Why Does My Dog Act Like a Cat?

It is an age-old question amongst pet lovers – are you a dog or a cat person?

Of course, some people genuinely love both and share their home with both feline and canine companions. However, there is a significant proportion who come down firmly on one side or another often with very decisive opinions. I am thinking most recently of a dog daft, gal pal of mine who resolutely put on her online dating profile: “cat people need not apply”.

But what can really be so different? Humans have domesticated both cats and dogs for centuries and they are by far the most popular furry friends whom we choose to share our homes with. Read on to find out more about the differences in dog and cat traits. Then we will address a not completely uncommon anomaly – what about when my dog starts acting like a cat? As bizarre as it sounds this can and does occur but is it something to be worried about?

What are Typical Dog Traits?

So, what is it about your dog’s behavior, habits, and mannerisms that make it so different from its feline counterpart?

Part of the Pack

Perhaps the most notable comes from that at the basic primal level dogs are sociable pack animals who often demonstrate a need to please their owner. The slobbering wet licks of devotion bestowed by your faithful companion would likely horrify most certified cat owners who favor a more reserved pet partner.

It is, however, this dedication to their humans that over history means many breeds were trained to complete work alongside their humans. Think of sighthounds or water dogs chasing and retrieving game for their masters or modern-day equivalents such as assistance dogs who can be trained to complete all manner of tasks to support their owners.


Dog vocal communication is very recognizable. Think booming bark, piercing howl, or low growl.  A common trait amongst many dogs is a wonky volume control meaning even a playful friendly, greeting bark can wake up the neighborhood and leave you and your doggo off a few Christmas card lists.


Play both with humans and other dogs is often a vital part of a pup’s overall wellbeing. Dogs are generally naturally inquisitive and seek out new smells and adventures willingly. This can be channeled into more challenging training such as agility, scent work, and even circus tricks. 

Sleep Schedule

Generally, adult dogs can be expected to sleep between 12 and 14 hours in a 24-hour period however some larger or older dogs may need even more nap time.  They often tend to mirror their sleep routine to their owners and be more active when you are up and around.

Chew Time

Many dogs enjoy nothing better than a good chew on a toy, a bone, or your prized possessions. That is the reason there are a whole plethora of chew toys out there marketed at your dog. It is not to say cats will not use their teeth to pull something apart it is just much more likely for eating rather than play.

What are Typical Cat Traits?

Many self-confessed “dog people” will express disbelief that someone would not want to be greeted at the door each evening by an over-excited pooch. They would joke that a cat will only come looking for you when they want something. Cats however can also exhibit oodles of affection for their owners although most would admit they make you work harder for it. 

Flying Solo

Cats are generally referred to as intelligent, independent, and often aloof. They can live with and develop bonds with other cats however they exhibit much fewer social behaviors than dogs. More solitary by nature, they are likely to react poorly to another cat on their personal space and retreat or make it abundantly clear they are displeased.  The phrase “catfight” did not come from nowhere you know.


You are generally less likely to receive noise complaints about your pet cat unless you have particularly thin walls, and your neighbors are subjected to the miaows of discontent should a human fail to adequately fill a food bowl. Most people recognize the rhythmic hum of a purr which is a general signal of contentment and that all is well with your feline pal. On the other end of the scale, a sharp hissing is a sure and instantly recognizable indicator that your cat is not ready for a cuddle.

Sleep Schedule

So, you thought a dog could sleep? Move over Fido the cats have this one in the bag. Cats average between 15 and 20 hours a day sleeping within a 24-hour period.


Cats have fewer waking hours than dogs, but they can still pack in plenty of play and a dose of the “zoomies”. Play is different for your cat and they particularly enjoy activities where they can mimic behaviors used in hunting such as stalking, chasing, and pouncing. Fast-moving laser pointers or toys that dance on strings will be the perfect game and would be much more enjoyable for you both than a game of fetch.

Claws Out

Whereas your dog may chew your furniture I am afraid your cat has its own repertoire of interior design adjustments in the form of custom claw marks. Scratching is a requirement for most cats to keep their claws in check and prevent them from becoming too long. Most owners successfully divert their cats to scratching towers to save their wallpaper and their wallets.

So, Why Does My Dog Think They’re a Cat?

So, what on earth could make your dog start acting decidedly feline? Here are some of the common causes of cat-like behavior in dogs.

Playing Copy-Cat?

One of the most common causes for your pooch to start displaying some decidedly cat-like behaviors is mimicry. If your dog has been raised with or around cats, they can frequently pick up certain behaviors that are seen to gain positive results from their humans. 

