How To Avoid Fighting Like Cats And Dogs

The cat, Pippi, and the dog, Lilly

They say ‘fighting like cats and dogs’, so the creatures presumably know a lot about conflict. We have a dog and recently got a cat and spent about a month getting them to not fight. It’s been Mashallah, successful so far. Right now, they’re play-fighting under my sarong, which is quite unpleasant for me, but they get along with each other.

Watching these creatures makes me think about conflict among humans, and how it’s both avoidable and unavoidable. In my household, we had the spacetime, resources, and intention to stop these guys from fighting, but that’s not the world outside. In the world outside, you’ve often got none of the above, or even circumstances driving you to fight. Cats and dogs don’t have to fight, but sometimes they just have to. Same goes for people. As the bluesman Willie Dixon sang,

Tell me who’s a-blame?
The whole world fightin’
About the same thing


If you don’t want to fight, you have to not want to fight. The main reason our cat (Pippi) and dog (Lilly) aren’t fighting right now is because we don’t want them to. We are constantly manipulating them and the environment to keep the peace. It’s a completely artificial situation, we could just as well encourage more violence. Indeed, in the human world, people are actively trying to keep the war. Artificial or natural, individual creatures are subject to circumstances, and those circumstance call for violence.

There is no natural intention in this world towards non-violence. The universe was born in a paroxysm of violence, the Earth was formed thus, and evolution proceeds in the same regard. I was reading a kids' story about a lion that went vegetarian and it just made no sense at all. Killing is the lion’s dharma, its small part in the violent dance of creation, maintenance, and destruction that must go on. Humans, like everything else, take violence too far, but it is an intrinsic part of what we call nature.

Maintaining a house where cats and dogs don’t fight is thus an artificial situation, created and maintained by intention. And that’s the first piece of the puzzle. If you want non-violence you have to first define it in a very narrow, practical way (the cat and dog both eat chicken and fish, for example), and then put the conditions in place for that to happen. And those conditions are…


Spacetime is where everything exists and what we call ‘violence’ is, fundamentally, things bumping into each other in spacetime. Getting too close, and causing sparks. Indeed, the closer you squash things together in space, the more violent the reaction is (nuclear fusion inside stars, or their wholesale collapse into supernovas). The same applies to cats and dogs inside a household. So, at first, you’ve got to keep them apart.

The first thing we did was to keep the two volatile elements separated within the household. This, of course, implies a large house, which isn’t always possible, but it was for us. The cat was kept upstairs and the dog either down or in the garden. We kept them there for weeks. They existed in the same time, but not in the same space, thus avoiding a catastrophic spacetime collision. But eventually that had to happen.

So — during their weeks of separation — we began to slowly introduce them. We let the kitty downstairs and brought the dog in on a leash. They were in the same general spacetime, but in highly controlled, laboratory conditions. The dog was leashed like a particle in an accelerator and, believe me, she wanted to get out and collide with that kitten. That is precisely, however, what we did not want. I think there is a natural inclination to fight among cats and dogs, and that’s precisely what we wanted to artificially suppress. And for that we needed to bring in another element of human control over animals. Our control of resources.


Fundamentally, creatures won’t fight if they don’t have anything to fight over. Fighting is a spend of scarce resources and creatures don’t just do it for nothing. The general evolutionary premise is that fighting gets you (generally) more resources than you put in, either food or mates, and is thus ‘worth it’. So that’s what we needed to short-circuit.

The dog is greedy AF and so we used that to our advantage. Whenever she and the cat were together, we fed the dog treats, and good ones. Some other dead animal because, again, non-violence is always discriminatory. Thus the dog associated this snack of a kitten with actual snacks, and ones that didn’t require energy to catch and kill. In fact, she got rewarded the less she moved around.

Once she settled, we figured out that the dog — though capable of killing the cat— wasn’t the problem. After a few days of seeing the cat, Lilly got over her initial aggressive response and was just curious. The cat, however, had the eye of the tiger and even sought out the dog to mess with it. For weeks, the cat would hiss, arch its back, and swipe at the dog. That is to say, its instinct for ‘defense’ lasted longer than the offensive instincts of the dog. Brave cat, albeit rude.

To settle the cat down, now, we had to just wait, ie allocate more spacetime. So we let them be together, and gave them plenty of resources so they knew there was nothing to fight about. We started feeding the animals together, the dog on a leash, the cat furiously gobbling down its food and hissing. In controlled conditions we were able to show that their resources were not affected by the other, and would even improve. Note that they eat apart now because the dog is a thieving glutton. But sharing meals was a big step towards sharing a household.

This is why, I think, new human neighbors will receive a plate of food from next door, and then return it with something on it. Or why people offer refreshments at meetings and special events in general. No one’s going to die without sustenance at a two-hour meeting, but in many ways that sharing is the point of the meeting. It’s an important communication, at a very animal level. Sharing food is a way of showing that this is a cooperative situation, and that no one’s lunch will be threatened by the relationship. Indeed, lunch will be provided.

