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Book explores Cat And Dog Evolution, Behavior And Training

25.09.2009
What makes a dog bark? What messages are conveyed in its wagging tail? How old should a kitten or puppy be before it is adopted? What does its posture tell us about its mood? How can we improve communication with our companion animals while also stopping them from barking incessantly, clawing the furniture or urinating on the rug?

In “Canine and Feline Behavior and Training: A Complete Guide to Understanding Our Two Best Friends,” author Linda P. Case answers these questions and explains the divergent evolutionary paths of dogs and cats as well as the forces that shape their behavior.

Case, who teaches companion animal behavior and training in the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, also tackles some lingering myths about dog and cat behavior. For example, she debunks the idea that dogs have “dominant” or “submissive” personalities, or that dominance is synonymous with aggression. Rather, she says, dogs may behave submissively or display dominant signals toward other dogs depending on the situation. Furthermore, dominant behaviors involve ritualized postures or other signals that often lead to the resolution of conflict without aggression.

The book, which is used as a textbook but is also of interest to anyone with a cat or dog, begins with an exploration of the forces that tamed the wolf and wildcat and ultimately brought them into the human home.

For wolves, many researchers now believe, the attraction probably began with what is perhaps the most common marker of human settlement: the village dump. Others think humans domesticated wolves as a reliable and ready source of meat.

Genetic studies indicate that dogs were domesticated about 15,000 years ago in Eastern Asia, and that all of today’s breeds are the descendants of very few (three to five) female wolves.

Domestic cats, on the other hand, are descended not from ancient sabertooth tigers but from a smaller African wildcat ancestor, known as Dinictis.

Case explains how the ancient pack behavior of wolves and the solitary nature of wildcats still influence the behavior of their domesticated counterparts. But, as she writes, in a chapter on social behavior and communication, “Dogs are not wolves.”

“Generations of selective breeding to develop dogs for different functions diversified the dog with regard to the ways in which individuals form and maintain pair relationships,” she writes. Some seek out hierarchical relationships with other dogs, while others are less interested in rank. Case also dismisses the idea that dogs consider their human companions members of their “pack.”

Domestication of the cat has made it more tolerant of other cats and humans, and more likely to engage in affiliative behaviors, such as affectionate displays, mutual grooming or playing with others. Such behaviors are normally only seen in young African wildcats, suggesting that the domesticated cat appeals to humans precisely because it behaves more like a juvenile than an adult.

Case has a master’s degree in canine and feline nutrition and owns and operates a dog-training center. Her experience allows her to write authoritatively on subjects of interest to pet owners. Perhaps the most practical information is in the section on how animals learn, and the difference between aversive – unpleasant – and pleasurable stimuli. Case emphasizes that the best learning environments for pets (or humans) rely on rewards rather than punishments. She also demonstrates how coercive tactics or the improper timing of rewards can reinforce the behaviors dog or cat owners are trying to prevent.

The book offers in-depth descriptions of training strategies and appropriate responses to problematic, unruly or disruptive behaviors. A final chapter on problem aggression offers insight into potential triggers of aggression and provides step-by-step instructions on how to counter-condition an animal to respond to these triggers in a more positive manner.

“Although it has been popular to describe pet owners as either ‘dog people’ or ‘cat people,’ today we know that many people share their lives with both species,” Case said. “I wrote this book to celebrate this combined devotion to companion animals and to enhance understanding of the similarities and the differences between these two unique and wonderful animals.”

Editor's note: To contact Linda Case, call 217-586-4864; e-mail: lcase@autumngoldconsulting.com.

Diana Yates | University of Illinois
Further information:
http://www.illinois.edu

Further reports about: African elephant African wildcats CAT DOG Evolution Wolves affectionate displays behavior

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