Animal Behavior & Training

Cats and Dogs

Contrary to popular belief, cats and dogs can get along! Of course, it's much easier if they are exposed to each other as kittens and puppies, but even adult cats and dogs who are new to each other can learn to get along. The key is in the introductions - how you do these may well set you up for success or failure. But never despair. Even chronic cat chasers can sometimes (but not always, more's the pity) be 'taught' to leave the cats alone. Ask me about training discs, these can be remarkably effective! They are also good for getting dogs to stop chasing cyclists, cars etc.


In this set of pictures, the dog is intrigued by the kittens (top left), while the kittens are still young enough not to be too intimidated by her arrival. The dog's posture is very soft to convey friendliness, and she engages in a 'play bow' (top right) to communicate her non-aggressive intentions. Her tail is wagging - she is dying to play! The play bow is a universal canine communication to inform other dogs that every ensuing action should be taken in the context of play, rather than aggression. That way, if things get a little heated or over-excited, every dog involved will know that the intentions are not hostile.

Dogs usually take a self-imposed 'time-out' at this point (e.g. sniffing the air, looking away, standing still, shaking or scratching) to give everyone the chance to calm down before play resumes. Unfortunately, the kittens will not know what this signal means! One of the kittens is showing distinct signs of arousal with a wide, stiff stance and the hair on the tail becoming erect (bottom right). This all makes the kitten look bigger and makes it look more intimidating to a potential predator. Cats will often stand sideways on in situations like this to make themselves look even bigger.

Feline body language is much less diverse than canine, simply because cats are generally self-sufficient and do not need to co-operate with others for their survival, whereas dogs are social animals who need to be able to convey their moods and intentions in order to avoid any misunderstanding. In spite of the minefield for miscommunication between the two species, this dog quickly realises that her size may be intimidating to the kittens and lies down (lower left) to make herself as small as possible. In time, she and the kittens became close companions!

Cats and Cats


Although it may look as if the big cat is being aggressive to the little one, he is in fact being remarkably tolerant of the younger cat's advances. The kitten is still very young and does not fear new experiences. As such, he is not intimidated by the older cat, and is fascinated by his flicking tail. When the older cat has had enough of the kitten's persistence, he gently pins him down with one paw only. There is no growling or hissing, with no teeth or claws in evidence either. Muscle tone remains soft (rather than stiff and aggressive) with no pilo-erection (fur standing on end, another sign of hostility). This teaches the kitten the valuable lesson of where the boundaries of feline physical contact lie, without actually harming him or causing him any distress. Note that the kitten is entirely accepting of the situation.

See also Feline Body Language

Dogs and Dogs

Think these dogs are fighting? Look again! In fact this is classic play behavior. Note the dogs' relaxed posture and facial expressions. It may look as if the sandy coloured dog is trying to bite the black one's tail, but note that the lip is not curled back and the teeth are not on display. There is no aggression here, just dogs having fun. For more on aggressive behavior, see Canine Body Language, Canine Aggression and The 'D' Word.

This is another classic! The dog on the left looks like she's being aggressive with her bared teeth and the whites of the eyes showing. BUT, she is also doing the play bow and her tail is upright and wagging. This is actually a less confident dog in a state of conflict. She wants to play but is a little nervous of doing so. But she is not being aggressive per se. The dog on the right is not worried in the slightest. He is responding to her appropriately, recognising her anxiety and inexperience, and joining in with the game to the extent that she does not feel threatened. Note how relaxed his facial expression is, with no teeth on show and no threatening, direct eye contact. Obviously he feels no need to reciprocate by showing his weaponry. Another dog may feel intimidated or threatened by her approach, but this wise fellow is reading her signals perfectly. This picture serves to illustrate the huge potential for misunderstanding between us and our canine companions.

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