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Why Dogs Don't Like Cats: Explaining the Furry Rivalry - PawSafe

Why Dogs Don’t Like Cats: Explaining the Furry Rivalry

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why dogs don't like cats

Dogs and cats often get a bad rap for not getting along, but it’s not that they inherently dislike each other. It’s more about their different instincts, behaviors, and social cues. But contrary to what cartoons may have us believe, dogs’ aversion to cats isn’t a foregone conclusion. To understand the reasons that dogs hate cats, we need to look at their history, early experiences, temperament, and instincts.

Dogs live in packs and have a social order. Some dogs may view the cat or kitten as a threat or food, based on their personality and history. On the other hand, cats prefer to be alone and might feel scared or anxious around dogs because dogs are social and larger. Cats and dogs communicate differently, so a calm cat might seem aggressive to a dog. This often causes misunderstandings between the two pets.

Over time, dogs and cats often become friends and bond. It’s all about understanding their instincts and facilitating positive interactions between them. By putting together expert sources such as the 2015 AAHA Canine and Feline Behavior Management Guidelines, we have put together a deep dive into the reasons why dogs don’t like cats. So, let’s jump right in.

Here’s the scoop:

  • Instincts: Dogs have predatory instincts that can make cats look like the perfect chase buddies. This can lead to tension, even if Fluffy isn’t feeling the playtime vibes.
  • Socialization: If a dog isn’t exposed to cats early on, they may not know how to interact with them appropriately when they cross paths later on in life.
  • Communication: We’ve got to admit, dogs and cats have different body languages. A dog’s friendly wag can seem like a challenge to a cat, and a cat’s leisurely tail flick can send the wrong signals to a pooch.

What can we do? A smooth introduction is key. Taking it slow and controlled can ease the transition from strangers to pals (if that’s even in the cards). But remember, each dog (and cat) is an individual with their own personality and history. So, while it’s normal for some dogs to give a cold shoulder (or a curious sniff) to cats, others might just surprise us with a paw of friendship. It’s all about the chemistry between the two.

Factors That Cause Conflict Between Dogs And Cats

Two Husky dogs with strong prey drive on a dual leash harassing a hissing cat

Several factors affect whether or not cats and dogs get along.

1. Evolutionary History

Dogs and cats evolved with humans, adapting to their environments and forming relationships with us. Their paths to domestication differ due to their ancestral history and how they became domesticated. Despite this, they have always been important in people’s lives and homes.

Let’s look at little deeper into why their evolutionary history can put them at odds with one another.

Competition between predators in the wild

In the wild, canids and felines stem from different branches of the predator family tree. Canids have traditionally been pack hunters, relying on group strategies. Meanwhile, cats are generally solitary hunters.

Cats and dogs have always competed for resources in the wild, like food and territory, which created a natural sense of rivalry. Because of this, they often harass each other and even kill each other to make sure they can’t compete for prey. This ancient competition has trickled down evolutionary lines, possibly influencing today’s domestic pets not getting along.

Domestication of Dogs

Dogs were the first domesticated animals, with evidence suggesting this began around 15,000 years ago. Our relationship began when wolves, their ancestors, gained advantages by being near and working with humans. The key point is that dogs evolved symbiotically with humans. This means it benefitted both species to work together to survive.

Over time, the wolves changed into dogs. They picked traits that helped them get along with us, like being easy to handle and helping us hunt. This relationship with humas was so beneficial, that some argue that wolves likely domesticated themselves by following around humans hunter gatherers for food.

Conflict in evolutionary traits

Cats were domesticated around 9,500 years ago. So, they still have their wild solitary and territorial instincts. This is why cats can become feral much easier than dogs can. Unlike dogs, evolutionary theorists believe that humans forced cats to live with them to hunt vermin. This means cats are not really fully domesticated.

So, dogs enjoy being with others and working together. In other words, they are more cooperative. However, cats prefer to be alone and do things independently and don’t naturally want to cooperate with humans or other animals. This difference in preference can lead to conflict in personalities and temperament. It’s a bit like an obnoxious extrovert and a sensitive introvert being forced to co-exist.

2. Predatory Behavior

In the wild, the ancestors of modern dogs were apex predators. This means that their survival depended on chasing and capturing prey. So dogs still tend chase smaller, fast-moving animals, that trigger their prey drive. When we see a dog chasing a cat, it usually displays a diluted form of this predatory drive.

Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, German Shepherds, and Terriers are herding and hunting dogs. They have a strong instinct to stalk and chase (and even to grab and kill). When they see a small moving furry creature like a cat, they often give chase. This is called a dog’s prey drive, and some dog breeds have a stronger prey drive than others. This is why a laid-back Havanese may be less prone to chasing a cat than a high-energy German Shepherd dog.

3. Territorial Tendencies

Dogs are also naturally territorial, leading to aggression, even toward other dogs. They see their home and the area around it as their own space. They might see cats as intruders, just like a pack of wolves may see a mountain lion as threat.

