What if cats and dogs worked together?
SZ-Magazin: Mr. Bradshaw, dog owners think dogs are particularly smart, cat owners tend to think cats. What does the expert say?
John Bradshaw: I get asked that all the time. I always evade something and say: It depends on what you expect from an animal. Anyone who wants a pet that is very close to the owner is well served with a dog. Those who prefer an animal that is independent but not ready to pay attention to them at all times are more likely to make friends with a cat.
Well, then to put it another way: which animal can you teach more?
Clearly the dogs. That has to do with the high level of attention they pay to us. When we show them something, they watch while cats look out the window.
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Would you say that dogs want to learn from humans?
Absolutely. For a long time we thought that great apes were the smartest animals out there because they were so similar to us. But it turns out that no other animal can interpret what we want from it as well as the dog.
It is said that dogs observed their owners more and more closely than vice versa.
They are even more interested in us than in other dogs. No other animal behaves like this, especially not the cat. This is probably due to the fact that we have raised dogs for centuries, if not millennia, so that they listen to us and do exactly what we want. That's the only reason why they were so useful, for example when hunting.
Does this closeness that dogs seek to us also mean that they love us? Maybe more than cats?
Clearly. But that doesn't mean cats don't love us. I am convinced that they will form social bonds with us. It is interesting to observe in the household who the cat prefers to go to. For a long time, the common answer was: to whoever feeds them, of course.
Is that wrong?
Cats feed their babies, otherwise they will not share food with anyone. So food is not something that cats make their social ties to. They form coalitions with other cats to defend themselves from enemies. This also applies to cat families that have offspring: one cat is asleep, the other is awake.
What does this mean for coexistence with people?
The signals of affection they show towards us are exactly the same as those they show towards other cats: tail stretched, head rubbing against the legs, cuddling, licking. So they socialize with us, and they probably expect our protection in return.
Does that mean conversely that cats want to protect us too?
Of course, nobody knows what cats think, but I think this explanation is plausible. In any case, it's not the food. We humans work in a similar way: children seek protection from their mother. They feel secure when they feel the body contact. Feeding is only a small part of the overall package.
Some owners see it as a token of love when their cat catches a mouse in the garden and puts it in the kitchen. A mistake?
It actually has little to do with love. In the garden, cats always run the risk of other animals, especially other cats, competing for their prey. So she brings the mouse home.
Cats keep leaving their home and looking for a new one. Loyalty looks different.
A cat's greatest need is a safe place to live and sleep. Not having trouble with other cats. Only then do we humans come into play. This can also be seen when a cat is placed in a strange environment, for example at the vet: it first examines every room and corner, completely ignoring its owner. The dogs are completely different: They don't care where they are, the main thing is that their mistress or master is by their side.
Isn't that a contradiction? If cats are as attached to their homes as you say, why do some leave anyway?
Cats hate change. If another cat or a dog comes into the house, that can be too much. A classic is the offspring in the owner family. The mother comes out of the hospital with the newborn baby, the cat disappears for a few days and is looking for a new home.
How do you find that so quickly?
Last year, together with TV people from the BBC, I fitted the cats in a residential area with GPS transmitters. The BBC has a studio with a huge screen wall. When the technicians fed in the data from the GPS transmitters, the wall was full of lines: we could see at a glance the distances our fifty cats had covered. We noticed that five of them lived in two or even three different houses. It seems that many cats are constantly on the lookout for an alternative home to which they can move in an emergency.
Would you prefer a dog?
As I said, it depends on what we expect from a pet. The loyalty that a dog shows us obliges us much more. Today we know how many dogs suffer when they are apart from us.
How do you know? And how is the pain of separation expressed?
We also learned that in an experiment in cooperation with television. 35 dogs were monitored with cameras after their owners left the home. Every third dog obviously had difficulties with the situation. Some wandered around the apartment nervously, others lay lethargic. It wasn't until they heard the owner was coming back that they jumped up and wagged their tails. A research colleague has examined the stress profiles of dogs, primarily using the hormone cortisol. The level was elevated even in those dogs that showed no external signs of stress. Only one in ten dogs had no problem with being alone.
What do you advise the owners?
