It’s not just their temperaments.  I’ve had very outgoing cats that loved people and would even fetch.  And I’ve had aloof, independent dogs that would rather be alone most of the time and looked at a thrown ball as some sort of insult.  All my dogs and cats have followed me from room to room and wanted to sleep with me. 

No, it’s in their body language which is quite opposite that the differences between feline and canine are most apparent.  Take the tail.  A dog wags her tail when she’s eager, excited and if it’s really swishy and wagging hard, she’s happy.  A cat wags (though it’s more like a twitch) when she’s upset and angry, and the more, faster and further a tail twitches, the angrier she is.   When a dog’s tail is high — straight up or over her back, she’s feeling confident, perhaps belligerent. When a cat approaches another with tail held high, she’s feeling friendly and showing she trusts the other animal.

 The greeting styles are totally different in all ways.  A dog regards a frontal approach with eye contact and wide-open eyes as a challenge.  Cats greet friends with wide-open eyes, running straight in to touch noses.  Dogs don’t commonly go straight to touching noses unless they know the other dog VERY well, and they don’t stare into the other dog’s eyes when they do!

Even play is expressed differently.  A dog paws at another animal with a clawed foot when she’s soliciting play.  A cat pawing at another animal with claws out is saying “get out of my face!”  Dogs rolling over on their back and exposing their tummies is a sign of trust and invitation to approach.  A cat rolling on it’s back is freeing up all four clawed feet for use and you approach at your own risk! 

A dog that runs from another dog is often asking to be chased.  A cat running from a dog (or another cat) is almost always trying to get away from a dangerous menace!  The terrible thing is, that by running — and running scared, cats look like prey to a dog and they will be chased.  Even a friendly dog might forget it’s friendly feelings when it get caught up in the chase.

I’ve seen very smart cats use these differences to buffalo dogs.  My tabby, Pasht, would sit and stare at a new dog.  Once she had the dog feeling uncomfortable, she’d stand up, tail high and still staring, approach.  Most often the poor dog backed away, reading in the cat’s body language that she was challenging and ready for a fight.  Pasht wasn’t fighting, she was just smart enough to know that she could make dogs back down if she acted like that — and I swear she was smiling when she did it!

I’ve also seen a lot of cats and dogs learn each other’s body language and become great friends.  That same kitty, Pasht, would take herself to one of my big German Shepherds for some lovin’ if I wasn’t paying enough attention to her.  Several of my cats have played — and played rough — with my big dogs.  But usually, one or other of the pair was introduced to the other species as a puppy or kitten.  Just like humans, cats and dogs learn new languages easier and faster when they’re young.


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Child-proof Dogs, Dog-proof Kids

We are very protective of our children — and rightfully so.  It is our responsibility to keep them safe and ban from our homes anything harmful.  It is also our responsibility to teach children how to keep themselves safe.  Because, when it comes right down to it, almost everything we need and want in our homes is potentially dangerous if handled incorrectly;  a fork, the stove,  or the dog.

Until children are old enough to know how to safely interact with any of the above and a hundred other common household “items,” they shouldn’t be left alone with them.  A child isn’t allowed to eat with a fork until he gains fine muscle control — and them only under supervision.  So, why should that same child be left alone with the dog — something with moving parts and a will of her own?

Children should be taught to respect anything potentially dangerous!  It is a life skill and children are not born with this knowledge.   Just as we teach a child that a stove is hot, we should teach them that there is a right way and a hundred wrong ways to interact with even the most placid, good-natured family dog.

No one thinks it’s OK for one child to pull another’s hair or ears, poke him in the eye, sit on him while he’s sleeping, or take away his toys/treats!  We call a child that “picks on” other children a bully!  And no one  would expect that other child to put up with such behavior without reacting and retaliating in some way.  So, why do we hold the family dog up to a higher standard? 

It takes a special dog to be able to live with small children.   It takes a very special temperament in either humans or dogs to withstand the noise and activity level and invasion of personal space personified that is a small child.  There is really no such thing as a Child-proof dog  — or human.  Even parents get annoyed and yell at their children, but we expect 100% good-nature from a dog?!

Unlike human adults, dogs can’t retreat behind a closed door to escape annoying behavior.  They cannot ask a child to stop, or reason with it.  A dog cannot say, “That’s enough!”  They can only react like a dog and communicate as a dog would with an annoying puppy. 

