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When I was growing up 50 plus years ago, it was pretty much a given that dogs would chase cats -- it was almost like a chemical reaction, owners couldn't control the dog and you simply had to keep them apart.

It seems to me based on videos, etc. that many dogs now will do things like "adopt" kittens and in general no longer chase them automatically. Now, I am sure that I am seeing a non-random sampling of behavior, since videos of dogs simply chasing cats would not be very interesting. Moreover, the Internet has served to increase awareness of unusual and/or cute/intelligent behavior of dogs -- there are literally thousands of times the amount of footage of pets since Youtube, etc.

However, I do think it is possible that the past 50 or 60 years could have made a big difference in behavior in both dogs and cats. If we compare the pets to humans in terms of breeding, there are two major factors: firstly, the much shorter generations (I think a cat can have kittens as young as a year old or younger) and secondly, pets are in fact bred whereas humans are not.

And if indeed humans have impacted dog and cat behavior through selective breeding, I am sure that both species are kept in general for very different reasons today. 150 years ago, given that many humans struggled to get enough food themselves, both dogs and cats were more or less working animals -- dogs for protecting livestock and property and cats I guess mainly for mousing. It was much more common for dogs especially to remain outside their entire lives and farm cats also would have lived in barns but not inside their owner's house. Of course, some dogs and cats were kept as pets but it was probably fairly rare.

Once humans started doing better in terms of survival, I would guess animals kept purely as pets would have gradually become a more common thing but perhaps it was post WW2 when many Americans became suddenly prosperous and home ownership became more common that keeping pets and not work animals really would have taken off -- I guess that is a separate question, whether WW2 did indeed cause an increase in pet ownership.

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    Off the cuff, I’d say you are missing two important factors - breed of the dog and socialization of both animals. Plus, there’s always a difference between “us” and them, meaning that the feline that’s part of the pack gets treated differently by the dog than a “stranger”’and vice versa.
    – Stephie
    Mar 22 at 20:32
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    You are also not taking into account that there might always have been cats and dogs that got along, you just never knew because people could not share videos all over the place.
    – SerenaT
    Mar 22 at 21:02
  • @SerenaT: Yes, i think I indicated this possibility but i literally never saw a cat that was not scared of dogs until maybe 1980. I do think that a kitten raised with puppies might have not had that reaction but if both animals were "workers" it is unlikely they would have played together when young or even met.
    – releseabe
    Mar 22 at 21:13
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    They don't watch Loony Tunes anymore. youtube.com/watch?v=QsdyJOe4AsQ Mar 24 at 21:16
  • It may be more that human behavior changed. It used to be normal, like back in the 50's, to let dogs just wander around the neighborhood unsupervised, especially in rural areas. Back then, I'm sure it was thought to be super normal for dogs to chase cats, because they'd encounter cats while being unsupervised. Since then, we mostly only allow dogs on the leash or at least supervised, and so human attitudes about how dogs should interact with cats have gradually changed. We put in effort to train them to get along now.
    – Kai
    Apr 7 at 15:35

2 Answers 2

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Most rapid genetic changes are produced through careful intense breeding of a small population, often with intentional inbreeding. Dogs and cats have a huge population, with many, many animals breeding without much external control, and even in carefully bred populations, little pressure is directly put on this. It is possible that some change was made, especially in dogs, by friendlier dog breeds being more popular, and some breeding against aggressive tendencies, but as a whole, the species are unlikely to have changed much in a couple dozen generations.

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Dogs are inherently social animals. Our domestication long ago basically took wolves’ existing social instincts and widened them to include other species, whether humans, cows or even cats.

Cats, in contrast, are inherently anti-social animals. For them to tolerate being near humans (or dogs) at all, there must be intervention during the critical socialization period—something that doesn’t really exist in dogs.

The ancient Egyptians had presumably figured this out, so it’s not exactly news. However, most farmers would not have bothered socializing barn cats because they did their job just fine without it. Once cats moved inside the house as pets, though, socialization would be a natural part of their life cycle.

Since the change in behavior is adequately explained by a change in nurture, there is no need to assume any change in nature.

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    Canine socialization is absolutely a thing, and puppies who miss the critical socialization period will experience long-term (lifelong) behavioral impacts. vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/…
    – Allison C
    Apr 7 at 14:09

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