For many, the question does not arise. Loyalty is a canine quality. In the cat, we will more readily recognize independence and autonomy, as if these character traits prevented any attachment. However, the reality is quite different …
– Charlotte Duranton and Brunilde Ract-Madoux, ethologists and behavioral consultants
Scientifically, loyalty defines the relationship an individual has with someone or something. We talk about loyalty in loving and friendly relationships, in consumers’ attachment to certain products and brands, in the dedication of an employee to his company or even in the respect of a principle. In all of these cases, loyalty includes this idea of being attached to something or someone, the desire not to disappoint, not to betray, to be present. It is particularly a question of a bond of attachment whose nature is not altered by time. Fidelity covers two notions: the psychological degree and the behavioral degree. It is often, wrongly, confused or associated with exclusivity. Now, in friendly fidelity, for example, one can be faithful to two very good friends,
From an ethological point of view, loyalty implies the notion of constant bond. This is a fairly strong need, at least for mammals, because it all begins at an early age, with the establishment of a bond between the mother and her young (s). The maternal attachment, which unites the mother to her offspring, is essential because it allows her to recognize her and to provide the care necessary for her survival. There is also, of course, a bond of attachment that binds newborns to their mothers, called filial attachment. The latter is just as essential because it is with her that they find food, security and protection.
Loyalty is also essential in our relationship with our dogs and cats. Science has shown that we develop a strong attachment to our animals, similar to that of a mother: we protect them, we take care of them, we ensure their survival. This relationship goes even further since their presence makes us happy, caressing them or simply looking at them brings us well-being. But does the converse exist? Are our animals attached to us? Which is more faithful to us: the dog or the cat?
OUR ANIMALS UNDER STUDY
We all remember these emblematic dogs, heroes of our childhood television series, like Belle in Belle et Sébastien or Lassie. Without forgetting Hachiko … After the death of his teacher, victim of a cerebral hemorrhage in the university where he taught, the Akita Inu continued to wait for him every day on the station platform for nearly ten years. A statue has even been erected with his effigy, and a film (Hachi) dedicated to this story of a dog’s loyalty to his master beyond death has been made.
In the collective imagination, cats are more rarely seen as faithful animals. It is even rather the opposite since they are readily considered as independent creatures, autonomous, having little need of the human being to survive. Our attitude towards cats confirms the reputation they have in our eyes because many are left free to roam and roam outside their owner’s house! Autonomy (freedom?) Which also allows them to have a richer life than that of dogs.
This difference in treatment and consideration between our cats and our dogs is a reflection of our almost general conviction that the dog is far more loyal than the cat. But is this a scientific truth? To find out, a test inspired by that which was carried out with humans has been set up. This is the “strange situation” test: the animal is placed in an unknown place, and we observe its reactions when it is separated from its master, then when he finds him. It is considered that there is attachment if the behavior of the animal is not the same depending on whether it is with or without its owner. During the experiment, the majority of the dogs expressed behaviors associated with a strong attachment when their master left them alone in this place they did not know: vocalizations, excitement, prostration, etc. On the cat side, the results were less unanimous during the first experiments carried out. The felines did not express any real differences in behavior in the presence or absence of their master in the testing room. But since these first tests,a new study by researchers at Oregon State University has shown that cats are able to form attachment bonds with a human, and depending on the type of bond – “secure”, “insecure” attachment ”Or“ ambivalent insecure ”- they behave differently.
During the experiments, when they were placed in an unfamiliar room and when they felt safe with their master, the cats explored their environment, coming and going regularly to maintain contact with it. Left alone, these same cats expressed behaviors associated with stress such as vocalizations. On the other hand, those who did not feel safe were glued to their master or, on the contrary, adopted an excessive avoidance behavior, with fear of contact, while looking for a way out of the room. This study shows the existence of an interspecies attachment link. However, more research is needed to conclude that this bond is similar to that between a child and his parents.
THE CAT, THIS LONER?
The behavior of the cat alongside humans having evolved a lot, some animals have become totally dependent on their place of life and their master. Others wander from one house to another without showing a more marked attachment to one or another of the dwellings or to those who occupy them. As for the relationship they maintain with their master, it varies from one individual to another depending on his temperament, his life course, his way of life or the relationship that unites him to the humans in his home. Many cats set their sights on one or the other member of the family. This is usually the person who feeds them, but not always. Some prefer a human for cuddling, another for play, and a third that they share a comfortable bed with.
Other representations that we have of loyalty, for example a dog or a cat who saves his master or the one who finds his human at the other end of UK, are not yet scientifically validated. Indeed, if many studies have analyzed the reactions of dogs facing a situation of “danger” involving their master, none have allowed to prove that they spontaneously succeed in coming to his aid, that is to say without their owner telling them to fetch the key, alert, scratch, etc. Make no mistake, a dog who follows his master, obeys him “with the finger and the eye”, is not more faithful than a disobedient dog. He simply followed a more or less advanced education. On the other hand, we know that behaving in a synchronized way, like going to the same place, strengthens the bonds between individuals and creates a social preference. This is probably why our dogs, who follow us everywhere, seem more loyal to us than our cats!