Why dogs are more loyal than cats

The reason why dogs are more loyal to their human owners than cats has got nothing to do with dogs being nicer, or more or less intelligent, or any other claptrap like that.

It all boils down to the fact that dogs are pack animals. In nature, they would be part of a family group, led by an alpha male. Over time, however, some dogs learned that it was easier to scrounge food from human settlements than it was to find it in the wild. They also learnt that if they acted cute, humans would give them food and maybe also a warm place to lie.

Dogs have moved from living in the wild to living with humans. Their basic need to be part of a pack and for there to be a clearly defined pecking order within the pack has, however, not changed. They are therefore loyal to their family unit (their pack) and in particular to their owner (pack leader). They will act very differently towards other humans (e.g. postmen!) just as dogs in the wild would act very differently towards dogs from another pack.

Cats on the other hand are (perhaps with the exception of lions) more solitary creatures. In the wild, they tend to only socialise with other cats when they are very young (mother/kitten relationship) or when they are looking for a mate. It has, therefore, been more of a step change for cats to accept the idea of living with humans.

Alongside the basic differences in nature between cats and dogs, we also have to consider the impact of selective breeding. If we go away back to the very first dogs and cats that got taken into human settlements, they were accepted at first because they were useful (good at killing rats, etc) and then because they were deemed cute. Those that were most useful and/or most cute were more successful in being accepted by humans. Over time, cuteness and suitability as a pet have become the main factors. The dogs that we now have as pets are the descendants of those early dogs who were the best behaved and most cute. With cats, the same process has occurred but we have perhaps always placed more of a premium on cuteness or usefulness with cats rather than loyalty.

In summary, then, loyalty is a factor of the genetic makeup of dogs and cats. For your pet dog, you are its surrogate pack leader. It is loyal to you because it has genetic imprinting that tells it that it needs to be part of a pack, and that it needs to have its assigned place within the pack. Some of the people who have answered this question, seem to be saying that dogs are somehow better than cats and that’s why their more loyal. Or that dogs have some sense of loyalty in the way that we humans feel loyalty. It is a mistake, however, to ascribe human motivations to animal behaviour. That way lies the craziness of doggie weddings and knitted pooch sweaters!

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