The Latest Cool Facts About Our Favorite Friends
Dog people. Cat people. People who love both. What follows should be interesting to all three groups of people, and pretty much everyone in between. Because the more we learn about animals, the more we can learn about our own species.
DOGS PREFER PETTING TO PRAISE
Two scientists recently discovered that dogs prefer being petted to verbal praise. In fact, dogs were about as excited by verbal communication from their human as they were by no interaction at all! (Perhaps the only thing dogs like better than petting is food!)
An article in The Huffington Post reports, “For one part of the study–published online in the journal Behavioural Processes–researchers observed 42 shelter and pet dogs as they interacted one at a time with two people in a room. One person petted the dog, while the other praised the dog verbally. The researchers measured how much time the dog chose to spend interacting with each person.” What the researchers found was that the dogs consistently sought out interaction with the person who was petting.
Dogs’ heart rate and blood pressure both go down when they’re being petted, which is wonderful news since the same happens to us humans when we pet an animal. However, while we may get tired of doing the petting, the study showed that the dogs never did. So next time you pet your dog, know that you’re making their day. And when they paw at you when you stop, pet them a little bit more.
CATS AND COMMUNICATION
While far less research is and has been done on cats (for a variety of reasons), there have been some fascinating studies in recent years. The BBC’s Horizon program partnered with the Royal Veterinary College to study 50 cats in an English village in an effort to understand more about what domestic cats do when we humans aren’t around. One of the things they discovered was that cats “appeared to timeshare territory to avoid confrontation with neighboring felines and visit each other’s houses.” Visit http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-22567526 for the full report: it’s quite fascinating.
Something else you may not know: cats don’t generally vocally converse with each other, besides hissing and growling. Instead, they use meows chiefly to communicate with us humans and they learn, by our responses, what’s effective. There are certain constants across cats’ forms of expression, however, and their forms of communication aren’t limited to vocal sounds. Cats use body language to communicate: their tail, fur, eyes, ears, and head can convey a host of different messages, from affection to territory-marking to aggression or fear to playful fun.
You can also learn to communicate with your cat using words and movements. Just remember that the words you use are less important than how you say them and the body language that accompanies them. Be consistent (don’t say NO to your cat pushing for affection while you are working and then pet him anyway), use a different tone for different messages, and use appropriate body language – your cat will learn from you.
Cats are also very adept at reading our true moods. Most studies have shown that if you say something but don’t truly mean it, your cat will be able to tell. If you approach your cat as you normally do but are hiding, say, a pill, you might be surprised to discover that your cat is on to you. He can pick up on your body language and your carefully-hidden emotions in ways that might amaze you.
Or what about when you greet a cat and he flops down and rolls over onto his back? Those of us who love dogs know that that is a sign of submission and often a request for a belly rub. But why then do cats respond to a belly rub with a bite or kick? Because turning over onto his back is a way your cat tells you he wants to play-fight! If he purrs and seems to enjoy the belly rub, then by all means go ahead. Those of us who have cats know that they let us know when they’ve had enough.
One last interesting tidbit for cat people from the Humane Society: The Flehmen response.
“Have you noticed times when your cat—perhaps while sniffing your shoe—lifts his head, opens his mouth slightly, curls back his lips, and squints his eyes. He’s not making a statement about how your shoe smells, he’s gathering more information.
Your cat’s sense of smell is so essential to him that he actually has an extra olfactory organ that very few other creatures have: the Jacobson’s organ. It’s located on the roof of his mouth behind his front teeth and is connected to the nasal cavity.
When your cat gets a whiff of something really fascinating, he opens his mouth and inhales so that the scent molecules flow over the Jacobson’s organ. This intensifies the odor and provides more information about the object he’s sniffing. What he does with that information, well, we’ll never know.”
Learn something new every day, huh? It’s fascinating to think of all that’s still to be discovered about the furry friends who make our lives richer – and us smarter!
Written by: Ashley Denham Busse
Ashley Denham Busse has worked part-time for Doggywalker.com since 2006. Doggywalker.com is a professional pet-sitting company located in Old Town Alexandria, celebrating more than 13 years of providing daily walks and customized in-home pet care. Visit http://www.doggywalker.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.