The basic conclusion, fair or otherwise, of a recent study is that unlike dogs cats will not side with their owners against the “enemy”. Dogs shun people who behave negatively towards their owner whereas cats don’t. Perhaps the more scientific conclusion, to use the language of the study, is that domestic cats don’t ‘evualate’ the behavior of people who interact with their owner but dogs do. If a person does not help a dog’s owner when requested it is noticed by a dog which changes their behavior towards the unhelpful person whereas cats show a neutral response. Read on, please, for more details. I have another article on this.
The reason? Dogs have been bred over perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 years to work with humans in various aspects of human life and in addition they are pack animals and therefore instinctively support each other. Conversely, domestic cats are inherently solitary although over ten thousand years of domestication they have become quite sociable.
They’ve adapted to domestication and living in larger numbers which requires a greater tolerance of each other. Despite these adaptations, the inherent solitary nature of domestic cats means that they won’t come to the aid of their owner when required and in contrast to domestic dogs who do. Note: this my interpretation of the report on the study based on my knowldge of both species. Despite the study’s conclusion I am reminded of the child saved by the family cat when a dog viciously attacked the toddler. But this may be different as the cat regarded the child as one of its own I believe and not a human companion.
Here’s some more detail. The study was published in the journal Animal Behaviour and Cognition. Thirty-six cats participated. They were divided into two groups. Cats watched their owners trying unsuccessfully to open a container and requesting help from a person, an actor, sitting nearby.
In one group the cats saw the actor refusing to help while in the second group the actor helped. After each interaction the cats were offered food by the actor and by a neutral person who had also been present. The researchers repeated the experiment 4 times with each animal. Cats in both groups were happy to accept a treat from the actor and it made no difference whether they helped or did not help. And it made no difference if they were offered the treat from the neutral person.
When the researchers conducted the same experiment with dogs the animals were less willing to accept the food treat from the actor if the dogs had witnessed the actor failing to help their owner. This, it is argued, points to the fact that dogs are observant of and understand the perceived intentions of a person who fails to help their owner.
Perhaps they see them as hostile to their owner and therefore they become hostile themselves towards that person. In short, they were able to pick up the attitude or intentions of people outside the pack. That is my interpretation incidentally and it does not come from the study documentation which I have not read because they can’t access it at the moment.
News media, in this instance The Times, have interpreted this behavioural trait of domestic cat as treachery because they won’t side with their owners against the enemy. The enemy in this study are those people who failed to assist their owners.
They also claim that domestic cats are aloof, self-centred and prone to lashing out! Incorrect and a bit of fun perhaps but misleading nonetheless. This is not treachery. It is a being solitary by nature. In a further 10,000 years of domestication cats will act in the same way as dogs under the test circumstances.
Study reference details: Cats (Felis catus) Show no Avoidance of People who Behave Negatively to their Owner — Scientists: Hitomi Chijiiwa1, Saho Takagi1, Minori Arahori, James R. Anderson, Kazuo Fujita, & Hika Kuroshima. Location: Department of Psychology, Graduate School of Letters, Kyoto University, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. Corresponding author (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published online: Animal Behavior and Cognition journal.