There is a relatively simple training to desensitize dogs: For example, you put your car keys in your car or put on your coat - signals that alert the dog that the owner is now leaving the house. You wait a little and take off your coat or put the key on the table. After a few repetitions, the dog will no longer pay attention to the signals. Then you can leave the apartment. At first only a few minutes, then longer and longer.
Cats seek protection in humans; if you don't get it, you'll be gone quickly.
The difference between dog and cat? Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister and cat lover, said: "Dogs look up at us, cats look down at us."
Is separation anxiety normal in dogs, or have such animals experienced something bad in the past?
During the studies, we looked at the past lives of the animals concerned - there was nothing. It's quite different with aggressive dogs: we usually find the cause of their behavior in the first weeks and months of their lives. For example, a dog grows up in a lonely yard and is then sold to a family that lives in the city - this often goes wrong. Aggression in dogs means they feel insecure or afraid.
As a dog and cat expert, are you actually taken seriously by your colleagues? A self-respecting animal researcher is more likely to be out and about in the Brazilian rainforest or in the deep sea than in English front gardens.
Thirty years ago that was actually a problem, there were five or six people around the world who worked with dogs. And I was one of them.
What did you research back then?
Back then the newspapers were full of complaints about dogs leaving their piles everywhere. The little bags weren't there yet, the streets were full of dog poop. We suspected that this is how dogs communicate. That is why we studied animals in Abruzzo, which lived largely in the wild. It was found that dogs actually sent signals with their piles. Every dog leaves heaps with an individual smell.
You probably have to be a scientist to find this fascinating.
We don't just research dog droppings. There is now a great deal of interest in what goes on in the brain of animals. Some researchers in this field have previously studied gorillas and chimpanzees, but the work is expensive. As an alternative, dogs are an obvious choice. They are, as we know, very clever and easy to find. Usually an advertisement in the newspaper is enough, and the proud dog owners are already standing in line at the laboratory. A neuroscientist in the US even trained his dog to step into a brain scanner and lie completely still. Then he speaks to him via headphones and can observe which brain region lights up with which word. Absolutely fascinating!
You have also been studying cats for a number of years. What is it about them that fascinates you?
First of all, the same applies to them as to dogs: You can explore them on your doorstep and don't have to go to Africa. But there are also big differences: dogs were made into pets by humans because they were useful in hunting. Cats domesticated themselves. As it stands, ten thousand years ago they were looking to get close to the people who began to store food supplies around that time. That attracted mice and rats, which was a problem. The cats solved it. Even so, to this day, many cats are not purely domestic animals, but are also semi-wild animals.
How is that expressed?
Cats are not naturally kind to people. If they have no contact with us in the first eight weeks of their life, they withdraw from us. We suspect that there are many males roaming cities who do not belong to anyone. As soon as we look at the DNA of kittens, we can usually only assign the mother, the father is rarely found.
Is this DNA also the reason why cats still hunt birds and mice - despite whiskas and kitekat?
For sure. Up until thirty years ago, cats were even dependent on mice, because the common food contained hardly any B vitamins. They had to hunt in order to survive and to have healthy offspring.
Is it pointless to try to raise a freedom-loving animal like the cat?
In any case, there is no point in punishing cats. They seek protection from humans; if you don't get it, you'll be gone quickly.
Many cat owners get annoyed when they come home from work and the cat is spread out on the dining table? What to do?
The problem is, cats are more comfortable at height. They are vulnerable down on the ground. Above you have a better overview.
Do owners have to put up with it?
Not necessarily. There are several ways to lure them down: with a tasty bite, for example. I always had the problem with my cats that they attacked the balls on our Christmas tree. So I sprayed them with a water gun when they got near the bullets. It looks like cats hate water. However, the cat must not see where the water is coming from - otherwise the trick will not work. Mousetraps also help. You cock the trap and put it with the floor up where the cat has no business. When touched, the trap snaps shut and the cat is terrified. And will avoid this place in the future.
What do you say to dog owners who want to know how to best train and raise their darling?
As early as the 1960s there was an interesting finding: When dogs are petted by the owner, they perceive it as a greater reward than any other treat. They are also different from cats in relation to each other.
However, many dogs do not react when their master or mistress calls. Are they getting too little praise?
