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Faithful Fido or fickle Felix: what determines our pet preferences?

Pets inspire powerful emotions and strong attachments. They comfort the sick, console the lonely and entertain the children. We invite them into our families, pay their human-sized medical expenses and…

Studies have, in the past, suggested that dogs appeal most to people who are extroverted, conscientious, agreeable and conventional. Cams

Pets inspire powerful emotions and strong attachments. They comfort the sick, console the lonely and entertain the children. We invite them into our families, pay their human-sized medical expenses and mourn their passing.

Our preferences for them are often passionate as well. To a dog devotee cats are arrogant and frivolous. To a partisan cat lover dogs are slavish embarrassments.

Our personalities are one possibility in explaining where these differing tastes in pets originate. We might be drawn to creatures that match our ways of thinking, feeling and acting, resonating with beasts that resemble us.

Alternatively, we might like pets that differ from us, attracted by the animal magnetism of opposites. A melancholy person might favour a sluggish and soulful companion, or a hyperactive diversion. Either way, pet lovers’ tastes may reveal their temperaments.

Reflecting our personality

Personality may tell some of the story, but not all. Pet preferences are also associated with gender and political beliefs. Studies show that women tend to favour cats and men prefer dogs.

In a 2014 American survey conducted with Time magazine, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt also showed that conservatives prefer dogs. A 2012 study conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association found that nine of the ten states with the highest rates of dog ownership voted Republican in that year’s US presidential election. Nine of the ten states with the lowest rates voted Democrat.

If personality plays a role in our taste in pets, which characteristics might be implicated, and could these characteristics shine a light on the political dimension of pet preferences? One study suggests that dogs appeal most to people who are extroverted, conscientious, agreeable and conventional.

But in an article soon to be published in the journal Anthrozoos, we explored another possibility.

Our research

Mindful of the tendency for dogs to follow and obey their owners, and for cats to do anything but, we speculated that pet preferences might reflect differences between people in dominance-related personality traits.

Compared to cat people, dog people might be more assertive (interpersonally dominant), more competitive (eager to dominate) or more comfortable with social hierarchy (group dominance). If this were true, differences in personality between cat people and dog people might clarify their differences in political orientation and gender.

Research tends to show that liberals and women are less accepting of social inequality than are conservatives and men. A preference for cats or dogs might fit with this broader pattern.

We obtained two samples of more than 500 American adults and gave them a survey that assessed several dominance-related personality characteristics and quizzed them about their pet preferences. In both studies, self-professed dog people scored higher than cat people on measures of competitiveness and particularly on “social dominance orientation” (SDO) – the tendency to expect, accept and endorse inequality between social groups.

Women scored lower than men on SDO and were more likely to be cat people, but the link between SDO and being a dog person could not be explained by gender.

Women scored lower than men on social dominance orientation tests, and were more likely to be ‘cat people’. Bloody Marty

Hierarchical preferences

The link between SDO and preferring dogs to cats is a little surprising. Why, after all, should political beliefs about the relationships between human groups have anything to do with relationships between humans and non-human animals? SDO is associated with prejudice towards a variety of disadvantaged groups, but it also appears to be linked to greater fondness for canines than felines.

The common thread appears to be a preference for hierarchical relationships, whether between top dogs and underdogs within human society or between a person who leads and an animal who follows. Perhaps there is some truth to English writer Aldous Huxley’s statement that:

To his dog every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs.

A recent study shows that people who are high in SDO have more favourable attitudes towards animal exploitation and are more likely to believe that humans are superior to animals.

The apparent link between preferring hierarchical relationships and preferring dogs to cats makes perfect sense when we consider the meanings that have been attached to dogs and cats. As cognitive scientist George Lakoff and his colleagues have argued, metaphors associated with dogs tend to picture them as loyal, dependable and dependent, but also servile, weak and ignorant: the virtues and vices of underlings.

In contrast, metaphors associated with cats present them as selfish, greedy, cowardly, predatory and independent: the traits of the ungovernable. Fido is faithful, but Felix is fickle.

There are many reasons to love cats and dogs. Setting aside their different attitudes to authority, they both offer companionship and connection. Being a dog person does not make one a Napoleonic despot and cat people are not all egalitarians.

Many people love both animals. Perhaps we should be most troubled by those who love neither.

