Dogs vs Cats: The Great Debate, Ctd

by Dish Staff

Henri Cole cites Rilke’s thoughts on the age-old divide:

Look at the dogs: their confident and admiring attitude is such that some of them appear to have renounced the oldest traditions of dogdom in order to worship our own customs and even our foibles. It is just this which renders them tragic and sublime. Their choice to accept us forces them to dwell, so to speak, at the limits of their real natures, which they continually transcend with their human gazes and melancholy snouts.

But what is the demeanor of cats?—Cats are cats, briefly put, and their world is the world of cats through and through. They look at us, you say? But can you ever really know if they deign to hold your insignificant image for even a moment at the back of their retinas. Fixating on us, might they in fact be magically erasing us from their already full pupils? It is true that some of us let ourselves be taken in by their insistent and electric caresses. But these people should remember the strange, abrupt manner in which their favorite animal, distracted, turns off these effusions, which they’d presumed to be reciprocal. Even the privileged few, allowed close to cats, are rejected and disavowed many times.

Montaigne’s take:

“When I play with my cat”, he wrote, “who knows if I am not a pastime to her more than she is to me?”

He borrowed her point of view in relation to him just as readily as he occupied his own in relation to her. And, as he watched his dog twitching in sleep, he imagined the dog creating a disembodied hare to chase in its dreams – “a hare without fur or bones”, just as real in the dog’s mind as Montaigne’s own images of Paris or Rome were when he dreamed about those cities. The dog had its inner world, as Montaigne did, furnished with things that interested him.

Meanwhile, Jessica Love ponders why dogs are “so good at reading our nonverbal cues—so much better, even, than chimpanzees and bonobos, to whom we’re more closely related”:

Researchers now believe that dogs’ ability likely evolved during domestication, probably due to selective breeding. There’s some disagreement about whether our own ancestors were selecting for communicative skills specifically (perhaps to create better hunters, retrievers, or herders), or whether this prowess was merely a by-product of selecting for something else, like tameness.

But though the sensitivity dogs exhibit is truly impressive, it nonetheless falls short of what humans—even very young ones—are capable of. Infants will communicate information to their adults when they know that it is of interest to the caregivers; dogs will only do so if they are the ones interested. Young children also pick up on information conveyed to a third party; dogs, not so much. And a brand new study finds that two-year-old humans are much better than dogs at gauging from a situation whether a communicative signal is unintentional (and thus ignorable).

Meanwhile, the cat—mere feet away from a tuna treat, and despite the best efforts of an insistent pointing hand—does nothing.

Thoughts from Andrew and Dish readers here.