Dr. James Serpell, from the University of Pennsylvania, writes in his book, The Domestic Dog, that dogs have a strong sense of smell. They mark their territory by urinating to communicate and keep other animals away.

Dogs and cats can start fights by marking their territory to claim it as their own.

Dogs that are protective of their space might not get along with cats. They view cats as intruders. This can be very dangerous for a stray feline wandering into a dog’s yard.

4. Socialization and Interaction

We’re unpacking how dogs and cats interact with their world differently. These distinctions play a pivotal role in their social behaviors.

Canine Social Structures

Compared to feline independence, canine independence varies based on the breed and individual dog. As descendants of wolves, dogs also have a social nature rooted in pack behavior.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean complete independence or solitude. Dogs can be more independent or dependent, depending on their genes, how they were raised, trained, and their personality.

However, some breeds are bred to be close companions with humans or other dogs. They are just naturally more social and don’t understand why cats aren’t the same.

Feline Independence

Feline independence is a characteristic deeply ingrained in cats due to their evolutionary history as solitary hunters. Cats are self-reliant and adaptable, so they can survive in different environments by themselves.

Unlike dogs, cats have a more independent nature. Dogs, on the other hand, have been bred to cooperate with humans. Their behavior shows independence. They like being alone and are self-sufficient when hunting for food. They don’t need constant human interaction for their well-being.

But cats still enjoy companionship and affection from humans. They form strong bonds, but on their terms. They seek attention and interaction when they want it. Cats don’t like other animals, which makes them different from dogs, who are pack animals.

5. Conflicting Communication Signals (Speaking Different Languages)

Dogs and cats often misunderstand each other’s signals, causing them to not like each other.

Dogs’ Social Cues

Dogs communicate through diverse signals encompassing body language, vocalizations, and actions. Animals interact differently based on the species they’re with. They use cues like tail wagging and facial expressions to show how they feel.

Vocalizations, such as barking or growling, may serve as warning signals, invitations to play, or expressions of discomfort. Dogs use scent to communicate with other animals. They sniff or mark with urine to gather information or establish territory boundaries. 

The problem is that the way that dogs communicate is not the same as the way cats do, potentially leading to problems. Let’s compare them with the way cat’s “talk.”

Cats’ Body Language

In general, a cat’s body language is more subtle and harder to understand than a dog’s. 

This is important, because from a cat’s perspective, a dog is very loud and obnoxious. Think about it. A dog will run right up to cat, invade their space, stand over them, sniff them etc. This is very intrusive to a cat. It’s the same as someone running right up to you and screaming in your face. So cat’s often hiss and scratch dogs to tell them, “give me some space and settle down.”

This miscommunication can cause a dog to either run away or respond with aggression. But the other issue that dogs misunderstand cats.

Dogs may mistake a relaxed cat’s body language for aggression, causing conflict due to misunderstanding. For example, Cats like to walk with their tail help high in the air. To dogs, this means dominance and aggression. So dogs may not like cats just because they don’t understand a cat’s body language.

6. Personal Negative Experiences

A cat swiping paw at Australian Shepherd puppy on grass teaches puppy not to like cats

This section will explore how a dog’s past dealings with cats can create lasting animosity. We are concentrating on two overlapping points: past traumas and negative associations.

Past Traumas

Early negative experiences can profoundly impact dogs, just as they do with us. A common example is an excited puppy may run up to cat to play, and receive a nasty scratch on the nose. The puppy may develop a lifelong feud with cats due to the negative association.

Negative Associations

Dogs and cats might have different instincts, experiences, or behaviors. This could lead to a negative association between them, causing fear, aggression, or defensive reactions. 

When dogs have negative experiences or don’t meet properly, it can make them scared or aggressive. This can lead to a cycle of fear and aggression.

To improve how pets get along, start by introducing them to each other in separate areas. Then gradually encourage positive interactions.

To help your pets get along, experts might be needed to give advice.

It is important to note that these associations are not always obvious, but they’re powerful in shaping a dog’s reactions and behaviors toward cats.

7. Influence of Owners and Environment

Cat swiping paw to scratch Beagle dog on yellow couch leading to conflict between cats and dogs

We often see that the interaction between dogs and cats can be heavily influenced by their owners’ behavior and the environment they’re raised in. Let’s explore how these factors contribute do dogs that not liking cats.

Owners’ Behavior

Our feelings directly affect how our dogs perceive cats and vice versa. In his book Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan states that dogs will reflect the biggest feelings of their owner. They’re basically emotional sponges.

If dog owners express negativity towards cats or become anxious when a cat is nearby, our dogs might pick up on these cues and react similarly. Dogs are keen observers and can mirror our emotions and reactions.

Living Conditions

The space dog owners provide for their dogs to live in can make a big difference. Dogs need enough room to feel secure and not threatened by the presence of a cat.

If dogs and cats have to compete for the same living spaces and resources like food, beds, and attention, tensions can rise. Designated areas for each pet can help reduce this competition.