Join the conversation

75 Comments sorted by

  1. Dermot Balson

    Retired

    I'm very surprised you're overlooking the major influence of what pets people have in childhood, and the attitudes of their parents towards them. This can strongly influence a child's preferences later on.

    It's far too simplistic to expect pet preferences to be one dimensionally focussed on personality type.

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    1. Nick Haslam

      Professor of Psychology at University of Melbourne

      In reply to Dermot Balson

      I completely agree that children's experiences and parental attitudes matter, Dermot. We're not claiming that personality is the only factor in pet preferences, just that it's one factor that is interesting. We're adding a dimension, not reducing everything to one dimension.

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  2. Ben Marshall
    Ben Marshall is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Writer

    Hi Nick,

    Nice overview on human personality and companion animal preferences. Thank you.

    Every time we think, 'aha - here is an aspect of humans sets us apart from other animals', it seems to be repudiated by contradictory examples spotted in nature. We've probably all seen video of other species having companion animals from another species, usually in the context of human interventions of one sort or another, but is this behaviour ever found in the wild world? Do other species have pets?

    Cheers.

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    1. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to Ben Marshall

      Unfortunately I don't have information of this kind of behaviour in the wild. However, it is quite common to see a well known racehorse who refuses to travel-or even get into a horse float-without his mate.

      It is enchanting to see a sixteen to seventeen hand horse accompanied by his eleven-twelve hand pony friend trotting into a race track. They share adjoining stalls and are stabled next to each other when resting.

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  3. Brandon Young

    Retired

    Could it be that people who tend to value power favour dogs, and people who tend to value freedom favour cats?

    Personal experience can obviously make some data points drift a long way from the mean, but surely the scatter plots would reveal these correlations? No need for theories and acronyms, what does the data show?

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  4. Judith Olney

    Ms

    I like all animals, but have birds and a dog that share my life and home. I consider them my friends rather than any sense of ownership, and they are just that, wonderful friends.

    I think your last paragraph says it all, I think humans can learn a lot from having animal companions, we can learn empathy, and selflessness. Caring for another living being has huge rewards, whether that living being is human or animal.

    People that don't like animals, or have never had much to do with them, are missing out on so much. I feel sorry for them.

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  5. Account Deleted

    logged in via LinkedIn

    This article is an amusing conceit, but the simple fact is that dogs are useful and cats are useless.

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    1. Account Deleted

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Account Deleted

      Just a reminder: ever heard of cattle cats? guide cats for the blind? or a boy and his cat? In fact, ever heard of a girl and her cat?

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    2. Mark Amey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Account Deleted

      Great point. Dogs have probably been with humans for a much longer period than any other animal. They seem to adopt us as their pack, and, as such will do just about anything for us. Our little bloke seems to think that he can make us feel better by being in the same room, whether it's the depressed teenager, mum having chemotherapy, or me who's just a cranky old bastard!!

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    3. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to Account Deleted

      There's a well known book-whose name I can't remember-written by a New Zealand writer and her cat who helped the writer back to sanity, and a productive life.

      Recently, in America, we saw a video of the cat who attacked a dog who was threatening a little boy who could have been mauled.

      It's a fair assumption both cats and dogs bonded with humans at about the same time. Traditionally cats have always received a rotten press. Largely instigated by half-witted religionists who were ignorant beyond belief and attempted to destroy any or every thing they didn't understand. Look at what women had to endure, and for the very same reason.

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    4. Gae Fenske

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Account Deleted

      Ah, but when we lived on a property outside Tumut, we had Bluey, the big rangy 'retired gentleman' cat who would join us whenever we were moving sheep from one paddock to another. He did not 'get around 'em', but he would line himself up with the human herders, and keep pace with us as we pushed the woollies towards and through the gate ! We did not have a working sheep dog, property and sheep numbers too small to warrant it, but we did have a sheep cat. Bluey was also an accomplished rabbit hunter. At home by the fireside he was affectionate, confident, and 'talkative'. Ahhh, the memories.

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    5. Lee Hatfield

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Account Deleted

      i knew that was why men liked them! women may like cats because they are substitute children. they like looking after their pet instead of using it! cats are loyal and loving too, but show it in a different way. if i was choosing a boyfriend i would feel better with one that liked cats!

