I have a cat, a gerbil, and a German Shepherd Dog. And yes, they get along. All dogs are individuals, but some breeds, developed for certain work or compatibility, are more likely to coexist amiably with other species.
In writing this list, initially I was hesitant to give the dog breeds a voice, as I do in these columns about breeding and behavior. After all, no good comes of asking an Airedale Terrier if he likes mice. Yes, ma’am, I certainly do! May I have one please? And of course some dog breeds, as well as individual dogs, tolerate certain animals but not others.
But with healthy skepticism as our backdrop, let’s listen to five breeds explain why they belong in a multi-species household. (If they’re drooling while they talk about other animals, we’ll take their opinion with a grain of salt.)
I was developed as a gun dog in the early part of the 20th century. Apparently, English vacationers in Brittany mixed their pointing dogs and native spaniels together until voila! Our breed became defined as the Brittany. While I love to hunt, I’m sufficiently biddable that I easily socialize to the family’s other species. I concede I’m not a model friend to feathered creatures; I was bred to hunt them. But I was bred to point and retrieve rather than exterminate critters. So I may just watch your caged birds.
With cats and horses, I’m generally a patient friend. And because I’m especially biddable, you can often teach me to tolerate small critters. But don’t test me by leaving me alone with loose gerbils. That’s too much temptation.
2. Bernese Mountain Dog
I was developed in Switzerland as a general farm dog, drover (moving livestock long distances by walking them along “on the hoof”), and drafter (pulling loads for my people). Bred to work near other animals, I generally get along with the family’s creatures. And since I wasn’t bred to wander or hunt, I often make a nice trail companion for you on horseback. In contrast, some of my hound friends, such as the scent hounds, may tolerate horses well but dart after prey on the trail, leaving you in the dust.
Now, indoors, I don’t generally bother the family cats or other animals. How could I have succeeded in drafting and droving work if I was distracted by every sparrow or squirrel that crossed my path? We also serve a gentle watchdog role. And if we over-focus on small, non-threatening animals such as cats, we may miss important happenings.
3. Toy Poodle
We’re the smallest variation of the Poodle, but we may actually be the oldest. We’re renowned for offering gentle companionship to families and generally their other animals. We’re more athletic than you’d guess, so we may give chase for fun, but odds are we won’t hurt our family friends. After all, we were bred mainly for companionship, not chasing prey. Now, all that being said, we may occasionally still point at a bird in the wild. Our Standard Poodle variety, after all, was a water dog. But with socialization, we’ll get along with most species. And our high trainability allows us to learn commands such as “Don’t chase the cat” or “Do not eat the parrot!” easily.
4. Golden Retriever
We’re one of the most popular family pets for a multitude of reasons, but primarily because we adore the world in general, other animals included. We’re sporty and athletic, game to follow you cheerfully on a horseback ride. And as opposed to the herding breeds that can be so darn bossy, we leave the horse to his own business. We’re also renowned for our feline friendliness, at least if we’re socialized to them from puppyhood. Although bred for hunting, we were primarily developed to retrieve in water with our soft mouths. So while I may want to carry around your pet bird, I don’t intentionally hurt many creatures.
5. English Shepherd
First, I’d like to respond to the Golden’s comment that we herders are bossy. Bossiness is our way of caring for our family, animals included. We were developed to herd stock and for general farm work. We define family as “ours,” regardless of species. So while we may chase strange animals away, we don’t typically harass the family’s caged critters. And if we’re socialized to cats, we get along nicely.
My English Shepherd friend, Sadie, in Duluth, Georgia, for example, recently helped with four abandoned newborn kittens. Sadie’s owners were bottle feeding the kittens indoors before they could get to the rescue center. Sadie diligently helped clean each kitten after the feedings. And when a kitten would move away from the group in the box, Sadie would hover, encouraging the kittens back together. A dog herding cats? Now that’s an admirable herding story!