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Do Dogs Think Cats Are Dogs? Canine Understanding Explained

Kerry-Ann Kerr Profile Picture

By Kerry-Ann Kerr

cocker spaniel dog and cat together on couch at home

We all appreciate a little insight into how our dogs perceive the world, and you’re not alone in wondering if your dog understands that your pet cat isn’t a dog. Dogs have an incredible sense of smell and can detect that cats are different from them. However, is that the only way dogs know cats differ from them? Let’s take a look now!

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Do Dogs Know Cats Aren’t Like Them?

Not only do dogs have a fantastic sense of smell that will let them know cats aren’t like them, but cats also move and sound differently than dogs. Cats are generally light-footed, and a swishing cat tail usually indicates anger, while dogs waggle their butts to show excitement and happiness.

In 2013, a paper was published examining whether dogs can distinguish other dogs from a lineup that includes dogs and other animals. It showed that dogs were capable of recognizing dogs from looks alone. This means that if you remove their fantastic sense of smell and hearing, dogs can still tell that cats aren’t dogs, exactly as they can tell humans are also not dogs.

woman holds in her hands a brush sphinx cat and a papillon dog
Image Credit: Reshetnikov_art, Shutterstock

How Do Dogs Feel About Cats?

They’re stereotypically set up as age-old “frenemies,” but what’s the reality? How does your dog feel about your cat? The dog’s prey drive can get in the way of a good dog and cat relationship. Even toy breeds can retain hunting instincts, which you will generally notice in your dog when they chase squirrels and other animals.

Many cats will bolt as soon as they see a dog, but dogs don’t chase after the cat because they hate them; it has more to do with the sprinting cat triggering a strong instinct. However, proper training and socialization can override this instinct.

There’s also the problem of misread signals; if a dog mistakes an irritated cat’s swishing tail for an invitation to play, they might get a swipe to the nose in response. And in return, cats could understandably become mistrustful of the dog that likes to chase them around the yard.

Can Dogs & Cats Be Friends?

They’re different and can annoy one another, but that doesn’t mean they’re destined to dislike one another. Many dogs and cats can learn to live in harmony together to the point that they play and even nap together. This will require training and patience on your part. Socializing your kitten and puppy as soon as possible will help overcome suspicions and familiarize both parties to create more tolerant adults.

Training is even more important if you’re in a situation where your dog or cat hasn’t been socialized from a young age. Be aware that larger breeds have stronger prey drives and can easily hurt a cat, so start slow with training by introducing them to one another gradually. I

Initially, keeping your dog in a crate when you’re not there is best to avoid accidents. You can keep your pets in separate rooms and set up their food bowls on either side of the door. This will help them associate something pleasant, like food, with the scent they smell on the other side of the door. Then, you can introduce them to see how they interact for brief periods. Gradually, you can increase their time together if they seem to get along.

Dog and Savannah cat with together in bed
Image Credit: AJR_photo, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

Dogs do, in fact, know that cats aren’t dogs by smell, sight, and sound. This doesn’t mean that dogs and cats can’t live together or be friendly. Through socialization and training, you can ensure your dog and cat are comfortable with one another, and they can even develop a close relationship. However, the socialization process can take several weeks or months, depending on your dog’s and cat’s breed.

Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Kerry-Ann Kerr Profile Picture

Authored by

Kerry-Ann lives in Scotland and wishes her garden was bigger so she could have her very own Highland cow but thinks her dogs probably wouldn’t like that idea very much. She has a La Chon called Harry who was poorly with a liver shunt when he was a puppy. It wasn't likely he would make it into adulthood, which was difficult to comprehend, but he beat the odds and is a healthy old man now. She also has a Pug called Maddie...Read more

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