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Why Does My Dog Act Like a Cat? Unraveling the Mystery of Canine Copycats - PawSafe

Why Does My Dog Act Like a Cat? Unraveling the Mystery of Canine Copycats

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why does my dog act like a cat

So, you’ve noticed your dog seems to be a bit confused about its species identity — it’s sprawled out on the windowsill, and hold on, was that a purr? Before you make a vet appointment to check if there’s a cat trapped in your dog’s body, let’s talk about why Sparky might be channeling his inner feline. It might just be a case of quirky personality or, who knows, maybe a sign of evolution? Cats are cool, and perhaps your doggo got the memo. In fact, many owners seem to think their dog believes they are a cat!

Your pup’s odd cat-like behavior could stem from a variety of reasons. Maybe it’s their way of expressing independence. Dogs, like humans, have their own personalities and idiosyncrasies. Some like to fetch and bark at squirrels, while others prefer the high vantages and serene solitude often favored by our whiskered friends. If your dog is lounging in sunlit spots and trying to squeeze into boxes way too small, don’t fret just yet—it might just be a phase, or perhaps it’s a secret canine plot to win over the Internet, one cat-like antic at a time.

To make sure you get the most expert explanation of this behavior, we consulted Dr. Bonnie Beaver, author of Canine Behavior Insights and Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of the Social Lives of Dogs. So let’s dive in.

Contents show

Key Takeaways:

  • Dogs mimic behaviors from their environment or companions.
  • Some dogs may act a bit like cats, but that does not mean they think they are a cat
  • Bonding with a cat can lead to cat-like behaviors in dogs.
  • Certain dog breeds naturally exhibit cat-like characteristics.
  • Dogs may use “cat acts” for attention or affection.

Do Some Dogs Think They are Cats?

Some dogs definitely exhibit behavior that makes you think they’re channeling their inner cat. Snubbing the average doggo activities like playing fetch for a good sunbeam nap? Sounds pretty catty! However, just because a dog behaves a little like a cat does not mean that think they are one. Dogs simply have individual behavioral quirks that can overlap with felines, especially if they are raised with cats.

However, dogs don’t have the same understanding and concepts of species the way humans do. Therefore, they can’t really think they are cats. We don’t understand everything about how dogs see themselves in the world (self awareness). But we do know dogs are pack animals, so they may see cats as part of their pack. But thinking of themselves as being cats means that they need to understand complex concepts like what different species are, so it’s not likely that dogs are able to hold this belief.

Dog Behavior Basics: Where Does It Overlap With Felines?

reasons why dogs act like cats

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, let’s just say — if your dog’s sneaking around like a ninja and pouncing on toys, they might just be part cat! Just kidding. But really, sometimes your pup’s actions could have you wondering which furball you’re dealing with.

Pack Mentality Versus Independence

Dogs are known to be social butterflies of the animal kingdom, thriving in packs and looking to you, their human, to lead the parade. They need attention, scratches behind the ears, and belly rubs to keep their tails wagging. However, on occasion, you might catch your pooch being a bit of a lone wolf, exhibiting independence that’s mighty cat-like. This is when your dog decides that your plans are not as intriguing as their plans, like lounging in a sunbeam or being picky with the new dog food.

Dog Pack BehaviorCat-like Independence
Looks to owner for cuesDoes their own thing
Enjoys group activitiesPrefers solo adventures
Seeks approvalCouldn’t care less

Looking at Body Cues: Why Cats and Dogs Don’t Speak The Same Language

One thing to remember is that dogs and cats actually don’t speak the same language, and this is on reason they often misread each other. 

Here’s a brief table comparing dog and cat body language:

BehaviorDog Body LanguageCat Body Language
Raised TailAggression or ownershipFriendliness or happiness
Flattened EarsFear or submissionFear, irritation, or anger
Exposed BellyTrust or comfortTrust or seeking attention
Purring/GrowlingGrowling: aggression/discomfortPurring: contentment, relaxation

This comparison shows how similar behaviors can have different meanings in dogs and cats, highlighting the distinct ways each species communicates.

Natural Dog Behaviors Mimicking Feline Actions

Let’s talk about some behaviors where your dog might be channeling their inner feline. Have you seen your dog perched up high on the back of the couch, surveying their kingdom? That’s prime cat territory! While it’s not their natural habitat, some dogs have learned the joys of a good vantage point. And how about when they use those paws to carefully bat at a toy or a treat? Yep, that’s pretty much a page out of the cat playbook.

  • Climbing to high places: Though not as graceful as cats, some dogs love the view up top.
  • Using paws to manipulate objects: They’re not knitting a sweater, but those paws can be quite dexterous.

