Understanding Your Pet
At some point or another, you’ve probably wished your animals could talk. Maybe you’ve imagined what kind of voice they would have or the silly things they might say.
As much as we wish it to be true, animals can’t speak human. They can, however, understand us to some extent based on our behaviors and tone of voice. They too give signs and signals to express themselves. Just like children, animals are impressionable at a young age and learn behaviors. Therefore, the actions and words you use in reference to your pet has a direct effect on them.
Understanding Their Stress and Anxiety
When a pet acts out, they are trying to tell you something. Dogs are the usual culprits of bad behavior, as they are much needier of affection than most pets. A lot of their bad behavior is due to stress or anxiety when you leave them at home for long stretches of time.
Yes, dogs can actually get separation anxiety. Usual signs of separation anxiety are whining, pacing, howling, destruction of household objects, urinating in the house and depression.
Cats may also demonstrate similar behaviors upon bonding with their owner. In addition to the behaviors listed, they may sulk or hide, excessively groom, or vomit only when their owner is not home.
If your pet exhibits any of these behaviors it’s important to talk to your vet or a pet behavior specialist. They may first try to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be ultimately causing them to act out. If the animal is otherwise healthy, behavior modification therapy or medication may be needed.
Learn the Language
Animals also have their own language as we do, and learning to interpret it is the key to a happy, healthy pet. Certain barks, meows, and other sounds can signify different forms of communication or emotions in your pet.
Dogs may bark loudly and rapidly to alert you there is someone approaching, or to signify danger. If they feel threatened the bark may be accompanied by growling. A dog in distress may bark in a high pitched tone that is very repetitive. Dogs may even bark in boredom, which is usually an even monotonous tone.
Barking doesn’t always have a negative correlation, though; dogs may bark during play or for attention. Whining that turns into barking may often signal the dog wants affection or for you to pay attention to them so they may further communicate with you. Some dogs even growl in pleasure, such as Rottweilers.
Cats also vocalize to express what they are feeling. Meows are almost exclusively used as communication with humans. Cats will meow to tell you they want something: food, attention, or to let them in bed with you at night.
Yowling is the equivalent to a dog’s howl. Cats who yowl are in distress of some sort, often due to loneliness or a change of environment.
Purring is a frequently heard sound among cats and usually denotes pleasure and comfort. It is often accompanied by kneading and blinking as the cat settles in to cuddle or sleep.
Cats may also make chirping sounds that end on a high pitched note. These often sound like questions and are usually just calls for attention or play.
It’s All in the Body Language
A pet’s body language can also be telling. Happy dogs wag their tails and thus their entire bodies. They may also run around and even smile when they’re happy.
Cats sometimes stretch, yawn, or expose their bellies when they are happy and comfortable. Their eyes will often be slits and blink slowly to show their content.
When either a cat or dog’s tail becomes stiffened and upright it usually means they feel threatened or alert. Another animal may be nearby who they feel the need to defend their territory against.
Nervous or fearful dogs or cats may also draw in their ears flat against their heads. This posture may also be accompanied by hissing or growling, which means “back off!” They may continue to assume this pose until the threat diminishes or they are distracted by something else.
Cats and dogs may also express fear of disapproval or punishment by cowering close to the ground and folding their tails under them and their ears down. Many people associate this with guilt, but this is not the case.
When an animal has bonded to their owner, they are more afraid of doing something to upset them than actually realizing they have done something wrong. Positive reinforcement is the only way to make sure your pet knows what you approve or don’t. Training is essential, especially for dogs, but is also possible for cats as well.
Although these are some of the basic ways your pet may be trying to communicate with you, every animal is different. Pets, like people, have their own personalities and may exhibit unique traits.
Ultimately, you know your pet best and should pay attention to their nuances to be able to figure out what they are trying to tell you.
PetMD (Separation Anxiety in Dogs)
Doctors Foster and Smith (Separation Anxiety: Causes, Signs & Treatment)
The Whole Dog Journal (Understanding Your Dog’s Vocal Communications)
WebMD (What Is Your Dog Telling You?)
Modern Cat (12 Sounds Cats Make and What They Mean)