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Pet Secrets Revealed: What Your Furry Friend is Trying to Tell You

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(Image from Deposit Photos)

In a perfect world, we could sit down across from our pets and have frank conversations with them.

"Why did you growl at Grandma? You know grandma; you love grandma."


"I know that clove of garlic looked delicious, but you are deathly allergic to it."

Maybe in the future, we'll have developed the technology to communicate with our pets, but in the meantime, we'll have to settle for interpreting their body language and behaviors. Today we'll speak to animal care educator Owen Smith of Association of Learning and discuss some of the lesser-known cues your furry friend may be giving you.


The Decisive Yawn

Dog behaviorists have long debated the merits of the yawning = stress theory. Some believe that a yawn may indicate agitation, while others feel that the display is often just a symptom of tiredness or a lack of oxygen. Owen suggests it could be a combination, and to truly know, you need to tune into the situation at hand. "Dogs are a bit like people," he shares. "They can yawn when they're tired, if they haven't gotten enough air, or when they're anxious. If you find yourself with a repeatedly yawning dog, try removing them from the situation and see if it subsides. Take it as a hint, not a definitive sign of stress."

Tail Wags

Dogs have many uses for their tails. Balance, defense, navigation, warmth, and communication, to name just a few, The tail is a bit like a waving flag, usually alerting you to a happy, engaged canine. Other times, tail wagging can indicate excitement, anger, or anxiety. "Your dog feels social anxiety just like you do, but instead of biting their nails or wringing their hands, they wag their tails." Owen explains, "The speed of their tail wag and even the direction can be indicators of stress, friendliness, or insecurity. A fast wag means an excited dog, so keep an eye on it!"

Depositphotos_17469735_L(Image from Deposit Photos)


Smiling and Licking

Baring teeth and snarling are pretty obvious signs of aggression that most owners know to look out for. But what about a grin or what appears to be a smile? Owen explains that seeing a dog's teeth can mean they're relaxed and showing submission. "Submissive grins when your dog is in situations with new people are a sign that your dog understands their position in the pack and that they're relaxed about it. Licking is also a sign of bonding and a self-soothing technique for dogs."


Signs of a Confident Cat

Our feline fellows can be enigmas all their own. No two cats are alike, and they're much less tolerant of our human fumbling than their canine cousins. That being said, there are some telltale signs that your cat is content. "Your cats can let you know how they're feeling with the direction they're facing and their posture; like dogs, their tail says a lot," Owen shares. "If a cat is angling their body towards you, stretching and seeking contact, that's a good thing! If they're shying away, arching their backs, or trying to appear small, you should give them some space."

Fluffing Up

When cats are cornered or feel threatened, they engage in a very effective tactic: making themselves appear larger than they really are. By bristling their fur and making it stand on end, a cat can momentarily double their size. "This is a fear response," says Owen. "Cats know they're not as big as you, but they want to throw you off and intimidate you into leaving them be."

Tail and Ears

"Tails and ears are like the traffic lights of the cat world," Owen jokes. "Up and forward, that's a green light. Swishing tail and swiveling ears; orange light; proceed with caution. Ears back and down? Red! You should back off."


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Without a tail, hamsters are a bit harder to read. These tiny fluffballs nevertheless have body language! Owen let us know: "You can tell your hamster is happy in a few ways; similar to dogs, they can yawn in comfort and contentment. Burrowing is also a good sign your ham is pleased, as is leaping into the air! They literally jump for joy." There are also clear signs that a hamster is upset. "If your hamster feels threatened, you might see them stand up on their back legs with their front paws in the air. Similarly, if their ears are pinned back, they aren't interested in being handled." Owen shared.


Rats are extremely smart and expressive creatures, as anyone who has owned one will be able to vouch for. They're social by nature and enjoy spending time with both their human and rat families. " Rats body language can vary depending on their sex, as females come into heat every few days. They can wiggle their ears so fast that it looks as though they're vibrating. Males tend to have less noticeable day-to-day changes. A happy rat grinds their teeth, which is called bruxing. Some rats experience eye-bulging while bruxing, which is a sure sign they're happy to be with you."


(Image from Deposit Photos)

Guinea Pigs

Like their hamster cousins, guinea pigs do a sweet little jump when they're happy, known as 'popcorning.' They're also stellar at giving their owners vocal clues into their mood. "Guinea pigs are some of the most chatty pets you can have!" Owen shares, "They make a lot of noises to tell you how they're feeling. Owners will recognize 'wheeking, the sound your little pig makes when they're excited for their dinner, but they also purr! Not like a cat per se, because their purrs can also signal annoyance. Pay attention to the pitch of your guinea pig's purring. A low grumble is a definite sign of contentment, but a high one is probably a sign they'd like some space."

Understanding what your pets are trying to tell you should help you coexist with them more peacefully. While your dogs may not appreciate your efforts to learn more about them and their wants and requirements, they will value the fact that you care enough to try. Being a good owner is all about understanding and creating the best environment possible for your pet, and the good news is you can always improve! If you've enjoyed learning about animal behavior, why not explore online animal care and behavior courses? Who knows? Maybe your interest could become your new career or give your pet a new lease on life.

Happy petting!