Life is a linear affair from a dog's point of view. When he is praised, he relates it to his final act. The same applies to punishment: punishment can be an effective training method to change the dog's behavior. But it must take place immediately after the misconduct. Unfortunately, many people are more likely to want to impress those around them by how well they have their dog under control. You go for a walk in the park, the dog runs away and attacks a child. When he then runs to the owner, he calls: "Come here at once! Bad Dog! Bad dog! ”The dog stops halfway because he realizes he's being scolded. And is wondering whether he should better stop, continue or turn back.
He assumes that he will be scolded and punished for running back to the master. So he stops.
In the Middle Ages, cats were persecuted and burned in the same way as witches.
John Bradshaw is Professor of Anthrozoology at the University of Bristol in England. He has been studying the behavior of dogs and their owners for three decades. A few years ago he also turned to research into cats. In addition, he sees it as his job to share his knowledge with the owners so that they can better deal with their pets. He published books on the behavior of dogs and cats, which were translated into twelve languages, and reached an audience of millions in his homeland with the television series he designed.(Photo: Alan Peters)
How does an owner react best when he sees that his dog is about to have a toddler?
This is of course an emergency. Nevertheless, I would argue that everything should be done to prevent this from occurring. Dogs should learn how to deal with children when they are young. Then they will react more prudently later.
Can every dog really be trained in such a way that it does not attack children? Any pit bull too?
There are dogs whose behavior simply cannot be changed. You can already see their aggression. But that is exactly where the danger lies: we believe that if a dog looks aggressive, it will attack us too. This is nonsense. Most pit bulls don't bite anyone, they can be very trusting dogs.
But some are really aggressive.
Already clear. And if a dog has bitten once, it is very likely that it will do so again. The question is, what made him bite in the first place? And that very often has to do with how this dog has been treated in the past.
So was beaten?
It is also possible that the dog was not trained at all. Unfounded aggression is rare in dogs. The breed certainly does not allow the conclusion whether a dog is biting or not. Even golden retrievers sometimes bite. I don't think much of regulations and laws that are ultimately based on the fact that certain breeds of dogs like Staffordshire Bull Terriers look aggressive. We do not issue regulations against other dogs that appear less threatening to us. This is basically racism.
Is the idea of taking dogs hard based on our misconception that they are domesticated wolves?
I would rather say that it is a misunderstanding. We have long considered dogs to be aggressive creatures to dominate. But that doesn't apply to dogs or wolves, as we know today.
So does humane education mean that the dog should not be punished under any circumstances?
Of course, dogs have to be punished in order to correct wrongdoing and to educate them. Giving a dog pain, which was recommended by many dog trainers in the past, only makes the dog fear or hate you sooner or later.
How does a dog learn not to jump at every visitor at the front door?
He usually does this because he is vying for attention. You have to work with friends and if the dog jumps on you please put your arms up, turn your face to the wall, and pay no attention to the dog. The first time the dog will pull out all the stops to somehow get the attention. But after a couple of times he'll stop doing it. This is what I mean by punishment: the dog is not getting the reward it is expecting. But he is not beaten.
After studying dog and cat behavior for so long, what do you still don't understand?
When it comes to dogs, many questions have been answered over the past few years. It is different with cats, where there is still little research. For example, I wonder why cats get along very well with some of their kind and not at all with others.
Why do you care?
For practical reasons: Many people live together in ever smaller spaces, and there are also more and more cats. So the space is getting tight for them too. People move much more than before and take their cats with them. This means that the neighborhood is constantly changing. Cats are not very well adapted to this lifestyle. If they then have to do with other cats, they find it rather uncomfortable. I would be interested in whether that can be changed. If two neighbors come to me today and tell me that their cats are fighting each other all the time, I can only guess: One of the two should part with his cat. Or they should agree to only let their cat outside when the other is in. I can't think of anything more clever.
Would you say that dogs and cats have a beautiful life today?
These are especially good times for cats. People value them much more today than in the past. In the Middle Ages, cats were persecuted and burned just like witches. Until a few decades ago, excess kittens were simply drowned. Until recently, cat food was of poor quality.That has all changed for the better. As for dogs, they obviously mean more work and fuss. Anyone who has a dog will always face the problem: Can I take my pet with me to work? And the question remains: How do we cope with the fact that our dogs don't like to be alone? Dogs love to live in large families because then there is usually someone at home. Unfortunately, such families are becoming less and less common.
Photos: Andrew B. Myers
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