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    6. Lee Hatfield

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Account Deleted

      what's that supposed to mean? you don't hear of guide fish or birds .etc, do you? you can't ride dogs or grt them to pull a cart. ! are you saying you see dogs as the most useful to you and that's the only reason you would have one? most people are not blike you and genuinely love their budgie, goldfish , guinea oig , or rabbit for their own talents.!

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    7. Lee Hatfield

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Lee Hatfield

      i have had some useless dogs , who were hyperactive , tore up everything , and were generally useless and near impossible to teach . i still liked them, most of the time anyway , even kylie , who ate the ride on mower , the garden setting , etc, etc..... nothing was safe. a cat or goldfish would never have done that!

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    8. Kaye Hargreaves

      Retired

      In reply to Lee Hatfield

      For the record, dogs do pull carts. Or at least they used to. It doesn't happen much nowadays because it is no longer needed, because of mechanisation. Rottweilers, Bernese Mountain Dogs and Newfoundlands in particular pulled carts, and of course huskies and related breeds pull sleds. This still happens in Alaska.

      Newfoundlands were originally water rescue dogs. They rescued fishermen off the wild and rocky coast of Newfoundland, where there were frequent shipwrecks. Today they are still used for…

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    9. Kaye Hargreaves

      Retired

      In reply to Lee Hatfield

      I get dogs like this. Given the right techniques, they are quite trainable. When organisations like Customs used to recruit dogs from the public, these were the ones they looked for. It was a sign of working ability that they all this energy to burn, which could be channeled into doing something. The smartest dogs are not necessarily the easiest to manage.

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    10. Lee Hatfield

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Kaye Hargreaves

      she was an enormous german shepherd. i really loved her. she flew out of the long driveway and got cleaned up by a car on our country road. wish i had known how i could train her to listen to me . always thought she would have made a good police dog. my previous german shepherds had been intelligent but easy to train. now i have 2 mongrel puppies. . 1 listens . the other doesn't . they are brother and sister. at least the one that listens is the big one! he is part neapolitan mastiff and looks like one . his sister looks like what she is, a rottweiler, kelpie, staffy mixture.i think they may have different fathers.

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    11. Don Newgreen

      Embryologist at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

      In reply to Account Deleted

      Yes, as hunter gatherers. But in agricultural times, probably no. The great agricultural advantage was storage of grain for the winter months to enable a large stable population to be maintained. The problem was rodents. Cats are, for their own advantage, the defenders of grain stores both because they kill some rodents but especially because they deter rodents, many species of which seem to be innately sensitive to cats, presumably by odour.

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    12. Kaye Hargreaves

      Retired

      In reply to Don Newgreen

      I have read that cats were domesticated as a result of killing rodents in grain storage facilities in ancient Egypt. So I acknowledge your point. But I think you are over-generalising. Growing grain didn't mean that people stopped hunting - the Egyptians had Pharoah Hounds! Also agriculture included keeping animals. Pastoralists needed dogs to herd and guard their flocks or herds.

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    13. Don Newgreen

      Embryologist at Murdoch Childrens Research Institute

      In reply to Kaye Hargreaves

      Hi Kaye, domestication of plants especially of the grass family was a major, possibly the major, enabler of large settled communities. Plants became the major food source. Overall meat was less important except for the rich and powerful (this is reflected in English where the words for meats are usually French but the words for meat-animals are mostly Germanic---the Norman overlords got to eat them while the Saxon peasants had to keep them). Since political, economic and military power in ancient…

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    14. Kaye Hargreaves

      Retired

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      Venise, is that comment directed to me or to Don? If it's directed to me, you couldn't be more wrong! Certainly not a devout Christian, or any kind. An atheist, yes, and I love animals, but I think I would still describe myself as some kind of humanist. But I hate labels. I don't think humans have unlimted license to use animals.

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    15. Kaye Hargreaves

      Retired

      In reply to Don Newgreen

      Hi Don,
      Yes, you are right about agriculture and settlement, but farming is still pretty diverse. I think you are also right about cats, in that their presence in grain stores was tolerated and they presumably came to tolerate people. Dogs on the other hand seem to have become domesticated via more direct contact with people, including possibly being breast fed by stone age women. And they have been keeping us warm at night ever since. I will look for your article on domestication with interest.