Lack of Socialization with Cats

Suppose dogs are exposed to friendly cats regularly during their critical socialization period (3-10 weeks old). In that case, it can lead to a more peaceful coexistence and reduce fear-based behaviors, which affect 30% of canines.

Regular, controlled social interactions with cats can reinforce social skills and help them become familiar with cubbing potential threats. How dogs react to cats as adults, and whether they like them, can really depend on their early socialization with felines.

8. Canine Playfulness vs. Feline Caution

A common reason that dogs don’t get along with cats is rooted in their approach to playing.

When we look at our canine friends, we note they’re often bold and boisterous. Dogs naturally enjoy being social, which translates to a form of playfulness that can be seen as rough or overbearing to cats.

They readily engage in playful activities, seek interaction, and often display exuberant behaviors when comfortable. Conversely, cats typically exhibit more cautious and calculated behaviors.

Cats value their personal space and are likelier to assess a situation before jumping in. They might be more reserved, especially when encountering unfamiliar environments or stimuli.

This cautious approach is rooted in their instincts as solitary hunters, where survival often depends on careful observation and calculated action. Our interactions with these pets show their distinct personalities.

We might throw a ball and expect our dog to fetch it enthusiastically. In contrast, we can see our cat watch warily from a distance, choosing when or if to engage.

These differences can cause misunderstandings between dogs and cats. A cat can misinterpret a dog’s friendly bark or lunge in play as aggression. Similarly, a cat’s swat or hiss is their way of setting boundaries, often misconstrued by dogs.

Recognizing these distinct animal behaviors helps us understand why they might only sometimes get along. But with patience and proper introductions, we can foster peaceful coexistence between our pet companions.

What to Do if Your Dog Does not Like Cats

If your dog shows aggression or discomfort around cats, it’s essential to address this behavior to ensure the safety and well-being of both animals. Here are some steps to consider to help dogs and cats get alone:

  1. Understand the Root Cause: Determine why your dog reacts negatively to cats. Is it due to fear, territorial behavior, or predatory instincts? Understanding the underlying reason can guide your approach.
  2. Gradual Introduction: Slowly introduce your dog to cats in a controlled environment. Keep your dog on a leash and ensure a safe distance. Gradual exposure can help your dog become accustomed to the presence of cats.
  3. Positive Reinforcement: Use treats and praise to reward calm behavior around cats. Reinforcing positive behavior can help your dog associate cats with pleasant experiences.
  4. Training and Obedience: Basic obedience training can be beneficial. Commands like ‘sit’, ‘stay’, or ‘leave it’ are useful in managing your dog’s behavior around cats.
  5. Seek Professional Help: If your dog’s behavior is challenging to manage, consult a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. They can provide personalized advice and training strategies.
  6. Ensure Safety: Always supervise interactions between your pets. If there’s any risk of aggression, it’s better to keep them separated to prevent any harm.
  7. Exercise and Stimulation: Providing your dog with enough physical and mental stimulation can reduce the likelihood of them directing their energy negatively towards cats.
  8. Respect Their Space: Some dogs may never fully adjust to being around cats. In such cases, it’s important to respect their preferences and keep them comfortably separate.

Remember, each dog is unique and may require a different approach. Patience and consistency are key in helping your dog adapt to coexisting with cats.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why do some dogs seem hostile towards cats?

Dogs often exhibit hostility towards cats due to a high prey drive. Many dog breeds have been developed for centuries to chase small animals, including cats. This instinctual behavior can sometimes be perceived as aggression.

What steps can you take if your dog isn’t fond of cats?

If your dog isn’t fond of cats, it’s important to manage encounters through gradual introduction. Positive reinforcement and controlled meetings can help establish a peaceful coexistence. Always supervise them to ensure safety.

Do dogs and cats communicate differently, causing misunderstandings?

Yes, dogs and cats have distinct communication styles. For example, dogs wag their tails to show happiness, while cats may do it when irritated. Such differences can lead to misunderstandings between the two species.

Can dogs and cats form affectionate bonds with each other?

Dogs and cats can indeed form affectionate bonds. They can learn each other’s communication cues with patience and proper socialization and develop a harmonious relationship, often becoming companions.

Is it natural for dogs to chase after cats?

Chasing behaviors are natural for dogs, particularly those with strong hunting instincts. The movement of a fleeing cat can trigger this response. However, not all dogs will chase cats, as personality and experience play roles.

How do cats typically perceive their canine housemates?

Cats may see their canine housemates as part of the social group but remain cautious. Their perception is influenced by their own experiences and the dog’s behavior. Cats prefer predictability, which an energetic dog can disrupt.

Final Thoughts

In reality, the perceived enmity isn’t a universal truth. Instead, it often comes down to individual experiences and inherent species behaviors.

Dogs have a chase instinct, and cats often trigger this response. Dogs also are pack animals and use different body language, which can lead to misinterpretation.

By understanding these points, we better grasp the tension between dogs and cats and see the potential for harmony. Let’s strive to create environments where our pets feel safe and understood.

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.