Unfortunately, children don’t understand what the dog is telling them.  They don’t know that when a dog looks up and to the side, that’s a polite way of saying, “Go away, puppy!”  They don’t know that a wrinkled lip and soft growl means, “I’m telling you to back off!”  If the dog tried to move away, a child often follows to continue the poking and prodding.  Kids push and push until the dog has no resort but to give a warning snap or correcting bite — the same thing she would do to her puppies.  The problem is the correcting bite is usually aimed at a puppy’s nose.  A puppy is protected by fur and pretty thick skin.  A child’s face is not.

Every dog has her breaking point, and adults should intervene long before she reaches it.  If a good-natured family dog growls at a child, the human adults have let the child’s behavior go too far; either that time or on previous occasions.  Please do not punish your dog, instead place yourself between the dog and child to demonstrate that you are the boss and separate them!

Even if you could “child-proof” your dog, so she put up with anything the kids could dish out — what does that teach the children?  Wouldn’t they feel free to treat any dog they meet the same way?  Grandma’s dog isn’t used to living with kids. That chance-met dog in the park may have never seen a child close-up before. The neighbor’s dog might have a touchy disposition.  Any of those dogs are unlikely to tolerate being pestered. 

Dog-proof your child by teaching him the same respect and polite, careful interaction as you would expect him to use with his siblings and playmates.  If you can’t supervise their interaction, separate the dogs and kids with baby gates.  If your dog is getting fed up, put the dog outside or in her crate — or the child in a playpen!  Correct any  inappropriate behavior from your child!  Better safe than sorry that a dog felt forced to take correction into her own jaws.


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Food Guarding

Nobody wants their puppy to grow up to be a food (or any type of resource) guarder. It’s quite a shock to have your baby growl at you over a bowl of food or a toy. However, too many times, in trying to prevent resource guarding — we can cause it!

So many clients have proudly told me that they take their puppy’s (or newly adopted adult dog’s) food bowl away from them to teach them to NOT guard their food. I always cringe when I hear this. First of all, in the dog’s world, this just ISN’T DONE! Usually, once a dog has something, she OWNS it and the other dogs respect that. So, when we give a dog a bowl of food, say, then pull it away, then give it back and pull it away again, the poor dog is very confused. Depending on her basic temperament that can make the dog hand-shy or aggressive.

Either way, it’s all about trust! To use a human example: If you put a big yummy brownie (or steak) in front of me, then just when I pick up the fork, you take it away — I would not be happy! If you do it over and over, I certainly wouldn’t trust that you’ll leave it there the next time! I’d start to expect that you’d try to take it away and I’d might eat very fast before you do, and hunch over the plate. If this happened a lot I would probably “growl” (i.e. complain!) — and I’d be tempted to bite! All the same things a food-guarding dog does!

I NEVER take away my dog’s food bowl. In the dog world, only very dominant dogs would ever try something like that; and they’d be ready to fight in necessary. I do want my dog to know that I’m the Leader, and it’s “My” food, and I’m letting her have some. However, taking it back isn’t the best way to accomplish that. Instead, I fill the dog’s food bowl, and while holding it up as if I’m eating from it, consume a cracker or something crunchy. (Most dogs look very surprised, and startled when you do this.) When I first get a dog, I do that at every meal for a week, and once in a while for months afterwards. Then I always ask for a SIT before the dog gets the bowl. After the dog has her food, I back off and let her eat.

To accustom a dog to tolerating hands near her food bowl, I want to teach her that HANDS bring MORE ane BETTER food! After putting the food bowl down, I drop something really yummy in it — like chicken or the dog’s favorite treat. At first, I drop it from a long ways up to be on the safe side. Gradually, my “treat” hand gets closer and closer until it is right in the bowl. This way, the puppy sees a hand and expects something GOOD is coming — a cause for rejoicing! — not that the food might disappear — a cause for guarding.

WARNING — if your dog has shown ANY signs of Food Aggression, DO NOT try the “dropping a treat” exercise. (You can do the “pretending to eat from the dog’s bowl” exercise.) Please consult a professional dog trainer/behaviorist so they can evaluate the situation and safely coach you through retraining your dog.

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