In order to properly decipher which behaviors are good or bad, we first must learn to speak in the language that our pet best communicates which is through body language. It’s important to remember that cats aren’t nearly as domesticated as dogs so early socialization is even more important for a cat’s healthy development. Felines are probably just as expressive and affectionate as canine companions. Purring can be a self-soothing behavior in addition to her trying to tell you to continue what you are doing whether it be petting her or just sitting near her. When a cat rubs herself against you with her head or tail, she is hugging you. Slow blinking means that she trusts you. Think about it. Cats are both predators AND prey so if they are willing to close their eyes for an extended period of time in your presence, they feel safe. Cats ‘meow’ as a form of communication to humans as this is a behavior only seen in the domesticated cat.
Cats can suffer from reactivity also like dogs but be extra careful to consider all environmental, physical, and physiological factors in your pets when dealing with a behavioral issue as cats can exhibit aggressive behavior for several reasons due to fear or pain as a result of an illness or injury. In addition, cats are not as adept as dogs at reading our body language. Yelling and waving at a cat will only cause her to become anxious, weary, and afraid and not actually understand that you just wanted her off the counter. Training your cat to avoid the counter will be discussed in a later post. Dogs are a little bit easier to read as they have been our companions for many more years.
When talking at your dog, your dog may appear to be listening to you however, he is paying more attention to what your body is doing in addition to the tone you are using rather than actually paying attention to the words coming out of your mouth. Dogs learn through association. They can recognize that your lips moving in an upward way into a smile may be followed with a reward of some sort and so their ears will perk forward and their mouths, eyes, and tail will relax. When you become angry or frustrated, your dog will wince at your tone, respect the furrowing of your brow and pressed lips by responding with an averted gaze, cowered body posture, piloerection due to fear or arousal, dilated eyes, and lowered ears, tail, and head. They unfortunately are incapable of understanding what you are saying but may unknowingly make you feel like they do due to their response to your body language. If you reprimand a dog for eliminating inside your house, he will only associate eliminating in front of you with an unhappy guardian which will result in him eliminating in dark corners or under the bed. At the end of the day, we can only expect our dogs to be dogs.
The foundation and basics of animal behavior always go back to body language so let’s play a game of red light green light to help you learn or test which behaviors are appeasing, and harmless (green), cautious or potentially aggressive (yellow), or aggressive and dangerous (red).