Ask Professor Boo is our recurring, positive reinforcement dog training and behavior question and answer column. If you have a question that you would like to ask Professor Boo, please feel free to contact him.
Honey the dog asks:
My name is Honey, and I am a 2 year old Cockapoo. My little brother, Toby, is a cat, and he came to live with us a few months ago. He is 10 months old. We love each other, but sometimes we don’t seem to speak the same language, what’s up with that?? For example, I do lots of play bows, really obvious play bows…. does he understand I am saying let’s play?? When he wants to play, sometimes he stares at me and then flicks his ear… also, sometimes he just bolts out from nowhere and tackles me….. any insights will be gratefully accepted.
Professor Boo responds:
I can really relate to this question. I have a cat, too – her name is Freya and my daddy found her in a tree in our yard.
She likes to chase me around and sometimes jumps at me. I never play bow her because I just don’t play bow easily. My big little-brother does play bow her but since he is 85 pounds she sometimes runs from him when he does this and sometimes she just sits there and looks at him funny.
I have also observed him telling her off when he thinks she is going to get in between him and his food. She understands this very clearly and is gone is a streak of black and white fur when he does this.
From my perspective, Freya knows exactly when I want to play and she lets me know when she wants to play. The same is true with Porthos. Dante doesn’t play with her too much these days. Although cats and dogs speak different species language I think they, like humans, eventually start to understand each other.
Dante doesn’t play with Freya much these days.
But in his prime he and Merlin-the-cat were great buddies.
Play is understood as play based on the consequences that follow
If they are having fun they will recognize it as play and log that away for later reference.
Dogs and cats that don’t like each other will clearly demonstrate their intentions.
Cats can hunker down, ears back, and they may hiss. Some cats will run away. Unfortunately, this can cause the dog to chase them. My cat Freya is a funny cat and she will actually chase me around the house. I don’t especially care for that.
Dogs who don’t like cats will often try to put more distance between them and the dreaded cat by growling, barking, showing teeth, etc. Dogs will more often (except in Freya’s case) be the chaser and chase the cat sometimes in a predatory manner and sometimes to drive the cat away.
Ultimately we can know it is play by the wriggly body language and bounciness from each. Threatening body language is hard and direct – no bounciness and joy can be seen. Either animal may want to make more distance between him and the other, or want to come if for fun and play
Honey, it sounds like you are communicating with Toby very nicely.
It is possible he understands you want to play but remember cats tend to play differently – they like to lie in wait then pounce (it seems they wait until they think no one is looking – but who really knows what’s in the mind of a cat). This could be why Toby stares, then flicks his ears, and then pounces. You have told him you are no threat and would like to play and in typical cat fashion he has understood this and said, “Great, I’ll get back to you on that in my own good time…”
While these are just my observations from my doggie perspective with Freya and even years ago with Tara and Merlin you can find more about cat behavior at this web site: Cat Behavior Associates.