Understanding Why Pets Do The Things They Do

Body talk: To show trust, friendliness, and affection, a dog will lick your face, and a cat will brush its body up against you.

 To show trust, friendliness, and affection, a dog will lick your face, and a cat will brush its body up against you.

Cats and dogs have dozens of ways to tell us how they feel and what they think. But their ways of communicating are sometimes quite different.

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Both animals communicate dominance and submission through eye contact. If you meet your pet’s gaze, who looks away first? Whoever stares longest is top dog (or cat). Don’t try this with a strange dog, though. Dogs sometimes interpret a long stare as a threat and may attack as a result. If you meet a strange dog that may be aggressive, avoid eye contact altogether. But don’t run away – that would tell the dog that you’re afraid.

Image via Wikipedia

Body position also helps tell whether an animal is feeling submissive or aggressive. A dog may roll over on its back to show submission; that’s its way of saying “you’re the boss.” If the dog thinks it’s the boss, it may jump up and puts its paws on your shoulders. If a dog is aggressive, it will often stand with ears and tail perked up and its hackles – the hairs on its back – raised. The raised hackles make the dog seem larger to its opponent. When the dog is ready to fight, it may lower its head to protect its throat.

Cats also fluff up their fur – all over their bodies and even on their tails – to look larger to an opponent. When they are afraid or worried, they sit with their tails curled around their bodies. When they’re very frightened, they arch their backs and hold their tails straight up in a “Halloween cat” pose. But a cat that brushes against your leg and arches its back usually just wants to be petted.

Image via Wikipedia

If the cat rubs your leg with its head and tail, its marking you with scent that says you’re a friend. A cat may also pat your face with its paw to show friendship – with its paw carefully retracted, of course. A dog that wants to show friendship will lick you, especially on the face.

Tails are great indicators of mood. When a dog is frightened or ashamed, it tucks its tail between its legs. A level, wagging tail is a sign of friendship. But be careful if the tail is carried high, even if it’s still wagging – the dog may be showing aggression. Cats twitch their tails when they’re annoyed and when they’re stalking prey – even if the prey is just a scrap of paper or a rubber mouse.

Image via Wikipedia

When your cat wants to play, it may lie on its side and bat the air with its paws. Your dog may nudge you with its nose, raise a paw, or crouch down in front with its hindquarters raised. Dogs also have a “play face” – a silly sort of grin – that they put on when they want to romp.

Cats and dogs can also produce a whole range of vocal expressions to tell you how they feel. Dogs whine and whimper to show submission or to get attention, bark when they’re happy or excited, yelp when they’re hurt, and snarl and growl when they want to make a threat. Cats meow when they want attention – or food – but they rarely meow to each other. They may chatter when they spot a bird and yowl when they gather outside at night. And they hiss and spit to show anger. People don’t know exactly why cats purr, but it’s usually connected with the pleasure of being petted or groomed.

Image via Wikipedia

Once you understand why your pet does the things it does and what it’s trying to tell you through its body language and the sounds it makes, you’ll enjoy your pet more. And you may be better able to keep it from doing the wrong (but natural) things – like howling all day or shredding the drapes.

Image by zenera via Flickr

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