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    16. Lee Hatfield

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      venise, i totally agree with you for once. as a child my relatives were not that keen on cats but i adored them and they gave me the affection i never got from the family.they each have their own personality but do have traits in common with other cats. dogs also have varying personalities with some, usually european breeds being very easy to train and some being as hard to train as cats, but still make great pets. i like cats slightly better than dogs, they are cleaner and don't slobber on you. if you get to know cats you realise they are just as loving as dogs but show it in different ways they may have been domesticated 1st by kids who found kittens, not dogs at all , which men would think of, as they were most useful to them.

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    17. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to Lee Hatfield

      Agreed. Cats are as loving as dogs. It is just their subtle way of doing it escapes a lot of people. My cat gently nibbles around my hair line when she wants to let me know she loves me. And, like you, I had a fairly rough childhood in my dysfunctional family. The two things which held me together were animals-mainly horses and cats-dogs and books.

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  6. Steven Crook

    Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

    There's also the attitude of the owners to the antisocial behaviour of their animals.

    Dog owners get prosecuted if caught offending and all owners are expected to take responsibility for the actions of their dog.

    Cat owners get a free pass and, further more, appear to feel no responsibility for what their cat does once it has left the house.

    Perhaps the survey should also have looked at attitudes to personal and social responsibility...

    FWIW I grew up in a household of cats (and liked them), but became dispirited by the death toll (I had the job of ending the 'play' and dispatching the unfortunate victim). After leaving home, the final straw was neighbourhood cats using my vegetable garden as a toilet.

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    1. Venise Alstergren
      Venise Alstergren is a Friend of The Conversation.

      photographer, blogger.

      In reply to Steven Crook

      A bell on a cat collar and owners who refuse to let their cats out at night would fix ninety percent of a cat's behaviour. (Here I'm assuming the cats in question have been neutered)

      The cats which are peeing in your vegie garden can be kept at bay by buying a small box-like gizmo from the plant nursery. It works by a battery and when cats cross it's path it gives out a light. This device helps also to distract possums from getting stuck into your roses.

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    2. Account Deleted

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Steven Crook

      As to the attitudes of cat owners, when I moved into my current suburb, there was a cat that routinely used to wander the streets, day and night. One day, I received a circular from the owner, asking residents not to feed it, because it had a delicate stomach! I (politely) asked why it was wandering the streets, but got no reply.

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    3. Account Deleted

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      "when cats cross it's path it gives out a light"

      If it gave out 240 volts it might be worth a look.

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    4. Georgina Byrne
      Georgina Byrne is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Farmer at Farming

      In reply to Account Deleted

      One of the most fascinating things about living closely with animals and observing their behaviour very close up is the fact that like humans they are all individuals. We currently have puppies which are eight generations down from our original pair and I have no doubt that whilst we expect breed traits to be within their normal parameters, each pup will have its distinct personality to all those which have gone before. We find homes for them, often over generations, with people who generally do…

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    5. Steven Crook

      Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      Umm, it's not the pee, it's the shit. It's an incredibly unpleasant experience to be weeding a garden and to stick your hand into cat shit that's been buried just below the surface...

      There's also the question of whether I or anyone else should have to take measures to keep someone else's property out of our gardens.

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    6. Steven Crook

      Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      All I can say is lucky you. Cats tend to shit in the same place, some don't bother to bury it, others do. If you have the misfortune to have an area where cats like to shit, you're stuck.

      I have a friend who lives in central London cats routinely shit in the larger flower pots she has in her courtyard garden. Other friends have a garden trampoline used by their grand children, this year cats have taken to shitting underneath it. Finally, someone else I know came home from holiday to find that cats had taken a liking to the coir door mat at the back door and had left half a dozen turds on it and more around the door. Had to be cats, no access for anything that can't climb.

      Idiotic remarks about eyesight don't help you put forward any sort of cogent argument, they do demonstrate the social responsibility blind spot I've been talking about. First in suggesting it's my responsibility to prevent someone's cat shitting in my garden, then to deny that there's a problem at all.

      Thanks.