There are more than a few funny videos out there on the internet showing a poor pup staring forlornly at their owner who is fawning over their kitty sibling snuggled up on their lap. Often this can result in even the biggest pooch displaying a desire to curl up on their owner’s lap even if there is no way they will fit. You can’t blame a dog for trying, eh?

Dogs utilize mimicry to form bonds and often develop cat-like behaviors to grow a friendship with another who often may not be as interested due to their independent streak.

Young dogs raised around cats may also demonstrate a more rigorous self-grooming schedule. There is yet to be any definitive science on the reason for this, but one theory is that observing the meticulous attention to self-cleanliness favored by cats may make Fido think he needs to up his game.

Another favored trait to adopt is a preference to sit atop counters, tables, worktops, or raised surfaces. This can be for several reasons. Your dog may have seen your cat nimbly jump to raised surfaces, which has sparked a need for investigation. Another reason may be that your dog follows your cat-seeking interaction. This can be a minor issue if your dog is small but when you come home to find your large Labradoodle has toppled every occasional table in the house it can be a bit more troublesome.

Feeling Independent?

Most people associate dogs with an unwavering dedication to their owners and a desire to spend as much time as possible with them but, just like humans, dogs can have individual personality traits. Most people would think the behaviors associated with an independent streak appear more characteristic of a cat than a dog.

Perhaps your dog does not feel the need to be at your feet every moment of the day and will seek out affection on their terms. Perhaps they do not show much interest in playing with other dogs or people when down the dog park.

All of this is a bit more cat, but the good news is if this is not a sudden change of behavior it can just be a part of what makes your dog individual. Fostering a degree of independence in your pooch can be a good thing as it makes them resilient, flexible to change, and less likely to suffer separation anxiety.

All in the Genes!

There are some dog breeds that naturally display traits that are typically associated with cats. The common theme is intelligence, confidence, independence agility, and grooming. These are some of the breeds more predisposed to feline behaviors:

  • Poodle – Many Poodle owners can see cat-like confidence in their dog. These dogs have the intelligence and are prone to indulge in mischief if they feel they have the upper hand on their human.
  • Greyhounds / Whippets – While dwarfing your average cat in size these breeds channel the sleep schedule favored by their feline friends. Greyhounds and Whippets both demonstrate agility and extremely fast bursts of speed like a cat, but this tires them out quickly leading to a pup who will often be curled up for a cat-like snooze.
  • Manchester Terrier – A sturdy little terrier, these pups demonstrate cat-like agility to chase small rodents and insects. They are generally happier with their human than other dogs and will happily curl up on their owner’s lap for all-day pampering.
  • Papillon – Bred specifically as a lap dog this bright little pooch can display a healthy dose of cat-like intelligence and sass. As a result, they need a lot of socialization early on to learn how to interact with other dogs.
  • Shiba Inu – Sharing a similar temperament to cats, the Shiba Inu, can be shy around new people and displays a preference to stay clean. They routinely will display self-grooming behaviors to rival any cat.

Should I be Concerned?

The good news is that in most instances cat-like behavior in your dog is absolutely nothing to worry about. Whether it is mimicry, independence, or just plain old genetics it is just another aspect of your dogs’ individual traits and mannerisms.

That being said, any suddenly new or drastic changes in behavior should always be checked out with a vet to rule out any sinister underlying cause. On occasion changes such as a dog seeking more time away from owners or sleeping more often can be indicators of pain or ill-health.  Excessive licking or increased self-grooming could indicate an underlying skin issue.

Should I Discourage It?

As we have discussed, there are a number of reasons for your dog displaying cat behaviors that are completely harmless and you may wish to consider it a little “quirk” of your pup. Some behaviors can appear funny at first but if your dog is in fact considerably bigger than your cat and still trying to sit atop tables or balance on a sofa arm it may be best to discourage this to avoid injury to them and destruction of your home.

The principles of discouraging cat behavior are the same as discouraging any unwanted behavior. Firstly, remain calm. Rather than shout at a dog who is doing something you do not want them to do, redirect them with play or treats to a more favorable outcome.

Try not to reward the unwanted behavior. It can be hard not to smile or laugh when your oversized pooch tries to squeeze into the cat tower, but a firm no and redirection will work better. If your dog is looking for attention by copying the cat this may be a sign, they require more outdoor activity or play.

Ultimately though as long as your dog is happy, safe, and healthy a little dose of cat-like intelligence and independence is definitely a good trait to have adopted.  It is safe to say that although humans domesticated cats and dogs most owners of either would readily admit they have us wrapped well and truly around their paws.