It’s the war that’s been fought since the beginning of time. It’s the most socially divisive split on the planet. It’s ended marriages and estranged family members. The one question that could define us all is: whether you’re a dog person or a cat person.
Jokes aside, I believe there’s a meaningful difference present here – one that might help you understand yourself or your significant other, a lot more.
Firstly, we need to look at cats and dogs themselves. Now obviously, not all cats and dogs are the same, but the point here is not to make a comment about the cats and dogs, it’s to make a comment about the people that significantly prefer one over the other. As such, we need to look at cats and dogs and general characteristics describe them. This will then inform my reasoning as to why people like them and what it might say about who they are.
Cats have been afforded an elevated status in history and across cultures. From the sacred status in ancient Egypt, to the lion being the king of the jungle, to being a symbol of good luck in Japan and Russia. In Europe were associated with health and agricultural prosperity (catching vermin) but they have also been associated with witches and should be treated with respect or fear as a consequence. Overall, this is an image of power and independence. This image also extends to aloofness or fickleness.
Dogs afford a very different image in cultural history. They’re primarily seen as loyal and affectionate. They were used to hunt and to provide warmth. Their size and sense of smell meant they were good for guarding and this is reinforced in the Greek, Norse and Persian mythology. They were also used as an integral part of migration (sled dogs) in some areas, and in farming in others, enjoying a range of relationships with humans.
Ownerships of both cats and dogs have been correlated with improved mental health, social adjustment and longevity. Both species have breeds are great for cuddling, good at hunting or show high intelligence. As I mentioned, the stereotypes don’t describe all members of the species, but it’s the general stereotype they are known by and it’s the stereotype that people tend to identify with when calling themselves dog people or cat people.
Based on the differences presented above, I believe that we can deduce some things about a person. Of course, as with all generic analyses, these aren’t going to be true of everyone. What it might do however is give you food for thought as to why you love cats or dogs more. Is it more to do with them, or you?
Loving cats means that you’re more comfortable with a distant pet. A cat’s independence means that it doesn’t always want your attention and that’s fine with you. Related to this, you might actively see a cat’s wildness as one of its greatest qualities – the way it crouches and chases and pounces. Why would you want to subject such a wonderful animal to the confines of regular domestication – these beautiful things should be free (and want to be around me all the time as well)! But this freedom is also what makes those special moments of affection so special. That face rub. That purr.
So now, let’s look at that in terms of some potential psychological traits and what that might mean for your relationships. The great thing about a cat lover like this is the understanding of another’s “individualness”: the understanding that others come with desires, fears and opinions that are completely unrelated to what you might want from them. This might seems like a pretty basic understanding to have, but it’s not actually that common to see people sharing a relationship that genuinely accept that the other person is a world unto themselves.
The other side of this coin, however, is that it will be hard for a cat lover to accept devotion, attention and someone else’s desire to constantly be close. This might be the reason why cats are often associated with introverts or those with sub-optimal social skills (I thought that was appropriately PC, right?). Similar to that feeling of frustration and annoyance you get when thinking about a dog jumping up and down, constantly wanting to be petted or walked or fed, always happy to see you, is the feeling when you think about having to be fake in a social situation, or, imaging someone wanting to see you all day and give you presents and cuddle and eat together and meet all their friends…
You get the idea. For those who value their own space and independence a cat is a pet that reflects those values. Coincidentally, there might also be the underlying feeling that you see yourself as genuinely special, that if people knew your true worth, they might be inclined to worship you a little.
Let me emphasize here that having these traits is not a good or a bad thing – it’s just part of the human tapestry. As are dog lovers.
Dogs can be wonderful companionship. They’re always happy to see you and will be happy indoors, sitting on your lap, or outside going for a walk. If you’re sad, they’ll be there, if you’re happy and energetic, they’ll be there too. Dogs are even natured and if they grow up with children, tend to be gentle and considerate with them. If you’re alone, a bark in the night from your dog can be comforting reminder that you have back-up if someone’s snooping around.
The wonderful thing about dog people is you know they’ll be there. They value loyalty and companionship. If someone hurts you, they’re on your side. If something great happens, they’ll party with you. With a dog lover, you never need doubt that they have affection for you and they provide it openly and readily.
Though I’m making some pretty generic parallels, they are intuitive. In general we seek in others what we value in ourselves. Conversely, it’s what we dislike about ourselves that informs who we don’t like. You don’t like arrogance? How afraid are you that you’ll come across as arrogant? You love loyalty? How important to you is it that you’re not betrayed? This extends to the other characteristics dog lovers might have.
For example, if someone tells a dog lover “no”, there’s a great chance they’ll take it as a personal judgement (“there’s something wrong with me”), instead of something independent (“they might not be feeling well”). There might also be the tendency to be a glutton for punishment – that no matter how many times someone treats them badly, they’ll want to see the best in them. Conversely, they might also expect their friends to always see the best in them.
The wonderful about these analogies is part of the wonderful thing about psychoanalytic/psychodynamic interpretations: how you see a parallel (in this case between pets and people) will inform your interpretation. And what I mean by that is if a person says “I’m sad and need to be at home”, I could say “ah – I bet they’re a cat person who values independence”, or I could say “ah – I bet they’re a dog person who hasn’t had enough cuddles”. The point is, the analogy or interpretation isn’t necessarily the most important thing.
What might be important here, however, is that you reflect on what parts of yourself you identify with being a cat person or a dog person. Do you recognize the parts of you that make you value your pet? Are you a slave to those parts, do you indulge them or do you hate them? What about your partner? And perhaps more importantly, do you know where those tendencies have come from?