Thursday, October 16, 2008

Let's Get Along

In a time when we have negative campaign ads and vicious politics highlighting how little people get along with members of their own species, there comes hope from the animal world. Feuerstein and Terkel published the results of a study exploring the relationship between cats and dogs in Applied Animal Behaviour Science .

An old cliche about people who don't get along is that they "fight like cats and dogs." We categorize people as cat and dog people partially because we think cats and dogs don't naturally get along. Many people even use this as a criteria for who to date. When Ted in How I Met Your Mother states "I'm a dog person, I'm attracted to other dog people" and then is shocked to find out that his girlfriend loves cats, few viewers found his reaction odd.

I think they're both right. I'm a cat and dog lady. Cats and dogs can get along. It is not unnatural or abnormal for cats and dogs to form social bonds. Well, no more unnatural than training them to come to their names, sit for treats, or put up with a good brushing (my cat does all of those and is described by others as being dog-like because of this). Consider it animal bipartisanship.

Feuerstein and Terkel support this idea with their results. Their study showed that cats and dogs can become friends, especially when the animal's first meeting with a member of the other species is at a young age. Feuerstein and Terkel even found that dogs could understand a cat's body language, even when the meaning from a dog would be the complete opposite of that from a cat. Cats were able to do the same. The gender of the animals didn't matter at all in terms of how they get along.

Can this translate to human beings? Not all cats and dogs are able to get along with members of the other species. I doubt that there will be a day when all humans are able to get along with all humans. I do think that we can learn from cats and dogs how to understand behavior that seems completely opposite to us. Cats understand dogs best when they meet them at a young age. Let's work on this with kids. Let's introduce kids of all types and let them play in the sandbox together. Diversity works for dogs and cats, I bet it'll work with humans.

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