Text & Illustration by Tacita McCoy-Parkhill
In all the years we have owned this dog, we’ve never bothered to teach her tricks. The one thing we have drilled into her head however, is sitting. She squats obediently, muzzle high in the air, and waits for the Good Thing that is sure to come.
The other day a cat crept into our garden, sliding along the fence and down to the underbrush. My dog blearily opens an eye from her snooze on the patio. She is faced with a feline presence and immediately springs up.
They stare at each other for several long silent moments.
My dog’s behind starts to tremble.
The cat glowers.
My dog sinks into her Best Sit, tail twitching, eyes pleading, and this is enough to bring the fur shooting up on the cat’s back. In the space of 30 seconds it turns and leaps back up and over the fence to resume observation/sunning deck from a safer distance.
When I was younger, I used to find this occurrence terribly funny. “Come look! The cats are scared of our dog,” I’d giggle- my dog is the size of a bread loaf and equally intimidating. Now I am a jaded undergrad, I know canine and feline behaviour well enough to see both sides. Wagging your tail loosely in Dogspeak is friendly, whereas Catspeak sees a rippling tail as indication of irritation. Catspeak allows extended eye contact but Dogspeak considers this a sign of dominance; see how long your dog holds your gaze for as a good indication of who they think wears the trousers.
They had both wanted to be peaceful but were met with ‘tension’ and ‘hostility’. Now, I see the dog and the cat, and I am wistful; If only they spoke the same language.