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Cross Species Bonding | We Can Learn A Lot About Tolerance from Pets

Rodrigo loves horses.  I wish we could afford a horse (horse+feed+training+pasture+etc) just so that Rodrigo could have another playmate.  The first time we realized that he loves horses, he ran to our neighbor’s house (giving me a heart attack as he darted across a busy road) and when I caught up with him, he was in play stance and the horse was turning left and right, tail up, and they were having a blast.

The humans stood at the fence (my neighbors, my boyfriend, and myself) watching in awe.  I was kicking myself for not having my camera surgically attached to my face.  What an amazing moment, but thankfully it wasn’t the last.

Rodrigo’s love of horses made me curious about cross species bonding.  Does this really happen or am I misinterpreting the interaction.  A coworker of mine has 2 cats, 5 dogs, 3 horses, and 2 donkeys.  They all peacefully interact and the horses play with the dogs – they run around with a huge stuffed animal in the pasture.  Sounds like bonding to me.

Are our animals bonding or just tolerating each other?

I sent out feelers in the animal lover community and Dane brought up an interesting point.  Dane said that animal bonding is really just tolerance.  We, the humans, call it bonding, because we tend to humanize our pets’ behavior.

Doug Johnson has owned 42 animals in his life (dogs, cats, and horses) and shared a cool story…

Years ago I had a yellow lab that was everyone’s friend. We moved to a new home and it had huge trees around it. There were lots of squirrels running around. The dog always seemed friendly towards them and didn’t chase them. They never seemed bothered by him. One day I found him curled up sleeping at the base of one of the trees and a squirrel was curled up with him sleeping. Talk about cross species friendships! ~ Doug Johnson

That sounds like more than tolerance to me.  What do you think?

It’s amazing how accepting animals can be of each other…

I have 2 dogs and 5 monkeys. One of our dogs, Tank, our English bulldog, we purchased as a baby. I had monkeys before him so he was raised with them. He gets along well with all of my monkeys. He lets my black-capped capuchin groom him ever so patiently, and he lets my little squirrel monkeys ride on his back.

My 2nd dog, Bella, an American Bulldog, we got at 2 years old from another family who could no longer keep her. On the day we went to get her, I took my little squirrel monkey with her to see how she would react to her. She was very curious, but never showed aggression. Bella accepted the monkeys from day one, and also lets our capuchins groom her. She will often sit outside of their enclosure and let the capuchins groom her and just “hang out” with them.  ~ Eileen Perez-Carrion, Earthy Chic Boutique (see picture of Bella and the monkey)

What does the dog’s breed have to do with it?

Janice Costa, owner and founder of Canine Camp Getaway of NY shared friendly, social dogs (like Labradors) tend to get along with other pets.  Her own lab befriended a giant turtle at a Pet Expo.  Most dogs will “bond” with another species if they’re raised with that animal.  Its might be a little more difficult to introduce a new pet into an already established pet household.  Our cats never did warm up to the littermates.

My older Shep/Malinois mix is definitely a high-drive dog, but she was raised around animals from a young age, and had constant exposure to a wide variety of dogs, cats and other critters. So I’m not surprised when she wants to go up to strange cats on the street and kiss them — and she once herded a hurt squirrel over to me, very gently, and looked up at me as if to say, “Okay, do something!” (we called Squirrel Rescue — and who knew there was even such a thing as Squirrel Rescue?). She also befriended a 300 pound pig at a nursing home event once. Yet I suspect if she were not raised around animals and given exposure from a young age, she may not have been as tolerant.  ~ Janice Costa

Introducing a new pet to the home…

When it comes to animals bonding to each other, it’s really important to take care in how you introduce a new pet into their new home.  “There is a certain skill level necessary to introduce new animals into the home, whether it’s a second dog, a cat, a rabbit, or even tropical fish. Dogs tend to look to their owners for cues on how they are expected to behave, so it helps if you have a strong handler capable of performing the introduction and providing supervised time together for the pets to get to know each other, and to recognize each other as family rather than as prey.” ~ Janice Costa

Daily is an example for all of us to be more tolerate and bond with outside our “type”

The very first day Daisy was in our home she was only 3 months. Daisy didn’t know what a cat was or was not, she didn’t know if she should love it or hate it. Daisy not only fell in love with all three of her new cat siblings but she instinctively knew to be gentle with them. This was one of the many powerful moments we have experienced with Daisy. You can view Daisy with her cat siblings here:

We then decided to introduce Daisy to our friends horse to see how she would react. Daisy went wild with joy, she couldn’t get even of it, she spun in circles, tried to reach out with her mouth ( a common trait for Daisy) it was so beautiful to see! We do have a short clip on this as well if you are interested.

