Washington, August 19 : Zoologists at Tel Aviv University have discovered that a dog and a cat introduced to each other while still a puppy and a kitten, respectively, can actually learn each other's body language.
"Like children, who learn a new language more easily than adults, so too did the cats and dogs learn their new 'language' more easily, the younger they were," Discovery News quoted Joseph Terkel, a professor in the Department of Zoology at the university, as saying.
The researcher obtained data for their study from two primary sources-a questionnaire directed to people who owned both dogs and cats, and in-home observation of dozens of pets playing with a tennis ball and their owners.
During the study, the researchers took special note of body language that they knew, from other studies, had the opposite meaning for dogs and cats - such as tail wagging in dogs can signal amicable and submissive reactions, but the same behaviour can be a sign of stress, or even aggression, in cats.
The researchers found the cats and dogs with the best relationships in households where the cat had been in the home before the dog was adopted.
They, however, said that it had more to do with the dog than the cat.
"An analogy can be drawn with homes in which a dog is adopted either before or after a baby is born. When the dog enters a home with a baby in residence, the status quo is already in place. However, when the baby is born after the dog has become accustomed to a certain amount of attention, and the focus now turns to the newborn child, the status quo is altered, and the dog will often display behaviour resembling jealousy," they said.
It was also observed that the cats in the study did best with the dogs when their age at first encounter is six months or younger. For dogs, which have a longer learning period, that age extended to a year.
While dogs are known to sniff each other's nether regions to get information, the researchers said that the dogs in the case of successful multi-pet households would sniff the cat's nose, which is a common habit among cats.
The mutual nose-sniffing looks a bit like an "Eskimo kiss," where an individual rubs his or her nose on another person's nose.
John Bradshaw of the University of Bristol School of Veterinary Science believes it's important to remember that, although dog and cat behaviour can be somewhat predictable and controlled, each animal is an individual.
He said that home is where the heart is for cats, while dogs are more flexible.
"Cats are territorial animals and are likely to be stressed, and therefore less able to learn, when removed from familiar surroundings, whereas puppies' territories are usually centred on familiar people rather than specific places," he said.