The symbiotic relationship between dogs and humans is a tale as old as time. Along with helping with physically demanding tasks, such as herding and hunting, it’s also common for dogs to work as service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs.
It’s not often that we hear about dogs helping other animals, especially by providing emotional support to fellow mammals. However, it appears that a dog’s empathy doesn’t just end with humans. Rather, it’s capable of extending to other animals, including their infamous enemies–cats.
Zookeepers have discovered that dogs can be extremely effective emotional support dogs for cheetahs. Several emotional support programs at zoos have proven that dogs and cheetahs consistently make an incredibly adorable and endearing duo that mutually benefit from each other.
What Do Emotional Support Dogs Do?
Traditionally, emotional support dogs help humans cope with challenging mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and phobias. They can also help reduce stress and loneliness.
Some dogs can even become certified psychiatric service dogs after they receive the proper training to help their handlers cope with certain effects of mental illnesses.
Overall, humans’ relationships with dogs have shown time and time again that dogs have the potential to improve someone’s quality of life. It seems that emotional support dogs can also improve a cheetah’s quality of life.
How Do Emotional Support Dogs Help Cheetahs?
To understand how dogs help cheetahs, we must first understand how cheetahs behave in the wild.
Cheetahs are naturally shy animals that are always on high alert. Rather than confront or chase away any threats, they use their renowned speed to run away from danger. Because of their alertness, they tend to have nervous temperaments.
This nervousness rarely is exercised at zoos because there aren’t any threats present in a cheetah’s enclosure. So, many cheetahs end up with pent-up energy and need a release.
Enter the emotional support dog. Dogs seem to be able to provide the same calming presence and stress-relieving effect that they have on humans onto cheetahs.
The First Dog and Cheetah Pairing
The San Diego Zoo was the first zoo in the United States to pair dogs with cheetahs. The first pairing was established in 1980. A Golden Retriever named Anna was paired with a male cheetah named Arusha. Arusha was raised by hand and needed an animal companion.
It wasn’t possible for another cheetah to stay at the zoo, so zookeepers decided to try pairing Arusha with Anna the dog. At the time, it was unheard of to pair a dog with a wild cat. However, the zookeepers reasoned that out of all the big cats, cheetahs have temperaments most similar to dogs. So, they took a chance and introduced Arusha to Anna.
At first, Arusha didn’t like Anna and swatted and hissed at her, but Anna didn’t react defensively or aggressively. The zookeepers discovered that Anna’s lack of reaction was due to her desire to please the humans. When the zookeepers hid from sight, Anna stood up for herself and barked at Arusha. She eventually became a strong influence on Arusha, and they became a bonded pair.
How Cheetahs Get Paired With Emotional Support Dogs
Since the success of Arusha’s and Anna’s revolutionary relationship, at least 15 other zoos in the US have adopted emotional support dog programs for cheetahs.
The majority of cheetah and dog pairings occur when the animals are young cubs and puppies that are about 3 to 4 months old. The introduction process is very slow, especially since cheetahs can be very timid.
The two animals will start off in separate enclosures with a fence between them. When they get used to each other, zookeepers and trainers will leash the puppy and remove the fence. The puppy remains leashed until the cheetah cub becomes more comfortable around the puppy.
If the introduction is successful, the two animals will get used to each other and start to play together. They eventually become quite inseparable and usually stay together except during mealtimes.
The Benefits of Cheetah and Dog Pairing Programs
Although various dog breeds and mixed breeds from animal rescues have successfully paired with cheetahs, the most popular dog breeds for these programs are Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and Anatolian Shepherds. You’ll notice that these dog breeds often have devoted and confident temperaments and have a hardy build that can withstand some roughhousing.
Over time, zookeepers and researchers discovered that dogs make good companions for cheetahs because they tend to help cheetahs feel calm. Their good-natured and happy-go-lucky personality seems to rub off on cheetahs. If the dogs are calm, then the cheetahs don’t feel a need to be so nervous.
Another reason why dogs are good companions is that they can handle a cheetah’s play style, and they both end up expending a lot of each other’s energy. Since dogs are more social animals, many also end up teaching cheetahs social cues.
Zookeepers have noticed that the dog’s calming presence doesn’t just end with keeping cheetahs relaxed. The relaxed state of cheetahs also encourages them to breed. Cheetahs that are too nervous aren’t able to breed successfully. So, dogs have also been helping with cheetah conservation programs.
The relationship between cheetahs and dogs shows that natural enemies can become the best of friends. Although these dogs continue to chase these cats, it’s all in good fun. It’s cute to see a cheetah cub playing with a puppy, but these kinds of relationships are actually quite powerful as they have the potential to play a significant role in cheetah conservation and restoration efforts.
Featured Image Credit: Barry Reed, Pixabay