Cat-love and dog-love

The ancestors of dogs lived in highly organised social groups, in which group loyalty was the highest value. The leaders took every decision with the welfare of the pack in mind. The rest of the pack gave unconditional love to the leaders. Survival and success were the survival and success of the entire group, not of a particular individual.
A dog that hasn’t been mis-trained considers its humans to be the leaders of the pack. The dog’s natural instinct is to love those humans whatever they do. Even if the human is cruel or negligent, the dog’s love and loyalty is absolute.

This doesn’t mean that the dog approves of whatever the human does. It will complain, sulk, show its disapproval — but always with unquestioned, unconditional love.

Domestic cats descended from solitary hunters, for whom defence of territory, looking after one’s own welfare, was the highest value. Survival was a matter of keeping competitors out.
A cat is capable of love, but it is very different from dog-love. It is “I love you for all the good things you do for me.” A cat showing love is the giving of a reward for good behaviour, very much conditional love. A cat’s human is part of the territory; an instrument for the cat’s welfare. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily transferrable to any human, but cat love is a commercial transaction.

There are exceptions. A cat of my acquaintance, named George, has what I consider dog love for his family. He is devastated, and suffers extreme grief, when they go away on a holiday and a replacement provides his physical needs. When his family moved house, he happily abandoned his old territory, and went with them. Perhaps he is a dog, reincarnated as a cat? 🙂

Some humans naturally give dog love. When they belong to a group, they are unquestioningly loyal, and their actions are with the group’s best interests in mind. If someone important in their lives hurts or angers them, they don’t reject the offender, but react against the action while still loving the person.

Interestingly, many such humans love cats. The cat’s inherent selfishness is not a negative, but just something for tolerant laughter.

People who love like a dog don’t necessarily have a dog in their lives, and if they do, they are not necessarily good dog owners. They may make the mistake of allowing the dog to take the alpha role, and that’s a recipe for trouble.

In the same way, people who love like a dog are caring parents, but not necessarily good parents. As well as loving unconditionally, the parent needs to be in charge, and firmly shape the child’s behaviours and attitudes. The parent must be the alpha, not the child (or the dog).

A long term romantic relationship between two people who love like a dog will be contented, successful and satisfying. When troubles happen (they always do), the couple handles them with mutual respect and caring. There may be disagreement, even conflict, but handled with love.

People who love like a cat may be very useful team members — as long as they can see personal benefits from their contribution to team welfare. “What’s in it for ME?” is an unwritten, perhaps unrecognised consideration in what they do.

Their children may well grow into resentful adults with a chip on the shoulder.

For them, a romantic relationship is definitely a trade. They can be good, loving partners — as long as they see that as the path that leads to the most self-reward.

Because they are always grasping, they often find it difficult to stay in long term-rewarding, contented relationships, but, sadly, go from partner to partner, never understanding why things don’t last.

Can we move from one kind of loving to another?

Yes. Even if the style of loving is from infancy, it’s not inborn, but trained. It is a habit, and even lifelong habits can be changed. It takes work, and commitment, and lots of practice.

If, all your life, you have habitually loved like a cat, then you will be persuaded by considering personal benefits. The benefits of switching to dog-like love are enormous.

Do it.

12 Responses to Cat-love and dog-love

  1. I have been reading posts regarding this topic and this post is one of the most interesting and informative one I have read. Thank you for this!
    Please come and visit my blog on how William and Tibby Forever just Kept On Growing.



  2. TA Sullivan says:

    Hmmm, so what about people like me who love both? In fact, I love all animals, and if it were feasible, I’d be living on a farm full of all kinds of animals. (Sometimes, I think I love animals more than I do people.)


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Tricia, this is not about whom to love, but how you love. “I love you whatever you do” vs. “I love you for all the good things you do for me.”


  3. Your post made me think of a meme I saw online recently. Having had both cats and dogs over the years, I believe it fully. Dogs have masters, cats have slaves. 🙂


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thanks for visiting, Melanie. Yes, there is a little black-haired person in my house who is SURE she is the boss. She has two servants, and loves one of them. 🙂


    • Cass says:

      There is recent research showing that cats prefer social contact over food and can form secure attachments with their owners, much like dogs or children with parents ( + – perhaps cats have just been misunderstood all along?

      I believe attachment theory is helpful to some degree to explain these behaviours in all mammals – and vagus nerve tone would be an interesting potential marker for correlation to secure/insecure attachment behaviour. Any creature raised in an insecure environment is much more likely to be fearful about personal safety for their whole life, and have a “survival switch” turned on (sympathetic nervous system dominant) which makes them approach all interaction with “what’s in it for me?” core framework (even more basic, “what action is necessary in this situation to avoid discomfort/pain/death”).

      I agree with what you say on your habits page though – that it can be possible to change this core behaviour, but you need to be aware of it, mindful, and approach change with self-conpassion and understanding of the difficult task you face.


      • Dr Bob Rich says:

        Thank you for the visit and thoughtful comment, Cass.
        My infancy was during the second world war, in a ghetto, with bombs falling, but I only conform to the pattern you described in some ways. I have extremely fast reaction time, even now as an old bloke. It used to be impossible to sneak up on me, and very hard to punch me (In boxing or street fighting). But in human relationships, I tend to be trusting: take you at your valuation until evidence shows otherwise.


  4. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Yes. She KNOWS she is in charge, and nothing will convince her otherwise. Fortunately, her two humans practice dog love.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t know… I think cats form deep bonds. Having said that, cats are basically wild. They have only been “domesticated” for like 1/10 of the time that dogs have. They can fend for themselves in a city. When they do love you it’s by choice, not because they are genetically hard coded to love their owner through generations of artificial selection

    Liked by 1 person

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