The Truth about Dogs and Cats: Developing an Assessment of Dog Behavior around Cats

Principal Investigator: Christy L. Hoffman, PhD; Co-Investigator: Miranda K. Workman, CPDT-KSA, CBCC-KA, Canisius College

Standardized assessments have been developed to predict dogs’ behaviors around children and other dogs, but there currently is no way to predict how a dog in an animal shelter will behave around household cats, unless the dog’s previous history is known. Staff members at some shelters conduct informal, unvalidated assessments of dogs’ behaviors around cats by using live cats, but such assessments are stressful and potentially dangerous for the cats employed. This study explores ways to assess dogs’ behaviors towards cats without endangering live cats. Specifically, we are testing whether dogs that are known to interact safely with cats respond differently to visual, olfactory, and/or auditory cat-specific stimuli than do dogs known to interact with cats in ways that jeopardize a cat’s safety. Thirty dog owners whose dogs are known to be extremely “cat-appropriate” and 30 dog owners whose dogs are known to be extremely “cat-inappropriate” will participate with their dogs in this study, which includes an online questionnaire and an on-campus experimental session. Dogs’ responses to cat-specific stimuli and control stimuli will be video recorded and coded by raters who are blind to each dog’s history with cats. The results of this study are expected to inform the development of a practical assessment tool that animal shelters, dog trainers and behavior consultants could use to predict how dogs will behave in a home that has cats. Such a tool would enable animal behavior professionals to increase the number of dogs that are successfully placed in homes containing cats.