If you’ve ever shared your life with two or more species of pets who ended up “adopting” each other as siblings, no doubt you, too, have noticed how far some of them will go to speak the other’s language, no matter how difficult the transition.
As mentioned in an earlier post, my serval son, Deaken, and my raccoon son, Gabriel, were raised together. They tried to adopt each other’s language as best they could to manufacture the right sounds. I wish I’d had the presence of mind back then to start a tape recorder when they “chatted” with each other. Deaken did his best to chirr, and Gabe did his best to chirp appropriately, but their native “accents” invariably got in the way. Despite this, they were best buds. Their body language was really all they needed to know they were kindred spirits.
Not so when it came to Deaken and dogs. Cats and dogs present with different body languages. To a dog, a raised paw is an invitation to join in play. To a cat, a raised paw means, “Back off! I’m in no mood to be with you right now; maybe never. Get away!”
To a dog, a cheery, boisterous vocalization is an invitation to play or engage in some other way. To a cat, most vocalizations are between siblings or potential mates, or they’re “meows”, supplications to humans. (Have you ever noticed that the “meow” your cat uses to summon you is never used to summon other cats? It’s true! They communicate with each other via chirps and tweets, hisses and growls, and tail positions.)
A cat’s invitation to play with another animal (or with you) is usually silent. It isn’t boisterous (verbally). A boisterous-sounding cat is a cat with an attitude—Siamese, anyone? (Loved my Siamese Charisma/Turkey, but some Siamese can be demanding, presuming and punitive!)
So the first few times my neighbor's shepherd tried to get Deaken to play by offering an eager, airborne paw, the hair along Deaken’s ridge-line went up and he hissed for all he was worth. To him, the dog had stated, “Stay away!” Deaken’s response was, “I had no intention of interacting with you, ever—so we’re agreed. Let’s get the heck away from each other!”
Both backed up.
Of course, Deaken’s response confused the stuffing out of the shepherd. He lowered himself to his stomach, to get level with Deaken (which Deaken interpreted as "the crouch before the spring"), and tried again.
Deaken hissed again, indicating, “Not liking this, fella.”
The shepherd stopped all motion except for a slowly wagging tail, indicating his willingness to play if he could reach a satisfactory understanding with the seriously-miscuing serval.
To Deaken, alas, the shepherd's slowly-swaying tail indicated anger or agitation, not “C’mon, let’s play!”
It took a long time for the two to decide, despite the language barrier, that they should become buddies. And even after it happened, Deaken dictated the relationship.
I suppose that’s because a cat nearly as big as a knee-high dog was every canine’s worst nightmare. The shepherd wanted to make sure every interaction they had would be a win-win, because losing to a cat could wreck his self-esteem for quite some time!