Take the generic ‘which is better’ canine vs feline debate, add a dose of the likeable Chris Packham and animal loving co-presenter Liz Bonnin, throw in a bunch of impressive Attenborough-esque camera shots and what do you get? Ground breaking scientific excitement or just your average run of the mill pet programme?
Well, if tonight’s Part 1 is anything to go by, it seems like the answer is a bit of both. The documentary, shown on BBC Two, had a relatively weak start, including Packham grabbing an unsuspecting Labrador by the face and staring directly, albeit lovingly, into its eyes. A few clips of the presenter with a bunch of tame wolves made for delightful viewing – who could not be impressed by the beauty of these animals? Yet I couldn’t help but feel that the wolves, beautiful as they are, were wasted on this. No ground breaking facts here – just the idea that fluffy poodles descended from them. Oh, and that wolves work together as a pack to bring down prey larger than themselves. Err…
In all fairness, though, the wolves weren’t completely irrelevant to the programme. They were shown following the first ‘Cats v Dogs’ experiment, in which the numerical abilities of both animals were tested by asking them to select the screen with the highest number of dots. Luna the Husky seemed to find the whole thing relatively easy, scoring 60% even when the test was made more difficult. It was noted that, despite what it may seem like, dogs can not count – Luna was simply aware of the visual difference. This is said to have a conflict avoidance function in the case of wolves, with individuals able to note the size of rival packs and therefore not pick fights with a pack bigger than their own. Wise.
How did the cat get on with its own version of the ‘counting’ test? Despite having a successful start, it became clear that felines are averse to commands, and once the numbers increased the cat lost interest and it was game over. After all, as noted by one of the experimenters, when does a cat need to count to ten? When you’re testing its patience, I guess. The Arabian wild cat, said to be the ancestor of all domestic moggies, was then shown, and again relatively obvious points were made about pet cats still harbouring the desire to hunt. It is here that perhaps a breakdown of the physical and behavioural similarities between the wild and domestic cat could have been included, or even a brief mention of whether it is the domestic feline or canine that shares the most similarities with their natural counterparts (Just how different are wolves and huskies, and are Maine Coons as big as the Arabian wild cat?)
However, from here onwards the programme seemed to pick up speed. Interesting facts about the sizes of the animals’ brains (cat-sized dogs have a roughly 20% bigger brain than cats) and later on, noses (dogs have many more scent receptors and a larger brain area dedicated to smell), at last provided us with some of the scientific evidence promised. Even more impressive was the clip of Packham being tracked through a bustling city by sniffer dog Boris, who took a mere ten minutes to locate the presenter despite Packham’s best efforts to send him off the trail. Unsurprisingly there was no cat equivalent for this part, although in the following experiments the feline came out on top with its superior hearing and high jump skills.
Towards the end of show, viewers were treated to some fast-paced (and loud) Canicross (also referred to as Cani-X), itself an exciting demonstration of the endurance ability of dogs, and also an adorable long-haired Chihuahua, a tiny training partner who loved nothing more than racing through the forest alongside her owner who proclaimed that his pet was “the Mo Farah of dogs”. ‘Where is the Usain Bolt of cats?’ feline lovers across the country (probably) exclaimed.
Overall, Cats v Dogs was a fun, light-hearted take on the argument that has forever divided the nation’s animal lovers. Did it really provide us with any answers as to which species is ‘the best’? Of course not. The truth is, there is no best. Both cats and dogs are brilliant creatures in their own unique ways. Although, I think it’s pretty safe to say I’m #TeamDog.
‘Cats v Dogs’ is available on iPlayer. Part 2 will be shown on BBC Two next week (Thursday 11th).