Violence is often borne out of resource shortage — the most zero-sum version being eating another creature whole; spacetime fusion via the stomach. That’s the type of reaction we were trying to avoid, so we made sure all the other needs of these animals were provided for. Which offers some lessons for humans.

Too often the reaction to human violence is beatings until morale improves. This is both immoral and doesn’t improve things. Most public policy about human violence ignores the connection to resources, and the lack thereof. With a dog and cat, it’s obvious that if they’re hungry, tired, and competing for resources they’re going to fight. We somehow miss this point in human animals. In modern society we have created an artificial world where humans are crammed together in spacetime (cities), resources are made artificially scarce (an economy), and competition is elevated to a virtue (capitalism). Is there any wonder that violence erupts? It’s inevitable, not from the sinful nature of man, but from the system.

In the artificial ecosystem of our house, we simply took resources off the table. On a regular basis, the cat and dog don’t eat the same thing, and they don’t eat at the same time, precluding a nuclear explosion at dinner. They are also fed regularly and well, preventing general cussedness and grumpiness. That is all to say, they have nothing to fight over. Because the resource situation is tightly controlled, and they are provided for. This is a lesson for humans because, as the saying goes, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. Any creature that is fed and generally comfortable can then sublimate their violent instincts into something more palatable. Like play. Which was the next element of this dog/cat relationship.

Ritualized Violence

As I mentioned at the beginning, the cat and dog started this article playing under my sarong. After a bit of sniffing, the cat will usually take a few play swipes at the dog, and roll on its belly to show submission. The dog will playfully pounce, and they’ll go back and forth like that. They get the sillies out by play fighting, and I think this is essential to avoiding the real thing. This seems common to a lot of animals (though usually within a species), and is definitely important to humans.

Humans will play games, or tease each other, or ‘horse’ around. Recently when my kids were fighting, rather than discuss their stupid problems, I had them play a card game together until they forgot. Games are a dance of cooperation (following shared rules) and competition (winning within the rules) which serve as an important hedge against actual violence. Indeed, in ancient times people declared truces during Olympic Games, as we (sorta) do during the modern version.

Sports, themselves, are elaborate forms of ritualized violence, specifying exactly who, what, and how you can hit, and when you have to stop. I think of this as I watch the cat on its belly, swiping without its claws. I think of it when I watch football (the one with the feet) myself. Any given Sunday there are enough people in these stadiums to overthrow their shitty governments, but they don’t, because they’re getting their sillies out on the pitch, instead of having pitched battles in the street. Watching billionaires play with their toys can placate billions. Play fighting prevents real fighting across many types of animals, including humans.

They say that war is politics by other means, but the corollary is that politics is war by other means. It’s another form of play fighting, writ large. People fight for elections and issues and whatever, enacting all of these little rituals to share power in a competitive yet cooperative way. The great game, writ large. Like in animals, much of it replicates actual physical dominance (the dog, for example, does not submit to the cat), but everybody feels better when they get to play their part. Functioning governance feels like a choice, even if it’s just an elaborate hierarchical dance, as deeply controlled and manipulated as the ‘peace’ in my own household.

Blissful Silence

There’s one final element, which is plain old luck. I say things are peaceful Mashallah (god wills it) because god has willed it, and gods know they take away. There is a certain element of divine providence or luck in peace, and sometimes god just shows up with a sword. What we call peacefulness is not inherent to godliness, as Lord Krishna told Arjuna. As the Holy One said in the Mahabharata,

Do thou, therefore, fight, O Bharata. He who thinks it (the soul) to be the slayer and he who thinks it to be the slain, both of them know nothing; for it neither slays nor is slain. It is never born, nor doth it ever die; nor, having existed, will it exist no more.

Sometimes killing is just your dharma, whether it’s lions slaying a gazelle, or Kshatriyas slaying their cousins. What we call peace is really a temporary state of ritualized violence, and it can quickly become the real thing. For now, however, in the limited confines of my house, this cat and dog are peaceful. It’s a completely manipulated situation —made possible by invisible violence against fish and chickens — but spacetime has been warped around human intention, resources are magically provided, and the animals can work their issues out through ritualized violence, ie play fighting under my sarong. And it works, so far.

So what is the lesson for the global household we live in, currently fighting like cats and dogs? Well there, I’m afraid the prognosis is not so good. There is no real intention towards non-violence in this world (nor a clear entity to act upon it). Resources are not provided, and people are instead encouraged to fight over them. Humans are crammed together in spacetime, struggling over resources, and — given our toxic waste — things are only going to get worse. As much as we like ritualized violence, the ruling (American) empire has made actual violence (war) into a sport of its own. So while lessons there may be, lessons won’t be learned. Nobody is asking our brother/sister animals, and so we find ourselves lost in abstractions.

But hey, the cat and dog in my house haven’t killed each other, and that’s cute. At least this cat and dog aren’t fighting like cats and dogs, though the humans are. That’s the irony of the saying. We’re actually worse.