Cheetahs are undoubtedly some of the coolest animals on the planet. Not only are they record-breaking runners (a cheetah can reach 112km/h in just three seconds) but they are also fierce predators and have the most beautiful markings.
If we were a cheetah, we think we’d be feeling pretty confident about ourselves.
But in actual fact, cheetahs are surprisingly pretty shy!
A cheetah’s social anxiety stops them from being able to socialize with others of their kind. Their nerves can get so bad that they’re not able to procreate – and now experts are fearing that they may go extinct.
Luckily, zoos like St. Louis Zoo have some tricks up their sleeve.
Since a cheetah’s breeding problems stem from anxiety, zookeepers had to come up with a way that they could mellow out an anxious cheetah. Someone had the genius idea of recruiting an emotional support dog – and since then, zoos have never looked back.
Emotional support dogs are used in humans to provide psychological support, connection, and motivation to people who need it. Similarly, zookeepers found that emotional support dogs could provide the same benefits in cheetahs that they can in humans.
“It’s a love story of one species helping another species survive,” said Jack Grisham, vice president of animal collections at the St. Louis Zoo and species survival plan coordinator for cheetahs in North America.
Cheetahs are paired with emotional support dogs from a young age in order to help them become socialized. Since dogs are generally quite relaxed, laid back, and happy-go-lucky, they serve as a great positive example for a cheetah cub to follow as they grow.
Think of the emotional support dog as a top-class wingman – your one friend who will do anything it takes to help you get that person’s number at the bar.
Since a dog helps the cheetah cub with their social skills, when the time comes for them to procreate, they are much more likely to have the confidence to put themselves out there!
“A dominant dog is very helpful because the African animals are quite shy instinctively, and you can’t breed that out of them,” explains Janet Rose-Hinostroza, animal training supervisor at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “When you pair cheetah cub with a guide dog, the cat looks to the dog for cues and learns to model their behavior. It’s about getting them to read that calm, happy-go-lucky vibe from the cheetah support dog – and that helps them be more confident and willing to get it on.”
The friendship between a dog and a cheetah might be an unlikely one, but apparently, it works pretty well!
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It has to be said, if a dog can handle a housecat, then there’s not much that they can’t handle.
“We’re very protective of our cheetahs, so the introduction is a painfully slow process but a lot of fun,” the zoo told Tree Hugger. “There are lots of toys and distractions, and they’re like two cute little kids who desperately want to play. But cheetahs are instinctively hardwired to feel uneasy so you have to wait and let the cat make the first move.”
Watch the adorable emotional support pups in action below.
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