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What's the Difference between Cats and Dogs?

Posted: Sunday, June 1, 2014 at 11:55:58 AM EST by Cam Day

What's the Difference between Cats and Dogs?

Why is it so difficult to train a cat to COME or to SIT - a behaviour which a dog learns with ease?

Your dog learns this in five minutes but it could take you five weeks or more to do the same with your cat.

Nevertheless, cats will learn to use a litter tray with almost no training but to train a small dog to do the same takes more persistence than most owners can invest.

The reason for such differences is that 'what's important' to dogs is not the same as it is for cats. For a start, dogs are group animals and cats are not.

Dogs are social, gregarious creatures and are most content in a pack situation. For pet dogs, the most important pack members are usually their owners and owners who provide proper leadership for their dogs are usually viewed as pack leaders. This is the reason why dogs left alone during their owners' working hours commonly develop separation anxieties even to the extent that, when several dogs share the same household, one can still develop a severe separation anxiety in its owner's absence that is not solved by the presence of its canine buddies.

Leadership is not the same as dominance. Leadership is a compassionate, progressive process based on reward-based training. Dominance infers aggressive encounters and is mostly based on punishment-based techniques.

What's important though, is that a dog's attachment is to its group and much less to its territory. For example, a dog taken to his or her owner's work place to be with its owners will be just as happy as when it is at home. By comparison, a cat taken to its owner's workplace is usually very fearful and anxious.

Why does this difference exist?

Cats are not, generally, gregarious and do not develop strong pack structures where leadership is an important function. Wild or feral cats are mostly solitary creatures, hunting alone. While they will form groups, this is more a sharing of a common territory than the establishment of a cohesive pack.  Cats are extremely territorial and, when fights over territory occur, the result is that the loser learns to avoid that successor but not to leave the territory. Leaving the territory only occurs if aggressive encounters continue.

A Cat's Attachment is to Its Territory

So a cat's attachment is to its territory not to its group. How often have you heard the turmoils of a cat owner attempting to establish his or her cat in a newCats attachment is to its territory. home which is in the same neighbourhood as the old home? Commonly, the cat will return to the old home repeatedly.

So, dogs learn from observing and interacting with other pack members to which they are bonded. For wild dogs, such as wolves, the interactions generate a cohesive pack that hunts together successfully. Similarly, dogs learn by interacting with, and being close to, their owners. Thus, when reward-based therapies are utilised by owners for behaviours that 'group the pack' such as 'COME' (closer) and 'SIT' (close to me) - the dogs respond readily. It's part of their innate behavioural coding.

For cats, that's just not important.

Wolf cubs also learn what behaviours to avoid by the growls and snaps received from higher-ranking pack members, so punishment can be effective as a training tool but rarely will punishment drive a wolf cub away from the pack - the lure of group dynamics is just too strong. For this reason, a dog continually punished by its owners shows appeasement behaviours where the dog is effectively saying 'don't hit me again'. Sadly, most people assume this is 'guilt' response and the punishment continues.

Punishment should be avoided. When your dog does something 'wrong' look for the 'invisible' behaviour - the one your dogs should be showing in that situation.

Then create that, reward it, and then re-create the same behaviour several times. That way the wanted behaviour will grow and the unwanted behaviour will wilt.

There is another difference between cats and dogs. Cats live in a three-dimensional world because they can jump and climb, whereas dogs exist more in two dimensions. So the concept of 'flight or fight' becomes important.

Cats climb to hunt and to escape. Dogs can't do this well so hunting mostly requires a pack to be effective. For the same reason, dogs use assertive forms of aggression (fight) because flight is more difficult. By comparison, cats tend to develop flight responses to harmful stimuli because they are agile enough to escape.

What does all this mean?

To establish the correct pack environment at home, an owner should provide his or her dog with proper leadership.

Cats are more attached to their territory than their group, so provision of a secure and comfortable territory is more important to them. Food provided helps!

