Cat People: Why do you like cats over dogs?

Yes. We have adapted dogs’ primal drives for our own purposes, nowhere more finely than in the herding breeds, with which I’ve worked for twenty years or so now.

I find virtually all animals worth watching, and I’ve been deeply invested in dogs in particular – studying, training, breeding, competing with, all my life. But I am unlike the majority of people in that I am intensely interested in understanding animals as they truly are, not as furry funny little quasi-human beings who are cuddly and silly.

To me, cats are wild animals who have adapted very well to a human world. I like watching them the way I like watching wild animals. They are in a class with ferrets, coatis, parrots, and other pet animals little removed from their origins. Dogs are very different. They are so old in domestication, tens of thousands of years older than any other animal, that it would not be so farfetched to say that we co-evolved with them. There are few or no societies, no matter how remote or isolated, without dogs. For example, I have often wondered whether we have such a poor sense of smell because we have dogs to smell for us for so long. Dogs are one of the two animals that can accurately read human facial expressions, innately (the other is the horse). Wolves cannot. And neither can cats.

While I agree that cats are a couple steps closer to their wild ancestors than dogs, I only see this as a matter of degree, not of kind. In both cases, not nearly enough time has passed for evolution to have made more than minor changes. It’s just that dogs had more co-optable qualities than cats, and cats more than other animals. Wolf social hierarchies easily translated to human interaction. But it wasn’t some brand new capability of domestic dogs; it was a tweak to what they already had. Cats have some of their own qualities. Their natural stealthiness in the wild translated to easy maintenance in the home: cleaning themselves and using a litterbox.

I like the fact that cats seem a little more wild to me. Nevertheless I can’t see a bunch of dogs running around a dog park without thinking that they’d be hunting game if they were all full-sized wolves.

They do hunt game if allowed out in packs. They’re not very good at it though, so they generally kill easier prey, also known as sheep.

No doubt that humans have damaged dog hunting ability by breeding in stumpy legs, skeletal deformities, underperforming cardiovascular systems, restricted air passages, and so on.

Circling back to the OP, it does seem to me that cats seem more physically robust than dogs. Yeah, there are cat breeds with stumpy legs as well, but a typical housecat is in pretty good physical condition. Lots of dog breeds are not.

I do not buy that cats are completely independent to the extent some may think. You have to play with them, pet them, stimulate them, and it is not like they will not notice if you disappear for a few months leaving only a cat sitter. Note also that many cats will roam around the neighborhood, even enter other people’s houses, to enjoy the extra attention.

And the way they beg for your food, and that awful pitiful whining most of them seem to do when they want something, and being unable to cope with you leaving them to entertain themselves…

Most people who are dog lovers seem think the same behaviors I find totally obnoxious are signs that the dog loves them more than any other type of pet does. Please, the little suck ups know that you’ll feed them more if they ingratiate themselves with you. And for some reason they also equate obedience with intelligence despite the fact we consider most humans who obey without question dumb as a box of hair.

Give me a quieter, independent pet that doesn’t suck up to me any day over one that spends its whole life needing as much attention as a human toddler.

That said, like susan I’m also not a mom, in part because while I do like kids ages 4-17 who are old enough to at least tell you what they want if not act wholly independently I have almost no interest in infants or toddlers. There might be a pattern here…

Oh, that whine! That piercing squeal!

This is probably some sort of a flaw in my character, but I’d be uncomfortable being the object of the unconditional adulation that I see most of my dog owning friends getting. My cat appears to appreciate me, but rarely treats me like the center of his universe.

Well, they’re a bit from both column a and column b. They seem to have originally risen as useful commensals. Useful enough that there is evidence that early farmers were deliberately bringing their cats with them as they migrated across the Bosphorus into Europe in the Neolithic (there were and are native wild cats in Europe, but they are not the origin of modern domestic cats in Europe who arose from mostly Middle Eastern lineages). And while domestic cats retain a fairly wild-type phenotype (and genotype, really), there are a few differences. The most important one may be in the neural crest of the brain.

Domestic cats are markedly more social than wild cats. This extends to domestic ferals. You do not see wild cats socializing in groups even in the presence of an abundant food source. Unlike ferals who will happily associate in very loosely structured colonies. Adult feral cats can in some circumstances be very difficult to tame, but you can usually tame feral kittens especially if you get them young enough. You generally cannot tame even a captive bred European wild kitten, even though they are generally considered the same species taxonomically.

So while domestic cats as a whole may structurally reflect their wild ancestors, neurologically they’re rather different after nearly 10,000 years of human association. This may historically represent natural winnowing (self-selection for domestication) as much or more than it did selective breeding by humans. But I think it is fair to say domestic cats are unquestionably domestic animals.

fair enough.

Cats are like David Niven and dogs are like John Belushi. I like them both, but I prefer to be around cats most of the time.

I’ve had only cats as a kid and only dogs as an adult. I enjoy them both pretty equally.

Other than what has already been stated, I like that cats have an edge to them that I’ve never seen in a dog. They have a bit of an attitude - they most likely think they are better than us. While this may (understandably ) turn some folks off, I can’t help but admire that part of them.

Yeah, little guy, I get you.


How do you know what motivated the cat? There’s no evidence for the kind of confident statement you make in that last sentence. Sure, it appears that way to us, but that’s just more anthropomorphizing. Let me give you a counterexample. Among the seemingly boundless number of cat videos on the internet, that particular one appears in a number of compilations of fights between cats and dogs. And the cat is almost always the aggressor. We can’t know to what extent this was just another example of that, with perhaps also some vague sense by the cat that the boy was “hers”. I know that when walking my dog, we frequently had cats hissing at him out of bushes and patios, and likely would have attacked were Bernie not about ten times their size. Meanwhile Bernie completely ignored them, and happily went about his peaceful walk-along explorations.