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    7. Lee Hatfield

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Georgina Byrne

      i get angry with people who complain about cats killing wild life. a well fed cat doesnt usually bother. mine wont do anything about the mouse plagues we sometimes have... underfed or wild cats have to learn to do it to stay alive, and i've read that most of abandoned ones starve to death! the people who abandon them have been taught by the media that cats are natural born killers ! if youy see you cat with a dead bird or rat, it was usually dead oir ill when they found it and ervben then they wont eat it, but will bring it to you and drop it on the veranda. i have lots of birds here , but have never seen my cat even try to catch one! the dead birds are either blackbirds or indian miners. not sure why they often die in the garden....

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    8. Lee Hatfield

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Venise Alstergren

      me neither! certain people always say that. people who only have animals they can use....and see evil in anything not useful. often their attitude to women .too

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    9. Lee Hatfield

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Steven Crook

      cats never do it in the open, like on mats. dogs do , as i know some little fluffy dogs that do that. the owners say its due to jealousy and site marking. cats always try their hardest to hide their poo..whereas the dogs pick the most prominent spot!

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    10. Steven Crook

      Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

      In reply to Lee Hatfield

      "cats never do it in the open"

      Never? Really?

      I lived with cats for the first 25 years of my life. I've seen cats shit in the middle of a vegetable patch, scratch furiously to try and cover it up and miss completely. The friend with the pot garden has SEEN cats shitting in her pots.

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    11. Steven Crook

      Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

      In reply to Lee Hatfield

      That's nonsense. The cats we kept when I was a child were well fed, two were strays adopted into the family. Of the four, two were regular hunters and were constantly bringing back live prey which they'd chase around the house and, eventually, kill. One never ate anything it caught, the other ate almost everything.

      It became my job to try and part the moggie from its prey. If the animal was badly injured I had to dispatch it. Those that looked unharmed were released.

      Things caught and killed included butterflies, mice, small rabbits and birds. Mostly birds.

      Cats are predators and instinctive hunters and killers. We've domesticated them to an extent, but those instincts remain strong in many cats.

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    12. Mark Amey

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Steven Crook

      My experience, too Steven, having to wrench a half dead bird from a well fed cat's mouth made me realise what sadistic little bastards they are.

      Ditto for the cat shit comment, too. If they love the animal so much they can keep it on their own property.

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    13. Steven Crook

      Programmer and software designer at Currently resting

      In reply to Mark Amey

      I don't dislike cats, I wouldn't give one house room because I think that it's not fair to keep them indoors all the time, but letting them out unsupervised isn't a good idea either because they kill stuff and crap in other peoples gardens.

      What irks me is the attitude of their owners, who either refuse to accept that their moggie has undesirable habits or simply shrug their shoulders and say that a cat is a free spirit so what can they do about it while expecting others to take avoiding action.

      Something amply demonstrated in some of the comments on this article.

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  7. Gregory Thomas Hargreaves

    farmer/vet

    I love cats, dogs, horses, sheep and many other species. My cat is currently purring on my lap but he is primarily worth feeding because he eliminated the mice problem that appeared after the last cat died. No wonder the Egyptians loved them, no mouse baits in those days for their granaries.
    I love my dogs especially on Saturday when one of my ewes was having difficulty lambing but still capable of 100m in 14.2s (my p.b. 17.1s). My dogs caught it and we were able then to save the ewe & lamb from certain death.

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    1. Gregory Thomas Hargreaves

      farmer/vet

      In reply to Gregory Thomas Hargreaves

      For me, some animals can be companions and workers. Racehorses interest me and although I don't have any they can be companions, both companions & livestock or just livestock for some people. Some people who have many horses can have all combinations

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  8. Gae Fenske

    logged in via Facebook

    "Perhaps we should be most troubled by those who love neither" Damn right !!

    I grew up as a girl believing that I was a totally committed dog person, but intrigued by the occasional encounter with an attractive, equally curious cat. Have always had a dog (or two, or three), but have also shared space and affection with some very interesting cats - cats are more variable in temperament and personality than dogs, but some individuals seem to choose to be loyal, loving family members, admittedly on their feline terms. My experience and observation of these clever, clean and playful creatures has been completely on the side of "vive la difference", because the differences are fascinating

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  9. Angus Martin

    Zoologist

    Much of this discussion was neatly and concisely encapsulated by James Gorman’s (1989) essay, ‘The Sociobiology of Humor in Cats and Dogs’.

