If you scroll through Youtube, you are sure to see plenty of videos of dogs and cats interacting. Mostly, what warms our hearts is the unlikely bond between the two animals. However, for every instance of a cat contentedly riding on the back of his most trusted golden retriever, there is also a video of a cat swatting a curious dog into submission when friendly contact is attempted. So, there is some basis for the phrase: they fight like cats and dogs.

Can dogs and cats living in the same household be trained to coexist peacefully, or is it a role of the dice on the part of the owner–as he or she just hopes that the animals will decide on their own if they are compatible? What is the reasoning behind the friend or foe relationship between the two animals in a domestic situation?

One might think that because the dog is more physically powerful, and is less likely to be seriously injured in a confrontation, that it would be the one to decide whether the two will get along. This is not necessarily the case. In general, it is actually the cat who dictates whether the two will be friends. But why is that the case?

The answer could lie with evolution. Dogs were the first animals to be domesticated by humans. There is some debate about when this happened, but it is safe to say that it happened a long time ago–about as much as 30,000 years ago depending on which expert you ask. All dogs are descended from wolves whether they be poodles, German shepherds, or Welsh corgis. So dogs have had plenty of time to evolve and be tamed alongside humans to reach the status of “mans best friend”.

Wild cats, on the other hand, were domesticated around 8,000 years ago by people living in the Fertile Crescent. They were drawn inside by the plentiful rats that overran the new cities; it was an easy food source and the people were appreciative of the cats hunting skills. Thus, a mutually beneficial relationship ensued.

In other words, cats have had less time than dogs for their wildness to be bred out of them. They have not lost their instinct to hunt and kill and are still skittish and territorial by nature. As many a cat owner will attest, cats want everything on their terms only. Petting when they want and not before, inside or outside on demand, and the friendship of dogs when they deign to accept it.

That being said, there are things that the humans can do to encourage a cat and dog to accept each other as part of the same household:

  1. Introduce the two animals while they are still young. Older animals get set in their ways just like humans. When they are young they are more likely to adapt and then grow together as they mature.
  2. Remember that cats and dogs speak different languages. When a dog indicates a desire to play, a cat sees a threat to attack, and so forth. So one common mistake is to assume that the two will naturally communicate with each other and work it out on their own.
  3. Use all of the recommended procedures during the initial days and weeks of contact. Humans are responsible for the quality of life for their pets including the emotional security they feel in the home.
  4. Go for positive reinforcement whenever possible, giving treats to both animals for good, calm behavior. If the dog barks, lunges or disobeys commands, remove it to its room and try again later. As they get used to each other’s smells from a safe distance they will be able to spend more and more time together.

In reality, dogs and cats are not sworn enemies; their ancient ancestors weren’t sworn enemies in the wild. They are both intelligent animals who have been domesticated by humans. The cat is more likely to be temperamental and tends to be more resistant to training, as it is evolutionarily closer to its wild ancestors. Yet, as YouTube shows, these two animals have the abilities to be best buddies if humans take the necessary steps to encourage a peaceful coexistence.