Understanding these behaviors in your dog can be amusing and occasionally puzzling, but it’s all part of the joy of living with these furry enigmas. Your dog might not be whispering meow, but they sure can act like they’re auditioning for the role of a cat in their next life.

The Curious Case of Canines with Cat-like Tendencies

Sometimes dogs pick up behaviors that have you wondering if they’re going through an identity crisis. Your pooch might be less of a barker and more of a sunbather, or perhaps they fancy the top of the couch over your lap.

Species Identity Confusions

When your dog starts acting like a cat, climbing furniture or showing a peculiar passion for high perches, it might seem like they’re a tabby trapped in a terrier’s body. This quirkiness often springs from their personal experiences rather than a species mix-up. For instance, if they’ve grown up with cats around, they’re bound to imitate their feline friends.

  • Imitation: Your dog may:
    • Pounce on toys like a cat.
    • Prefer perches with a good view.
  • Environment: Plays a role.
    • A dog raised with cats might adopt their behaviors.
    • Canine curiosity can mimic that of a cat’s.

Personality Over Breed Stereotypes

Remember, your dog’s personality is unique, and it doesn’t always align with their breed’s stereotype. You might have an introverted retriever who enjoys their own company or a sociable Shiba Inu that seeks out your attention like a needy kitty.

  • Independent Streak: Your dog might:
    • Seek solitary relaxation spots.
    • Engage in solo play, foregoing the usual doggy roughhousing.
  • Social Butterflies: Or they might:
    • Seek affection on their own terms.
    • Enjoy being in the limelight, just like a social cat.

Your dog’s cat-like behaviors are just a part of their charm. So, while they may not meow, don’t be surprised if they find the warmest spot in the house and claim it as their own cozy kingdom.

Observing Your Dog’s Daily Activities

To get to the bottom of your dog’s cat-like behavior, grab a notepad and let’s play detective by tracking their day-to-day antics.

Perching and Climbing

A Bernese Mountain dog climbing a tree like a cat

If you’ve spotted your doggo eyeing the top of your furniture with a mischievous twinkle, you’re not alone. Dogs that prefer the high ground, much like their feline counterparts, often do so for a better view or just to escape the floor-level hubbub.

Where does your pup perch?

  • Couch backrest;
  • Window sill; and
  • High bed.

Grooming Habits: Why Do Dogs Groom Themselves Like Cats?

Does your four-legged friend lick their paws and then wipe their face? That’s a page straight out of the cat playbook! Dogs typically don’t groom for cleanliness like cats, but if yours does, it might be a sign of comfort or mimicking behaviors they’ve seen.

Common dog grooming actions mimicking cats:

Hunting, Stalking, and Pouncing

A wild Coyote pouncing in the grass like a cat

Watch out for the wiggle-butt stance before a playful pounce – it’s not just for cats! When your pooch stalks their toys (or a light beam), they’re tapping into their primal instincts. Herding dogs in particular love to stalk another animal or person just like a cat does. This cat-like behavior is a fun mix of exercise and instinct.

Pounce Checklist:

  • Sudden, low crouches and stalking;
  • Stalking movements; and
  • Quick, playful leaps onto unsuspecting toys.

My own rescue dog, Josie, loves to pounce to hunt mice. In the long grass, she hops in the air like a cat to make the mice scatter out of their hiding spots. While this looks like cat behavior, it’s really quite common for wild canines like foxes to pounce in the air chase prey out of hiding.

Social Interactions and Play

A Terrier pouncing on his ball like a cat pounces

Your dog might be the life of the party or a lone ranger, and their play behavior can often resemble that of a cat, tapping into their unique personality.

Interaction with Other Pets

If your dog often watches other pets from a distance before engaging or prefers a stealthy approach to playtime, they’re showcasing some cat-like tactics! Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Observation: Just like a cat, your dog may observe their playmates before pouncing in a playful manner, showing calculated interaction.
  • Chasing: Engaging in light-hearted chase that mimics predatory behavior, similar to a cat’s, but remember, it’s all in good fun with them.

Solo Playtime

A Weimaraner dog pawing the air like a cat

When your dog plays alone, they may exhibit behaviors that have you thinking you’ve got a small lion rather than a pup on your hands.

  • Pawing Objects: Watch as they bat objects around with their paws, a totally cat move.
  • Climbing: Some dogs may even attempt to climb furniture or find high-up vantage points, a classic feline maneuver.

Playtime is when your pooch gets to show their inner feline, combining their doggy joy with a splash of cat-like intrigue!

Environmental Influences on Dog Behavior

Sometimes, your furry buddy picks up habits that leave you scratching your head, like why they’re channel surfing on the couch instead of digging in the yard. Let’s peek into how your home life plays into those doggy quirks.

