hierarchies among our furry friends

By Alison Campbell 31/08/2009

September 1. Spring is (officially) sprung, the grass is riz, & the puppy is jumping all over the place. (In quite a different way from Bella – Ben gets up on his hind legs & prances. Must be a poodle thing.) But his arrival has rather upset the social order.

Having pets of two different species (the goldfish don’t count here) sets the stage for the development of some interesting social hierarchies. The interspecies communication is good to watch as well.  When Bella joined us nearly 15 years ago, Milo was our only cat. Well, there was Possum, but he was old & gaga & didn’t really notice the pup. Milo very soon taught our little lab that cats rule, OK? In fact, when things happened that Milo didn’t like, such as him being groomed, when it was all over he’d go off quite deliberately to find & hit the dog!

So when the other cats came along, one by one, Bella already knew that dogs were at the bottom of the hierarchy. (Which went: Milo>Fidget>Merry=Ginger>Bella, in case you were wondering.) In any case, she adored kittens & was hugely protective of  them all. This didn’t stop her wanting to play – & I was fascinated to see that the ‘play bow’ dogs use to signal this was understood by the cats as well. So we’d get these hilarious sessions where the dog chased a cat up the hall, & then at the end of the passage things were reversed & the cat chased the dog back down 🙂

Milo’s death upset the kitty hierarchy somewhat, although that’s now settled down again, but it didn’t alter their attitudes to Bella. Cats still ruled. But I’m afraid their noses are now well & truly out of joint. Ben doesn’t really know how to deal with cats, I think, although he was certainly very cautious around the vet’s cat, Patrick, this morning. But from the cats, it’s a combination of peering suspiciously round corners, full-frontal fluffed-up back-arched threats on bumping into Ben in the garden (he whines & backs down, which is a good start), & giving us the complete cold shoulder.

Knowing how hierarchies develop, I’m confident it will all work out in the end. We may even see the cats stealing the dog’s bed, just as they used to with the old girl… (Disclamer – neither of the two below is/was ours!)

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