Have you ever seen your dog perch himself on the arm of a couch? Does he chase lights or laser dots? Does he floppily lay down and give no effort to his form? Does he walk across your lap like you’re just another piece of furniture? Has he jumped on furniture, like a table, just to walk across it? Can he curl up in a ball, ready to sleep anywhere? Has he ever purred?
If you answered yes to any of those, it’s very possible you have a dog that acts like a cat. Don’t worry, this is not a cat-atsrophe, you still have a dog.
The Root of the Behavior
Some dog breeds are more cat-like than others. If you’re strictly a dog lover and think cats are only good for scratching, being picky, chasing mice, dismissing you, and jumping on furniture, you’re missing some of the good qualities. Cat characteristics that make them loveable include loyalty, affection, cuddling, assertive, self-confident, and smart. You might be thinking that your dog has those characteristics, too, but some dog breeds have these to the point where their behavior mimics a cat.
Dogs like Vizsla, Basenji, Shetland Sheepdog, Manchester Terrier, Italian Greyhound, Whippet, Poodle, Mi-Ki, and Shiba Inu are more likely to demonstrate cat-like behavior than other breeds. These dogs can have cat-like lounging and grooming behaviors, too. Cats also have a tendency to think they run the show and are very self-assured, which some of these breeds also demonstrate.
If you don’t have one of those breeds, but your dog still acts like a cat, it might be because of a feline-canine cohabitation or even friendship. Both cats and dogs can pick up each other’s behaviors, and their humans, too. Mimicry is when a dog mimics the behavior of another. Dogs can also experience emotional contagion, which is when emotions seen in one dog are passed to another. Humans experience this too; you smile when someone else smiles or if someone is laughing and in a good mood, you laugh, too.
Research shows that dogs who are familiar with other dogs or humans mimic the behaviors more. While there is no definitive research or even hypothesis as to why your dog is acting like a cat, it could be that he is mimicking the behavior he sees. Your dog might watch your cat lay on the arm of the couch or even the top of the couch and think it looks comfy. Suddenly, that’s his new favorite spot. He might watch your cat’s grooming habits and start feeling undergroomed, so maybe he starts grooming himself more. If Garfield sits on your lap and gets petted by you for a long time, your dog probably wants some of that too, which is why the oversized canine climbs into your lap. He wants some snuggles, too! As your dog sees these behaviors and the potential benefits, he tries them himself.
Encouraging the Behavior
You might be a dogs rule and cats drool kind of person, but somehow ended up with a dog who acts like a cat. This means you might get more snuggles, lots of loyalty, a distinct and self-assured dog personality, and a very affectionate pup. That’s some pretty sweet stuff.
Like everything, too much of something is not always good. Some undesirable cat behaviors can include jumping on the counter or tables, running the household, sitting in inappropriate places, and being too smart and self-assured. If your dog has these behaviors, you might find yourself with a very large, defiant cat. One distinct difference between dogs and cats is dogs are much more easily trained.
You want to discourage these behaviors. Your dog shouldn’t be jumping on your dining room table or kitchen counter, climbing to the top of furniture, or sitting in your lap if he’s 50 pounds. And while cats can assert themselves and are clever, they are also small and run away if scared. Your cat might assert himself to own the house by climbing on things, peeing outside the litterbox, or getting under your feet until he gets a treat. However, if your dog demonstrates these behaviors, it’s signs of dominance and this is where the cat-like behavior needs to be altered.
You don’t want to create a situation where your dog is the Alpha in the household. If your dog is demonstrating a behavior that you do not like, you need to train him to stop. Cat owners typically have a spray bottle of water or noises cats don’t like to deter them from their behavior, but the truth is these will probably not work on your dog. Even if your dog acts like a cat, you need to have specific dog training techniques to eliminate unwanted behaviors.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Every animal has a distinct personality and if your dog tends to think he’s a cat, it’s just part of who is he. Maybe he purrs, maybe he snuggles, or maybe he just wants you to scratch his head. It’s what you allow as a dog owner that decides what behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable. Unless he’s doing damage, being unnecessarily aggressive or dominant, or is making himself unhealthy, there isn’t too much cause for concern.
If a negative behavior is happening, however, take him to the vet or a trainer for tips or a check up. Your dog is still a dog and has different needs than a cat and he should respond to dog behavior training.
Your dog might be purrfect as a cat and you’ll just have to love him as he is. Make sure you are still in charge and you can have kitty cat-like snuggles all the time. The Disney film “The Aristocats” made an excellent point that your dog probably picked up on, “Everybody wants to be a cat, because a cat's the only cat who knows where it's at.”
By a Miniature Yorkie lover Stephanie Molkentin
Published: 02/15/2018, edited: 01/30/2020
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