Gail Fisher's Dog Tracks: Cat vs. dog video shows difference between aggressive, predatory behavior
A horror story that turned into a feel-good event is something nearly everyone has been talking about - the cat that saved "her boy." (Click here to see the video).
The 4-year-old boy was riding his bike in the driveway when a neighbor's dog attacked him, and Tara, the cat, chased the dog away. When I first saw the footage on the news, I was as astonished as everyone else whose first comment was often, "Wow! What a wonderful cat!" No question about that. The cat definitely saved the child from further injury.
Had Tara not arrived as quickly as she did, the boy's mother, who rushed to her son, might have been able to chase off the dog. On the other hand, the dog might not have been as responsive or afraid of a human, or he might have attacked her as well.
The speed with which the cat attacked the dog and the clarity of her body language left no doubt in the dog's mind that he needed to exit the scene, and fast! This video is a terrific example of instant, crystal clear communication between two species.
As a dog-behavior consultant, I was astounded by this dog's behavior, which was a perfect (if horrifying) example of predatory behavior. Predatory behavior is different from aggression and is far more dangerous - as this event demonstrates.
Aggressive behavior is for the purpose of increasing social distance - in other words, "get away!" If the boy had been bothering the dog, and the dog bit the child, that would be an example of "aggression."
Predatory behavior, on the other hand, relates to hunting. Predatory behavior starts with the hunter finding, stalking, chasing, biting and bringing down the prey.
In the video of this incident, it is clear the dog stalked this little boy. When the dog is on the far side of a car in the driveway, he looks under the car and spies the boy riding his bike. The dog's lowered body posture as he circles around the car is stalking posture. As he closes the distance between himself and the child, he maintains that posture and then attacks, grabs the boy's leg, pulling him off his bike and trying to drag him down the driveway. In a flash, enter Tara the cat - and the dog runs away.
This incident provides a perfect example of the difference between predatory and aggressive behavior: The dog was "predatory" ("I'm gonna get that kid.") and the cat was "aggressive" ("Get away from my boy!") Predation is for the purpose of moving closer to prey (decreasing social distance) and aggression is the opposite - it is for the purpose of increasing social distance.
Another difference is that predatory behavior is silent - after all, you can't sneak up on something if you're noisy - while aggressive behavior includes vocalizations. There's no sound with the video of the cat chasing the dog away, but if there were, I'm sure we'd hear the cat's hiss at the very least, but more likely accompanied by an angry yowl.
As the little boy said in an interview, "My cat is a hero!"
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic for this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. You'll find past columns on her website.