Research could help to identify cat-friendly dogs

New research could help people identify the shelter dog that will get along with the cat that already rules the castle.

The new study by animal behavior professor Christy L. Hoffman suggests that dogs’ responses to cat-related sounds can provide clues about which dogs are cat-friendly.

“When dogs are waiting for adoption at a shelter, a common question is ‘What is the dog like with cats?’” said Hoffman, a researcher at Canisius College in New York state.

She said standardized protocols can assess dogs’ behaviors around humans and other dogs, but there is no validated way to predict how a dog in an animal shelter will behave around cats, unless the dog’s previous history is known.

“Our study investigated what a cat-friendliness assessment might look like,” Hoffman said.

To do this, she and her team examined the responses of 69 dogs — a variety of breeds and mixed breeds — when presented with three stimuli:

• a realistic-looking cat doll.

• recordings of cat sounds.

• the smell of cat urine.

The research showed dogs are more responsive to the sounds of cats than to the sights or smells of cats.

Specifically, dogs with a history of killing or injuring a cat or other small animal spent longer orienting to the cat sounds than the other dogs.

There was no relationship between dogs’ histories with cats and other small animals and their reactions to visual or olfactory information.

“As humans, our first thought was to test dogs’ responses to the cat doll because it visually resembles a real cat,” said Hoffman. “However, our findings suggest that dogs are relying more heavily on another sense, hearing. This was surprising since most behavioral assessments focus on dogs’ responses to visual stimuli. Our findings suggest that employing assessments that engage other sensory modalities, especially sound, may provide additional clues about an individual dog’s behavior.”

She suggested audio recordings of cats could be used to assess which shelter dogs are likely to fare well in a home with cats or other small animals.

The study was published in the Journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science.