In any case, stories about hero dogs who risked their lives for their owners abound. Or sometimes, just plain hero dogs, acting in ways that cats have never done and will never do:

Since you seem to be responding to the specific points I made in my first post here, let me address that. Respectfully, that’s not what I said. I specifically used phrases like “much of this” and “in many cases” and “some of that” to try to make clear that I wasn’t making absolute statements, but trying to express the relative differences between the most commonly seen attributes in cats vs dogs. A more careful reading should have made that clear. Cats are of course highly evolved creatures that have both instinctive and learned behaviours, but in very different ways and degrees than dogs.

Kind of an ironic observation coming from someone denying that cat owners engage in anthropomorphizing. Isn’t it more likely that cats that come when called (most don’t) do so in the expectation of a reward, whether it’s pettings or treats? Dogs can usually be enticed by treats, too, but they uniquely have an intrinsic desire to please, regardless of immediate reward. And Bernie, for whatever reason, would refuse to accept treats from strangers. The only person he’d accept treats from other than family or close family friends was his veterinarian, with whom he had a rather heartwarming bond of trust.

I felt the need to respond because I thought some of your comments were misguided, but it was meant in the best possible spirit. I’m glad your cats are bringing you joy. That’s all that really matters.

I had a fear of dogs as a kid, and it still occasionally manifests now when a strange dog barks at me aggressively, so that’s the main reason I am a cat person. But we also had two cats throughout my childhood, and every few years I will be in a living situation that is cat adjacent, be it a housemate’s or a neighbour’s cat, so they just happen to be in my life more frequently. Plus they are cute and cuddly in the way I prefer.

Cats are very sophisticated and sensuous creatures. They are independent and discriminating. Most of all, you don’t have to get up a half hour early on dark winter mornings to take them out to walk, pee, and crap.

Both are aliens strange creatures from another place, Dogs are children/dependancies, (smelly children at that) and no hope of growing up and uber predictable. As a child dogs just have to associate with you and involve you in their lives. Cats are adults, they have full and interesting lives of their own which they share with you as they see fit. The sharing is a very dear part of the relationship.

Seriously. You’re suggesting that Tara might’ve attacked the dog even if the dog had been harmlessly walking along the sidewalk. Really.

Well, aren’t we the properly detached scientific observer? Can you honestly watch that video, and insist that Tara was responding to some “vague sense” of “her” ownership? You really believe that strong emotions are something only humans have? Why? Because humans are a separate and superlative product of evolution?

Look bub, emotions are inborn natural and powerful drives. All sentient creatures have them. In fact, non-human animals are ruled by their emotions, because they don’t have the capacity for intelligent reasoning to restrain themselves. Animals “feel” rather than “think”.

Say you were out walking Bernie one day, and some random psycho came up with a tree branch and started whaling on your dog. Would you respond with a vague sense of compromised ownership? No, you would respond with blind rage. That’s the animal part of you. How deep would that rage be? Would you shake? Yell? Attack the fiend to grab the branch away?

Why are you convinced that an animal’s response would be different and a “vague sense”? Because that’s how a properly detached scientist should regard the unknown to ward off anthropomorphism?

I think that part of the reason so many people want to see cats as having no genuine connection with their humans is that most humans are used to looking at faces to see emotion and to aid in communication. Dogs have expressive faces, partly due to having learned to mimic human usages, partly due to many of them having evolved such things as eyebrow spots to make their faces look more human. Cats don’t. Cat is spoken with the ears and tail, and with the direction of the movement of the body, and with the direction of the gaze. (The meow is mostly just an attention getter, to get you to notice that the cat’s trying to say something.) Humans who haven’t learned this language often don’t seem to see it at all; so that cats look expressionless to them, and it’s easy for them to think that there isn’t really anybody in there, just a batch of reflexes; as well as to not realize when the cat’s doing its best to communicate.

I would put the difference as, dogs try their best to learn Human. Cats expect the humans to learn Cat.

Most dogs are much better at learning Human than most humans are at learning Cat; not because we’re less capable (though we haven’t the physical equipment to speak Cat at all well we can learn to see it), but because it never occurs to most of us to bother.

– On average, I prefer cats, at least partly for the reasons that some people seem to prefer dogs: I don’t like being looked at with sad puppy dog eyes by a creature who appears to think I’m massively more important than the dog is. I have loved some individual dogs; but they’ve been relatively cat-like dogs (there’s considerable overlap in character; both species produce a range of character nearly as wide as in humans, though as near as I can tell neither produces religious/political zealots.)

I’ve had cats and dogs. I like dogs just fine (well, not so much little yappy dogs) but I prefer them to be someone else’s dog that I can hang out with. The work involved just isn’t something I’m interested in.

Cats are like the friend you can text now and then and immediately know you guys are cool. Dogs are like a friend who constantly needs you to hang out with them to feel validated. I’m more inclined to the former as a personal preference. That said, I don’t doubt that my cat’s affection is sincere and she has obvious opinions on things and we get along swimmingly. Also, when I was sick in bed all day yesterday, she laid with me much of the day and would put her paw on my arm and give me the half-closed eyes of affection so points to her for that. To be clear, cats aren’t AS affection as dogs and I’ll readily admit that but I also don’t need that much validation from my pets.

Not to mention the belief amongst some dog people that it’s impossible to train cats and it’s pure coincidence that a cat comes when called. We’ve had neighbors like that.