• By Beth Oleson Marketing Director

Cats vs. dogs

Although many of us enjoy both, the world is often split into two teams: Dog People, and Cat People. That’s no surprise, since cats and dogs are very different in lots of ways, from attitude to behavior to the ways they demand our time and attention. But what may come as a surprise is that the root of almost all of those differences goes all the way back to when and how they were first domesticated. Genetically, dogs split from wolves about 30,000 years ago. The first proven instance of a truly domesticated, companion dog was about 14,000 years ago. And the domestication of dogs has progressed in very much the same way as other domesticated animals, like sheep or pigs: humans effectively altered the trajectory of dogs’ evolution by controlling the breeding process to keep the traits we like (friendliness, trainability, athleticism, smaller teeth) and lost the traits we don’t (mostly aggression). It’s easy to see the results in today’s dogs, both physically and in personality: we have hundreds of dog breeds who look vastly different, each tooled to do whatever job was required of them, from herding and hunting to simple companionship. And dogs are, for the most part, friendly, compliant, quick to bond with their humans, and dependent on human care. Cats? Well, cats have gone about things a bit differently. Cats are one of the most unique domesticated animals, because the cat in your house is almost genetically identical to the totally wild cats of 10,000 years ago. Rather than being domesticated by humans, cats self-domesticated around 9,500 years ago: as agriculture began to take off, cats were drawn to the mice and rats that came with human societies, and a mutually beneficial relationship was born. For thousands of years, cats’ aggressive tendencies have gradually subsided because living around humans (and all those tasty vermin) has demanded it; but their domestication has been entirely on their terms. So if you’re watching your cat perch in the rafters, or pounce on your toes, or totally disregard all personal and kitchen-counter-based boundaries you try to set, and find yourself thinking, “I’ve got a wild animal in my house,” well…you’re more or less right. It’s only very recently that humans have begun to control cats’ breeding and select for desired traits, the way we have with dogs. Most house cats still have the same big teeth and independent attitude of an ancient cat in the wild. Dog people tend to think of cats as aloof, unaffectionate, even jerks; cat people tend to think of dogs as too needy, too demanding. Through the lens of domestication, it makes total sense: tens of thousands of years of domestication has taught your dog to think of you as a parent and a protector, but it’s taught your cat to think of you as a roommate and a peer. So next time you’re looking at your dog or cat and thinking “Why are you like this?!” consider a more ancient perspective – you might start to see them in a whole new way. Got questions about why pets do what they do? Get in touch with us at 859-873-5491 or manager@woodfordhumane.org.

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