Household Dynamics

Your dog’s antics might mirror that of a cat if you’ve got a feline in the mix. Dogs are pretty social and often start mimicking the behaviors of their housemates, be they humans or other pets.

Common Household Influences:

  • Cats in the home: Dogs often imitate their feline friends, leading to cat-like behavior.
  • Shared spaces: Dogs lounging on windowsills or high places often do so to get a better view, a typical cat move.

Owner Behaviors and Reinforcement

You’ve heard of ‘monkey see, monkey do’, right? Well, it’s ‘human do, doggo does too’ in your house. If you’re rewarding Fluffy for perching on your lap like a cat, you’re giving a thumbs-up to continue.

Ways You May Reinforce Cat-like Behavior:

  • Positive attention: Praise or treats when your dog engages in feline behavior can reinforce it.
  • Repeating actions: Regularly encouraging behaviors like using scratching posts or playing with cat toys.

Another way a dog may act like a cat is by suddenly being active night. Dogs are most diurnal, meaning they are more active in the day, while cats are nocturnal. So see this article if your dog is hyper at night, as it could be medical or behavioral problem. 

Health and Nutrition

Your pooch might be more of a feline-fanatic than you think, and it’s not just about copying your tabby’s cool cat moves. What you fill their bowl with and some underlying health stuff can play a big part.

Effects of Diet on Behavior

Think of your dog’s diet like fuel for a car. If you put in top-notch gas, you’ll get a smooth ride, right? Now, if your dog munches on high-protein kibble that’s similar to a cat’s natural carnivorous menu, don’t be surprised if they start pouncing on toys or scaling the sofa. Why? Proteins can rev their energy levels, just like a cat with a burst of zoomies.

  • High protein: Inspires lively antics, much like our whiskered friends.
  • Taurine: An amino acid often abundant in cat food, taurine can affect heart health and vision, which might indirectly influence cat-like behaviors.

Medical Conditions Mimicking Cat Behaviors

Sometimes, it’s not just quirky personality traits but actual health issues that have your dog acting like a stealthy cat. For instance, if they’re seeking out high places more often, it could be a sign they’re trying to escape discomfort on the ground level due to arthritis or other painful conditions.

  • Hyperthyroidism: Rare in dogs, but can cause hyperactivity and cat-like energy.
  • Cognitive Dysfunction: Older dogs might get confused and exhibit behaviors that aren’t the norm for them, including imitating other animals.

Remember, if your pup is channeling their inner kitty a bit too convincingly, have a chat with your vet to rule out any health hiccups!

Training and Discipline

Training and discipline can make a world of difference if your pooch is a kitty at heart.

Training Dogs with Feline Traits

Your dog may be climbing the curtains or prowling the countertops like a cat. To address these feline quirks, specific training steps are needed. Positive reinforcement is your best friend here. When you catch your pup acting like a pooch (say, fetching a ball instead of batting at it), a treat or a cheerful “Good dog!” can work wonders. Make a list of dog-like behaviors you want to encourage:

  • Fetching toys;
  • Walking calmly on a leash; and
  • Responding to dog-specific commands, like “sit” and “stay”.

Keep sessions short and fun, so it doesn’t feel like a cat-astrophy for your dog.

Setting Boundaries and Routines

Cats may have the luxury to lounge and leap without borders, but dogs thrive with a bit of structure. Set clear boundaries in your home. Use a straightforward “No” or gentle redirection to discourage counter-surfing. It sounds like herding cats, but with consistency, your dog will catch on.

Here’s a simple routine table to help your canine companion:

MorningBathroom breakReward for proper spot
AfternoonPlaytime/WalkFocus on doggy games
EveningQuiet time/TrainingReinforce ground rules

Your dog might have feline flair, but with these training tips and routines, you’ll have a well-behaved best friend who knows they’re part of Team Dog.

Understanding and Embracing Uniqueness

A Shiba Inu dog lying down known for acting like a cat

You might have noticed your furry friend perching on the windowsill, batting at objects, or showing an uncanny independence like a cat. Fear not! You’re not in an episode of ‘Dogs Gone Wild’. Your pooch isn’t having an identity crisis; rather, it’s a sign of their one-of-a-kind persona.

Yes, Rover is Unique! Just like humans, your dog’s behavior is a mix of genetics and environment. Perhaps they grew up with a cat sibling or their breed has cat-like tendencies. Here’s what might be going on:

  1. The Copycat Phenomenon: Animals often mimic behaviors of their companions.
    • If you have a cat at home, your dog might just be a copy-pooch!
  2. Breed Traits: Some dog breeds, like Basenjis or Shiba Inus, are known for behaviors typically attributed to cats.
    • They climb.
    • They’re super clean.
    • They cherish their alone time.
  3. Personality Quirks: Dogs have personalities as diverse as we do.
    • Shy or Reserved? Some prefer to watch the world from high perches.
    • Playful or Curious? Others might engage in cat-like play.