    ‘The ancestors of dogs,’ he suggests, ‘ found the stresses and strains of life in a hierarchical social species unbearable. They lived in packs dominated by alpha males who pushed around all the other males. Everybody knew everybody else’s business. Nobody had any privacy. And on top of that they mated for life. Consequently, they did the only thing possible…

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  10. Dianna Arthur

    Environmentalist

    Would consider my life incomplete without a few animals around dogs, cats, birds, fish, reptiles.

    This binary cat/dog thing is a waste of time - IMHO.

    People who do not and cannot bond to animals are the worry. We have alienated our species from natural world for too long and to our cost.

    Caring for others - be they human primates or other animals has become at complete odds with our present financially driven political ideology; arguing about cat personalities and dog personalties is a distraction from living with our world.

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  11. Robert Molyneux

    Citizen at Drehmex Sales and Services

    My observations are that we humans have hands that we love to use touching stuff, and all animals like being touched, Years ago I visited an aquarium that had a little sting ray swimming around. I tried stroking its back (like velvet) and it immediately responded with apparent pleasure. I have seen a video of an ape / baboon playing with dogs, using its hands to stroke them, just like we do.

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  12. Kaye Hargreaves

    Retired

    Thanks for some interesting speculation. However, some of your assumptions are questionable.

    I have some experience to draw on, because I am a professional dog trainer and long time dog owner. However, I did also have a cat, who lived to be 17, and was the most skilled reader of canine body language that I have come across. She and my otherwise predatory German Shepherd used to sleep together, the cat curled up against the dog's neck or face.

    There have been plenty of surveys that show that the…

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    1. Brandon Young

      Retired

      In reply to Kaye Hargreaves

      Interesting reading. I am just curious as to how you handled the "under-controlling parents"? Could you change the level of control over the dog without referring to the level of control of the children? Were you able to get positive results with the dog’s behaviour?

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    2. Kaye Hargreaves

      Retired

      In reply to Brandon Young

      Thanks for your comments. It's a bit delicate of course, because it's not my job to tell people how to raise their kids. Some people make the connection themselves. Teachers often recognise what I am doing, and they will say, for example, "oh, that's what we do with the kids - distract them" or whatever the technique is.

      Kindergarten teachers will recognise "mat time".

      Yes I have a lot of success with getting good results for dog behaviour. There is one thing your dog can be doing right - lying…

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    3. Brandon Young

      Retired

      In reply to Kaye Hargreaves

      The psychology of kids, parents and pets is still fascinating to me. I guess my curiosity was sparked mainly about a corgi we had as kids, a few lifetimes ago, that was so excitable that whenever allowed inside he would knock over everything and never tire or calm down. He had what I saw as a fairly miserable life because of it, being left outside most of the time, punctuated with uncontrollable excitement, even as he grew older, of occasional visitors and some camping holidays and summers at the beach. It is a little sad to think that with some simple training – for him, for our parents, and for us fairly unruly kids - his behaviour could have been improved, and his life much more rewarding as a result. We live and learn I guess. Thanks for the response and the chance to reflect.

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    4. Kaye Hargreaves

      Retired

      In reply to Brandon Young

      Yes it is sad that problems which make the dog unbearable to live with can be solved relatively easily.

      The Lost Dogs Home a few years ago published a report saying that one of the top reasons people gave for surrendering their pets was "muddy paws".

      I "deconstructed" this by saying the dog has never been trained to follow a few simple house rules, such as come in a settle down on your mat, and sit to say hello instead of jumping all over people. Therefore the dog gets put outside. Therefore the dog gets more and more excited about coming in. The dog gets even less training because he or she is outside, to avoid contact. Except that Mum can't hang the washing on the line without being jumped on. The kids can't play outside any more without being knocked off their feet, and by the time the "Christmas puppy" has become an unruly adolescent it is winter - hence the "muddy paws".

      Unmanageable inside, unmanageable outside. Lost Dogs Home, here we come.

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    5. Gae Fenske

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Kaye Hargreaves

      I trained puppies, stubborn little Pekes at that, for the show ring, years before I ever had children to bring up.
      And shock, horror, I used what I had learned with the Pekes in my children's early years. Consistency, calm and repetition - so long as you are as consistent and calm as humanly possible, most of the time, it will work !!
      We even had a family joke - when out shopping the children could loiter for a while window shopping outside the toyshop - when I had had enough and it was time to move on to the rest of errands, I would give a short whistle signal, and tell them to "come to heel". Never failed to cause a great deal of giggling, but they came without protest. Possibly not PC, but we generally got moving again without an argument.
      Mind you, the look on the face of any passing little old lady was worth the price of admission. As a little old lady myself these days, I still think it was better to use the 'joke' than to have a battle.

