What does THAT mean? Pet Body Language Explained

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November 24, 2013
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When I worked at an animal shelter I learned a few things about dogs and cats that I never knew. Or maybe I did know but didn’t take these facts into consideration until I met dogs who were terrified of being in the shelter and cats who did not like being in a cage. Most of interactions previous to that job were with family pets, dogs who had homes and were goofy, happy-go-lucky, and social. The cats I knew were either aloof and walked away, shy and hid, or wanted attention and playful. The time I spent working there reinforced in me ways to interact with animals that is more mindful of their reactions and responses, and safer for me. If you’ve ever wondered what your cat or dog might be thinking, here’s a quick rundown:

Body Language Signs of Dogs

  • Don’t pat the head – many dogs don’t mind but for some it can be seen as a threatening gesture. Family pets tend to get used to it and adjust since a pat on the head is usually accompanied with a scratch behind the ear, chin rub, and treat. Next time try just scratching behind the ears and chest.
  • Staring – if a dog you see is staring at you, in the eyes, leave that dog alone. Staring is a sign of feeling threatened and confrontational. The dog may be studying you and readying for defense or attack. Similarly, don’t stare at the dog.
  • Your dog looks away – this is your dog’s way of saying, “you’re bugging me.” Dogs who look away diffuse tension and it’s their way of telling other dogs to leave them alone. If your dog looks away after you’ve been pestering him/her to play, cuddle, or stop sitting in the flowers, that means they want you to leave them alone. Try doing it to your dog the next time s/eh bugs you and see if you get a different result than when you talk to your dog and say things like, “Not now.”

Body Language Signs of Cats

  • Flat ears – this is a plain sign to stay away. Flattened ears against the head mean the cat is not happy and is feeling very threatened. There is a good chance you might be scratched or bitten if you persist in doing whatever you are doing to the cat.
  • Tail wags – we associate tail wagging with dogs, showing excitement or happiness. Cats also wag their tails, though not to the same degree. A violent swish is a sign of agitation, you might see this when your cat is stalking and pouncing her toys. A high tail with a slight quiver at the tip means your cat is very happy to see you.
  • Slow blinking – Cats don’t like to stare. A slow blink from them is a sign of relaxation and contentment. If your cat seems nervous you can try slow blinking at her/him to assure your cat things are ok.

Share any body language tips you have about your pets!
Images from Scienceblogs.com and Wikimedia.org

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