Dogs learn readily when leaders do things that enhance attachment (such as the 'COME' command).

Dogs will learn from punishment but it confuses them.

Cats don't learn from punishment - they avoid the source, for example their owners.

Achieving behaviour change with cats is often a compromise - find out what the cat wants, provide it first and then try to progressively change the established behaviour to fit your needs.

Despite all of the above, the real difference between cats and dogs can be summarised easily; 'My dog looks at all the things we provide for her and says to herself  'You must be God'.

My cat looks at all the things I provide for him and says to himself 'I must be God'.




Comment by: Christina Malinowski
Jun 2, 2014 at 9:09 PM
I've managed to teach my young cat a few commands, including sit, up, beg, come here, and down. She also walks on a leash and comes when called by name. I've found that, by working with her natural behaviour for short periods of time on a regular basis, she is very responsive. Don't know if this is what the books say you should do (because I've just gone on what feels comfortable for us), but it seems to suit both of us and work. Definitely a myth that cats can't be trained.
Comment by: Cam Day
Jun 2, 2014 at 12:36 PM
Thanks Lynne and Gaille. Lynne - how true your 'almost human' comment is. That's why we love the ratbags so much. Gaille you are correct that comparing dogs and cats is like comparing apples with oranges but they both taste good. (Opps not that I'm suggesting we eat our pets!) Cheers and keep your noses wet. Cam
Comment by: Cam Day
Jun 2, 2014 at 12:34 PM
Thanks Oliver. Good comments! Cheers to all at Clear Dog Training.
Comment by: Oliver Beverly
Jun 2, 2014 at 10:59 AM
One of the main reasons that cats are not quite so easy to train as dogs is they don’t have as long an attention spans as dogs and get bored quicker. Secondly, other than food, they don’t have nearly so many things that motivate them such as a tennis ball, a tug toy or going for a walk. In the old days of traditional command based “do-it-or else- you’ll –get-into- trouble” type training that was used with dogs and horses most people just didn’t believe they could train cats so they didn’t even bother to try! However, now that positive reinforcement training combined with a marker signal like a clicker has proved so successful for dogs (they can learn in ten minutes what takes ten weeks with correction based training) owners are training cats, horses, chickens and goldfish with spectacular results. Karen Pryor, one of the pioneers of clicker training in the 80s and co-founder of TAGteach for people, wrote an excellent book on how she trained her own cats using acoustical guidance. Another even better book is ‘Cat Training in Ten Minutes’ ( One reader reviews it on Amazon as follows: “I would have given it 6 stars if Amazon had that many. This is an excellent book on cat training. I've been working with my cat based on information from dog-training websites, and I'm delighted to finally have instructions specific to cats (yes, there are differences). This book takes you step by step through teaching a cat to do almost anything, including walking on a leash and sit/stay. The behaviors are presented in concise, manageable sections, broken down into steps when necessary, and illustrated with very clear photos.” Another difference? Dogs drool, cats rule – but, no doubt about it, with a change in mindset (it-simply- can’t- be –done- so –why- bother-trying) with know-how and commitment all cats can easily be trained!
Comment by: Lynne Johnston
Jun 2, 2014 at 6:37 AM
What you have said about the difference between cats and dogs is spot on. Our cat, Bertie is now 12 yrs and from the start really showed no sign of aggression even toward other cats.It was almost like she invited strays to come meet the family. Of course the dogs being protective of her said this is not on so they stepped in and made sure no stranger was welcome. The dogs in particular Amos, had been a battle of who's boss (mum) and is now a brilliant little man who is so sensitive and loving. I do worry sometimes that he is almost human as he grew very fond of husband after his (hubby) operation. He shows leadership toward other dog when she comes near and I have to be gentle but firm with him not to use aggression. It's a fine line and I am winning
Comment by: Gail Fleming
Jun 1, 2014 at 8:00 PM
It's like comparing apples and oranges.
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