But ultimately it would be our other rescue dog Olivia who Daisy quickly trained to be her eyes and ears when needed, but I do believe had we not had Olivia she would have not hesitated to teach Louie our three legged cat to be her support. ~ Maryam Faresh

Whenever someone’s difference of opinion annoys me, I think of our dogs and how accepting they are of each other.  No relationship is perfect, we’re not always going to be on the same page, but if a dog can accept grooming tips from a monkey, if a horse an accept a kiss from a dog, or a squirrel can take a nap with a Labrador – then I think we can take a moment to at least try to get along with someone who is “different.”


Now it’s Your Turn!  Does your dog have a friend that isn’t a dog?


  1. I love this article. I had a Doberman, Turbo, many years ago that befriended a horse and a goat. They would all go for trail walks together. I wrote about it in my bestselling book, Dog-Ma The Zen Of Slobber. I would love it if you had time to take a look at it! It is funny, a little bit sad and generally entertaining for pet lovers.

    • That is so sweet sweet sweet. I love that story. Thanks for writing a book for pet lovers. We’re a great group of people!

  2. What cute stories! My dog and cat could never seem to make friends with each other. Although, when my dog was a puppy she became great friends with our ferret and the ferret wrestled with her like she was also a pit bull. Now, Shiner has befriended my most recent pet rat and they seem to enjoy each other’s company.

    • That is so funny; I love it. Our dogs chase all other animals around accept horses. Horses they get into the play stance. It’s hilarious to watch.

  3. I know that scientifically speaking, we can’t define non-human relationships in human terms. And yet, isn’t it quintessientially human to try? Mammals are evolutionarily biased to form attachment bonds, both for mating and/or raising their young, so it doesn’t surprise me that some mammals’ brains expand the bonding process to include other species besides their own. After all, isn’t that what dogs and humans did eons ago to make them our domesticated partners?!

    If you want to call a cross-species bond a friendship, I don’t see the harm in it. The only time that definition might cause problems is among uneducated humans who insist on defining ALL animals’ behavior in human terms. Animals are animals and not humans for a reason, but for the educated person who pays attention, a little anthropormorphizing of the cross-species relationship allows us to take some personal joy from it – and since when is that wrong?

    • This is something that I struggle with all the time. I’m always placing human emotions onto our dogs and I can see the fall out when they develop weird phobias or stop behaving like dogs. So I always remind myself that my babies are my babies, but they have 4 legs and bark and it’s not going to kill them to hang out in the yard for a few hours.

      Once I accepted this, our dogs happily go outside when I need to clean the house; or when I need a nap like the past few days (nursing a cold).

      Thanks for stopping by!


  4. Our Fresca, an American Eskimo dog, had a love/hate relationship with a squirrel in our yard. This particular squirrel would sit on a tree branch right outside our living room window and stare into the window at our dog often throughout the day. I’d come around the corner and find Fresca standing in the recliner closest to the window just staring back at this squirrel. Who knows what they were thinking? Sadly Fresca died in April. I now have a 4-year-old rescue dog and just the other day I was delighted to see that squirrel back peeking in window again, this time watching Toto. It alternated between the tree branch and popping down on the ground to come up to the window sill and peek in and did this for over an hour while I sat there and quilted. Maybe a new friendship will be formed?

    • That is so funny, Dee. I wonder what they were “talking” about. Our dog Sydney will lay down and stare at one of our cats forever, she’s done this since she was a puppy. I spoke to an animal communicator once and she mentioned that the cats don’t like the dogs, but they tolerate Sydney, because she’s polite. Cracked me up.


  5. This is such a great – and important – topic. I went about introducing my pets the wrong way. Basically I was clueless and just kind of brought my dog inside and hoped for the best. The best did not happen. After almost four years, our dog and cat now tolerate each other. I would never use the word bonded for their relationship! But they can be in the same room without killing each other and sometimes they even seem to have fun “playing” together. They will never share the same bed but at this point I am happy they can at least co-exist!

    • I thought our cats would warm up to our puppies; what I didn’t count on was how energetic puppies can be. Now they tolerate each other, but we’re not to the point where they’ll be in the same room. The dogs still want to play with the cats. The cats aren’t having it.

  6. Anybody who denies the possibility of cross species bonding needs to step back and look at the big picture….

    Canis lupus familiaris + homo sapien = cross species bonding

    enough said…. 😉

    • I know, right?
      I love it when one of our dogs (or sometimes 2 or all 3) will come and sit really closely to me. I love it when I was sick, they all curled around me. And Blue was so cute when he was smaller. He’d wake up and wiggle up to me and crawl on the sofa with me and go back to sleep. We’ve definitely bonded with our dogs.



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