Animals bring a lot to our lives. Love, frustration, hope, a little fear. And, to be perfectly honest, a little chaos. Sometimes, more than a little. In fact, our pets can make our homes seem like a circus. Of course, life isn’t really a circus, but if it were, our dogs would be the clowns. Sweet natured, gentle little pranksters, often highly animated crowd pleasers with very distinctive looks. They have big personalities and big hearts. Plus, they love piling into cars. And in our circus, the cats would be the acrobats, graceful, beautiful, often striking poses in impossible positions. You can watch them flying through the air like furry trapeze artists, fearlessly defying both gravity and death. Is it any wonder the clowns sometimes try to emulate them?
The Root of the Behavior
It doesn’t take anything but the most basic observation to understand that dogs and cats are quite different. Cats are mysterious and sleek, quiet and nocturnal. They like to slip into tiny spaces that would seem to require the kind of flexibility only found in rubber bands and slinkies. Dogs, meanwhile, are affectionate, warm, and silly. They are often loud and they make strange noises. A dog wears her heart on her sleeve with no pretension at all. Dogs live and die for their people. Cats seem to barely tolerate our presence. In ancient Egypt, cats were revered as gods and the cat has never forgotten this.
The differences between dogs and cats go beyond personalities, of course. Dogs are built for their power and endurance. They evolved from the wolf, an apex predator built to hunt in packs, stalking, tiring, and overpowering prey. You can see this evolution in their jaws, their shoulders, and their barrel chests. Even the smaller dogs that are the results of thousands of years of human interference still have these traits. Consider the jaws of the Bulldog, or the barrel chest of the Schnauzer. You can still see, in miniature, the remnants of their ancestors
Cats come from a very different background than dogs. Anyone who has ever loved a housecat can tell you that there’s a lion in the heart of every kitty. And although we think of our cats as coming from tigers and lions on the African savannah, they are, in fact, the descendants of wildcats from the near east, the so-called “fertile triangle” where humans first began to grow and store grains. The domestication of the cat comes from the first realization that cats are very good at hunting vermin. To that end, cats are extremely flexible, and have powerful back legs, giving our domestic cats the ability to jump up to seven times their height, much greater than a dog. The ability to jump, the strong reflexes, the silent hunt; all that adds up to a superior little hunter in a cute, cuddly package.
Encouraging the Behavior
Because of the way dogs are shaped,
they can’t jump as high as cats, proportionally speaking. Additionally, dogs
don’t have the feline ability to right themselves, the ability to twist in the
air while falling in order to land on all four feet with a minimum of injury.
So not only is your dog less likely to be able to jump as high as a cat, she is
more likely to injure herself as well as knock over anything that is nearby,
such as furniture, electronics, or people. In most cases, you shouldn’t
encourage your dog to jump. But, some dogs are natural jumpers, and most dogs
jump when they’re excited, such as when you walk in the door. What can you do
about this behavior?
When your dog jumps at an inappropriate time, it’s important not to reward her behavior with attention. And remember, even negative attention is rewarding to your dog. So as difficult as it may be, don’t yell at your dog. Ignore her until all four feet are on the ground. Once she’s standing in place, then you can greet her. You can also re-direct your dog by tossing food or treats at her feet. After all, it’s hard to jump when your face is on the floor trying to vacuum up anything tasty! You can also try rolling a soft toy at her, or even a treat puzzle. Make sure that whatever you use is safe for your dog, of course, and isn’t going to damage anything it may be knocked against.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Another way to deal with your dogs urge to jump is to take indulge it safely. A jumping dog can truly be hazardous to anything or anyone when she is jumping in the living room, but if you’re outdoors, such as at the dog park or even your backyard, jumping can be a great way to burn off excess energy. And remember, a tired dog is a good dog! Try tossing a ball or a frisbee at your dog. She may very well try to catch it in mid-air, which is fun for your dog, and frankly, looks cool as heck to an observer. Remember, though, that some dogs aren’t jumpers, either because of medical concerns, such as arthritis or hip dysplasia, or because of breed restrictions, such as the straight legs of the Chow Chow.
Cats are amazing animals, but they are not dogs. We don’t expect cats to bark or fetch or engage in a lot of strenuous play. At the same time, dogs are not cats, and we shouldn’t expect them to indulge in catnip, climb trees, or assert their leadership over your household. But, with a few precautions, a dog can enjoy a taste of the acrobatic life of a cat.