Story: Dogs and cats living together

Dogs and cats living together

While my dogs and cats don’t have the snuggle-up-with-each other, lion-lies-down-with-a-lamb kind of relationships, they get along pretty well with members of the other species.

Elsa Clair mostly ignores the dogs; she’s too busy to pay attention to them.

Dawn rubs in among Jasper’s long legs at dinner time–like walking under a furry table. In turn, Jasper barks every time Dawn growls at the other cats; he’s doesn’t like strife in the house.

Calvin rubs all the dogs all the time. I think I’d vote him Most Likely To Snuggle.

Lilah cleans cat ears, if they’ll let her.

Athena…well, Athena would be happiest if the world truly did revolve around her and there were no icky dogs that she had to look at, let alone share living space with.

But even though Athena sometimes teases Tucker by holding his Ball for ransom, and sometimes swats whichever canine happens to be trotting by, for no particular reason other than the fact that they are dogs–they all respect each other.

Dogs and cats speak different languages

The funny thing about living with dogs and cats is they each have a completely different vocabulary. I learned Dog long before I learned Cat. I lived with pups nearly all my life; cats came to join our family four years ago. I’m a keen observer of animal interactions, and now I think I’m pretty fluent in both the canine and feline languages.

But the cats and dogs are still learning how to read each other, and misunderstandings occur.

Tucker will sometimes try to play with Athena, wagging his tail and bending low in what is obvious a very gentle invitation to a game of chase. He can’t understand why she turns around and swats him in the nose with a mean-spirited hiss.

And Athena cannot imagine that Tucker does not understand her when she is perfectly clear that he is In Her Space.

What happens when they try to communicate

I was lucky enough to have my camera on hand to witness one of those interactions.

Calvin was in the small cat tree. Athena had claimed the entire window seat. Because a cat needs all that space.

Tucker sauntered by, and was considering whether to jump up on the seat to do a squirrel inventory. Because you have to keep track of those twitchy little creatures.

Athena told Tucker very clearly that the bench was hers. She had it first, and she did not feel like sharing.

Of course, all this was said with eyes and body posture.

Tucker, who was in Squirrel Mode, didn’t “hear” a thing.

Tucker would like to hop up on the bench next to Athena, who is using her eyes to say, "Oh no you don't!"

“This bench is mine.”

So he leaped onto the bench.

Calvin began cleaning himself. He wanted nothing to do with what was about to go down. Tucker was momentarily distracted by Calvin’s movement.

Meanwhile, Athena was staring daggers at Tucker. She did Not. Want. To. Move. Not for a stinky dog, anyway. If there were a cat translator, her language might not be suitable for a family-friendly blog.

The dog had no clue.

Athena the cat would really rather not share her bench with Tucker the dog.

“You. Are. In. My. Space.”

Tucker turned to look for squirrels. Athena was still shooting curses at the dog, telling him in no uncertain body language that he needs to remove his smelly self and stay outta her space.

Athena the cat doesn't want to share the bench with Tucker the dog.

“Did you not hear what I said? Get offa my bench!”

Tucker never knew the kitty vitriol that was being hurled in his direction. Athena stomped off in a huff and went to clean herself.

Tucker lay down, stretched out and continued to look for squirrels.

During the entire encounter, Tucker thought he was being courteous. If Lilah were on the bench, Tucker would have been on top of her, using her as a pillow. And Lilah would have been totally cool with that. For Tucker, sitting an entire foot away from Athena was staying out of her space.

If I hadn’t understood the language of dogs and cats, I might not have noticed the little interaction. But here’s the thing: even though they don’t really “get” each other, my pets try. They do their best, even when it doesn’t exactly work.

Maybe we humans could learn a thing or two.

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25 Comments on "Story: Dogs and cats living together"

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  1. Jan K says:

    I think we humans can definitely learn a thing or two, about getting along peaceably even if we don’t always like each other. I love to watch the interactions between dogs and cats. I had cats long before dogs though. Our household gets along similarly. They aren’t all best buddies or anything, but they tolerate each other and sometimes seem to even like each other. Luke, our 1 year old pup, doesn’t quite understand why the cats won’t play with him, so they do tend to steer clear of him or give him a swat and hiss when needed. We also need to remind him to leave the old guy, Conrad, alone, since he is kind of fragile and Luke doesn’t always take his hissing seriously enough!

  2. I can imagine that you get quite an education in animal behavior with the two species sharing space together. Observing animal behavior and communication is the most fascinating thing about living with animals. My dogs teach me so much and I learn something new every day. Just when I thought I knew it all, they’ll throw some new behavior at me. So complex, yet so simple. Great pics you shared!

  3. slimdoggy says:

    That look on Athena’s face says it all. We don’t have cats so I haven’t had to learn their language yet. And luckily both Jack and Maggie are pretty transparent.

  4. Very interesting post. It would be really neat to see this, thanks for sharing.

  5. Dogs and cats can teach humans so much, if we take the time to “listen” to them. My tabby and German Shepherd were snuggle buddies for 15 years. When my Shepherd crossed the Bridge, Miss Gitty had a stoke one week later at the age of 20. I will always believe it was brought on by a broken heart at losing her best friend, Madison. ♥

  6. Perfectly said! Having watched similar reactions in a multi-cat household that’s exactly how it went down. At home Rhette is not giving Dolly a break, he clearly does not like dogs, and she’s tried to get him to play which results in a hiss, swipe and a chase to the back porch. But I think Rhette is respecting Dolly’s space by not wanting to sit on my lap when she is up there, and not sleeping in our bed, yet. Great post! Sandra and Dolly

    • It will take a while. As long as they’re not being really mean or aggressive to each other, they’ll figure it out. In fact, it seems like they’re already starting to get the hang of it, by beginning to respect each others’ space. So happy Rhette found such a good home with you.

  7. Great post! We can’t help but drool over that ginormous window and all the window seats! SO lucky!

  8. It’s great they get along and try to keep the peace in their own ways.

  9. Emma says:

    Looks like the same window wars we have at our house, just a different house and window. We get along with the cats sometimes, sometimes we fight, it is a back and forth.

  10. My friend came to stay with us once. She’d only had cats, so she couldn’t believe what a good communicator our pup was. It’s really amazing how well they communicate, without words. It’s fascinating to watch! Love the looks Athena is giving Tucker!

    • I think dogs eventually figure out cat language. The one thing my dogs know for sure is when one of the cats is looking intently at something on the floor, it might be a food. They come running to investigate, and then are quite disappointed when it’s just a bug.

  11. With only cats in the house, we don’t get to see this kind of thing in action, so it’s really interesting to hear how the species interact!

  12. There is so much to learn from our four legged furrends! They keep everything so simplistic, yet it works. I too, can spend hours watching them interact with one another. It actually fascinates me.

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