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  13. Rina Cohen

    retired

    This research would have so many exceptions and caveats, I'm not sure what the point is. I've got 3 cats and 2 dogs, but what they all have in common is that they are rescue pets from shelters. Maybe researching the choice to adopt a pet from a shelter or buy it elsewhere would be more useful? Particularly to the shelters.

    For those of you who think cats are ungovernable and untrainable, you're wrong. Didga the shelter cat has been clicker-trained just like a dog by Robert Dollwet of Malibu Dog Training, who also trains dogs. He has posted videos showing how to clicker-train your cat to walk on a leash, use a flush toilet, etc etc. I don't know the guy but I'm impressed, particularly by this skateboarding video, which has gone viral - don't know how the "cats are ungovernable" camp missed it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRbakPKgU5Y

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    1. Kaye Hargreaves

      Retired

      In reply to Rina Cohen

      You are definitely right about cats being trainable. It's just a matter of finding the right training technique. They do not respond very well to the old fashioned dog training techniques based on social dominance, praise and correction (reprimand). But nor do a lot of dogs either. Or people.

      It's all about using what motivates them, and teaching them what behaviour you want. Zoo animals are trained this way, to stand on a platform to receive medication or treatment, to present a leg for an injection…

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    2. Rina Cohen

      retired

      In reply to Kaye Hargreaves

      Yes, Didga the skate-boarding cat is clicker-trained i.e. positive reward-based training. We use it in the shelter; the clicker is a very consistent sound which tells the dog (or cat) what it just did has earned it a reward (usually food). I don't think dominance-based training would be at all effective with a cat.

      But while wild animals can obviously be trained to perform in circuses, I think this is an entirely wrong thing to do, particularly as outside the ring they live miserable lives in small cages. Training a domestic animal, that makes sense.

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    3. Kaye Hargreaves

      Retired

      In reply to Rina Cohen

      Yes I agree. It is tragic to see wild animals in captivity, especially in small cages. Perhaps they need sanctuaries. The problem is they are threatened in the wild because of loss of habitat.

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    4. Kaye Hargreaves

      Retired

      In reply to Robert Molyneux

      Thanks for the link. Very cute little fox. I don't see any issue about whether it would be possible to train him. He seems eminently trainable. He seems tame, socially responsive. Presumably he eats. He is probably playful. So there is plenty to motivate him. He would probably be very entertaining to train. He looks like he would offer a lot of behaviours. The general principle with clicker training is that you can teach the animal to do anything that he is physically and mentally capable of.

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  14. Edwina Laginestra
    Edwina Laginestra is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Jack of all trades

    Thanks Nick and Beatrice for a fun article. For me the only real truism is the last para "Many people love both animals. Perhaps we should be most troubled by those who love neither." But it is really only the first step to assessing personality traits as I knew someone who was terrified of other species just due to the unreasoned fear of her Mum.

    Another commenter spoke about so many variables and I agree. Some cats I know act more like "dogs" and some dogs I've met wouldn't fit into a generalisation…

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  15. Kaye Hargreaves

    Retired

    Just another point - someone said we should be wary of people who don't like either cats or dogs (or maybe other pets).

    I do find that people who are about animals tend to care about people too, although there are some people around who seem to glorify animals because they are fundamentally disillusioned with people.

    Cruelty to animals is considered to be a predictor of harming people, a sign of the risk of psychopathic or sociopathic behaviour. On the other hand, it is also said of psychopaths…

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  16. Graham C Edwards

    Gardener

    My partner prefers dogs, I prefer cats. She is a conservative, I am an Anarchist. We have two cats, she'd been adopted by a cat shortly before our coupling and I made 'no dogs' a rule of engagement; largely because I run a plant nursery from home and dogs and gardens don't mix well. I asked her, after we'd both read the article, who the leader was in our relationship. She said that I was. That makes her the cat because it doesn't matter what I say, she'll do whatever she likes.

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