Adopting a pet is a big decision, whether you live alone, are a couple or a family with one or more kids. First, if more than one person is involved, it needs to be a joint decision. Granted, parents have the final say, but each child’s opinion is important and should be considered. To be a successful and rewarding adoption, it will need to be a partnership with shared responsibilities. While there are numerous choices for great individual or family pets, for the purposes of this article Well-Being is focusing on dogs and cats and how to decide which is right for you.
A lot of the research and information we have on the nature of dogs and cats is based on their ancestry and how they lived in the wild. In each domestic dog and cat there still exists the instinct of thousands of years of fending for themselves and their families. Many of the characteristics they exhibit today are based on the traits that helped their species survive before they became domesticated.
In the wild, dogs form packs in which each member cooperates to find food and provide protection. The pack usually has an “alpha dog” that the other dogs look to for leadership. Domestic pups are hardwired with this pack instinct that generally makes them social, friendly, and all too happy to belong to a family or even a single person who can provide them with food and leadership. Dogs instinctively go wherever their pack goes, which makes them more readily accepting of experiences, such as travel or moving. This pack mentality also makes it really hard on dogs to be left alone, especially for long periods of time. Dogs crave closeness and attention. They reward the affection of their pet parents and family members with loyalty, companionship and yes, love.
In the wild, most cats are lone, nocturnal hunters. Unlike dogs, cats are able to jump and climb, which aids them in hunting and makes it easier to flee from danger, and unnecessary for them to hunt in packs. For domestic cats, these instincts generally make them more independent than dogs. This independence may make some cats seem aloof.
While a cat’s independent nature generally helps them deal better than dogs with being left alone, it’s important to remember that all cats are different. Cats are capable of developing extremely strong bonds with their people. Cats are also highly intelligent creatures. While cats might not seem to be as affectionate as dogs at first, overtime cats can develop quite the need for closeness, love and affection from their humans. Take it from a dog and cat lover who can attest to equal bed hogging, lap camping and snuggling from both species.
Dogs are generally the easier of the two to train. A dog’s pack mentality makes him ready to follow a leader and makes him generally more obedient by nature. Typically, dog training is a process of teaching and reinforcing commands that help you communicate your desires to your dog. Dogs are so eager to please that they’re happy to meet those desires. However, every dog is different, and some breeds have temperaments and learning aptitudes that take more readily to training than others.
Cats can be trained, but not as thoroughly as dogs. It could be argued that cats train their people, instead of the other way around. When it comes to potty training, cats have the advantage over dogs. Cats use the litter box instinctively. It may only take showing them where the box is one time. Dogs, on the other hand, can be a lot tougher to house train, especially puppies. Teaching them where it is and isn’t acceptable to go usually takes a lot of repetition and positive reinforcement.
While dogs can be perfectly happy living in a small apartment, they still need their outdoor exercise. If you lead an active lifestyle and can take your dog on walks or let him out in the backyard to run around and play, a dog can be a great fit. However, if you live in a small apartment a cat may be a better choice. Cats generally get their exercise through play and through their general hunting nature, leaping to windowsills and stalking prey (even if it is a toy mouse). Because of this, cats don’t usually need as much area to roam around.
With every family decision cost is a factor. Both dogs and cats require nourishing food, proper veterinary care, toys and accessories such as carrying cases, beds and grooming tools. The breed of dog or cat and their size at maturity can make a big difference in the overall expense of care and feeding. If your time is limited, your budget should include the cost of having someone walk your dog, if you don’t have a fenced backyard where they can play and “do their business.”
Recent psychological studies have looked at the personality traits of people who have dogs or cats. According to the findings of a research project, at the University of Texas in Austin, people who prefer cats tend to be more introverted, less sociable, and more self-contained, while those who prefer dogs are more social, interactive, and open to new experiences. However, it is important to remember that both people and their pets tend to adapt to their environments and the dynamics of their “family unit.” It is a fascinating subject and one I believe warrants more research.
Remember that cats and dogs are not only different species, but they’re individuals within each of their species and some of the generalities noted above might not apply to individual pets. Factors such as genetics, breed, breed temperament, and the animal’s history all play a part as to how friendly, sociable, and teachable he will be. (The same might be said for we humans.)
Whether you lean toward selecting a dog or a cat, it’s important to research your choice of pet before welcoming him to his forever home. If you are adopting your pet, make sure you and your family spend some time at your local animal shelter before making the ultimate decision. You might find that it is not the species that helps you make up your mind, but rather the bond you form with one of the animals. No matter which species you choose to adopt, with enough love, care and affection, you will surely find a forever friend.