So, What Can You Do? Celebrate it! If your dog thinks it’s part cat, it’s truly one of a kind. Get them climbing structures or toys typically for cats and watch them express their joy.

  • Encourage their behavior with treats and affection.
  • Provide plenty of opportunities for them to be their fabulous selves.

Remember, your dog’s quirky behavior is what makes your bond special — a constant reminder that normal is just a setting on the dryer. Embrace their uniqueness and you’ll both be purring with happiness, or should we say, wagging with contentment!

Why do Huskies Act like Cats?

A Husky dog behaving like a cat and sleeping with a cat on a sofa or couch

Huskies (and some other breeds like Shiba Inus) might just be the feline impersonators of the dog world. Your husky’s love for independence is strikingly similar to that of a cat. They carry themselves with a sense of self-sufficiency, rarely seeking out help unless it’s really needed. And when it’s time to connect, they’ll be vocal about it. Huskies don’t just bark; they meow for meals with a finesse that would make any cat proud.

Their training sessions might remind you of trying to ask a cat to follow commands — challenging at best. The independent streak in huskies often translates to a preference for making their own choices rather than following strict orders, echoing the choosy nature of our whiskered friends. This stubbornness often leaves even seasoned trainers scratching their heads in bemusement. The feline-like demeanor isn’t just amusing; it’s part of the expressive nature of huskies, adding to their dramatic flair.

Huskies don’t just act like cats; they often embody the spirit of them, with a vocal range ready for any Broadway stage. Their melodious howls and mysterious mews create a symphony that tells the tale of their unique character, much like how cats communicate their needs in enigmatic ways.

This behavior isn’t just for show, either; it’s rooted deep within their lineage. Huskies were bred to be resilient and self-reliant, qualities that are necessary for survival in harsh environments — characteristics undeniably shared with cats, masters of adapting and thriving solo. So next time your husky looks at you with that familiar independent glint, remember that you might just have a little tiger on your hands, wrapped in a fluffy dog package.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When your dog starts acting like a cat, you might wonder if there’s a mix-up in the pet department. Let’s tackle your burning questions one by one.

What’s up with pups acting all feline? Certain breeds like to do that, maybe?

Absolutely, some dog breeds have more cat-like behaviors. For instance, your Basenji or Shiba Inu may not be meowing, but they sure love an independent streak and can be pretty picky about affection.

Could it be that my doggie has a secret identity as a whisker-sporting, yarn-chasing feline?

It’s not so much a secret identity; your pup might just share some behavioral quirks with cats. Maybe Rover found out that yarn balls are just as fun as chew toys.

Why does my furry friend groom like a kitty instead of a canine companion?

Dogs sometimes groom like cats as part of their self-cleaning routine. If your pup is licking their paws and then wiping their face, they’re just keeping tidy, cat-style.

So, one cat gets puppy love but the other gets the cold shoulder? What gives?

Dogs are picky with their pals, just like you are with your two-legged friends. They might vibe with one cat’s personality and not jive with the other’s cattitude.

Why does my pooch prefer perching on high spots like a cat plotting world domination?

High spots give your pooch a great view, and let’s face it; it’s probably comfier up there away from the floor. Plus, surveying their kingdom gives them a sense of security — or maybe they’re plotting to steal the cat’s thunder. Who knows?

Final Thoughts

Your dog’s cat-like antics might have you thinking you’ve got a “furtive feline” on your hands, and hey, that’s part of their charm! Here’s the scoop:

  • Playfulness: If they’re climbing everywhere, they might just be in it for the fun. It’s like your home is their very own amusement park.
  • Social Habits: Say they’re a little reserved, preferring solo playtime. Could be a case of “me, myself, and I” — no offense taken.
  • Nap Style: Notice they’re all about those high-up, hard-to-reach nap spots? They’ve simply got a taste for the penthouse suite life.
  • Grooming Galore: If they lick their coat clean, it’s not for a catwalk career — it’s just their version of a spa day.

Keep in mind: Each pooch is a unique blend of traits, no matter how quirky. Your tail-wagger’s cat-like behavior is just one part of their doggone delightful personality. Embrace their inner kitty; it’s part of the laugh-out-loud joy of pet parenthood.

Remember, it’s not a doggy dilemma, it’s a tail-wagging twist. Enjoy the blend of canine loyalty with a dash of feline independence. After all, why settle for one pet personality when you can have the best of both worlds?

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.