Do you ever talk to your pet? We usually speak human to our pets, and many times, they get us based on our tone of voice. But did you know that in their unique way, your dog or cat is also talking to you? Besides meowing, barking, growling and purring, pets have a whole host of other ways to communicate. Read on to discover how your four-legged friend is talking to you and what he is saying.
Dogs use their mouths to communicate, and not just by barking or growling. Lips and teeth play an important role in a dog's nonverbal communication. An aggressive or frightened dog pulls up their lips and shows their teeth to issue a warning. But a dog can also use their mouth to please a dominant dog. In that case, the lips aren’t pulled up, but back. This indicates their submissiveness.
A dog can also 'smile' at their owner. This will see them sitting quietly, panting, with their mouth half open and tongue hanging out. Your dog is relaxed and happy. They may also use their tongue to soothe themselves. If a dog is not feeling comfortable in a certain situation, they may try to calm down the situation by, for example, licking your face or hands. They are trying to tell you they don't mean any harm, but they are feeling nervous, uncomfortable or scared. Other ways to calm down are yawning, licking their lips, scratching, sniffing the ground and averting their gaze. When you see your dog exhibiting those behaviours, you can try to help them calm down or give them some space to help themselves.
Ears aren't just for hearing
Besides their meow, cats have lots of other non-verbal communication methods. For example, their ears can tell you a lot about your cat's state of mind. When your cat is feeling curious, their ears will point forward, to help them pick up as many sounds as possible. Dogs react the same way to interesting things, although the same ear position may also mean that they are negatively interested, or aggressive. Always keep a close eye on all of the dog's body language; don’t draw conclusions on their ears alone.
If your dog is feeling anxious or submissive, they will put their ears flat against their head. The flatter the ears, the more frightened your dog is. By holding their ears flat against their heads, cats will indicate that they are angry or anxious. You’ll see this, for example, when they are arguing with other cats. Flattening their ears protects them against bites and sharp claws. Is your cat feeling uncomfortable? Their ears will point sideways, like wings of an aeroplane. Are their ears also jittery? That means your cat is agitated, which can devolve into an attack.
Wagging tails and question marks
Most people think a wagging tail always means your dog is completely happy and all is well. But that is only part of the story. What dogs say with their tail depends entirely on the situation and the shape of the tail.
Additionally, you can't read the tail separately, but always as a part of the whole body language. For example, dominant dogs keep their wagging tails straight, while a u-shape indicates the dog is relaxed. When a dog is excited, their entire body radiates enthusiasm. Ears and body and gaze are relaxed, and their tail is happily wagging back and forth.
A cat uses their tail to tell everyone whether they can come close or to keep their distance. Is a cat happy to see you, or curious? Their tail will shoot up straight into the air. If your cat feels relaxed and happy that you're there, his tail will stand up straight, with the tip curling down like a U or question mark. Sometimes the tip will move back and forth slowly. But note: the faster the tail is moving, the more annoyed your cat is. A swinging cat tail means you'd better keep away. If the tail is also whacking the floor, the cat getting ready to attack. Time to retreat!
Relaxed glances and winks
Cat eyes are beautifully expressive and can often tell you as much as their ears and tail do. What the eyes are communicating is determined by the size of the pupils and the eyes themselves. When they are alert, the eyes are wide open, to enable the kitty to record as much information as possible. Big eyes tell you your feline is feeling at ease, as it means they are exposing them to danger. Are the pupils small? That means your cat is excited, maybe about a bowl of kibble or a toy. Are the eyes nearly closed and is the whole body in a tense position? That means the cat is angry or scared. Cats can also stare. Owners usually don’t notice when their cat is staring without blinking, but it tells other cats to watch out: it is a way of controlling other cats.
A relaxed cat is sleepy-eyed. Their gaze is calm and their eyelids droopy. Sometimes, your cat will give you a slow blink with both eyes. That’s a cats version of a little kiss, and it means they are super comfortable with you. Consider giving them a similar kitty kiss back to let them know you feel the same!
Just like with cats, a calm look and droopy eyelids mean your dog is feeling completely comfortable. If you pet him now, you’ll see their eyes get even smaller. Similar to cats, alert dogs open their eyes wide to take in all the information. A staring dog is taking control, while a submissive dog will avert their gaze. If your pup's pupils suddenly dilate, this can indicate aggression and an attack. It is best never to look an unfamiliar dog in the eyes, because he may see this as an attack on his dominance.
Cat and dog communication is much more than just a bark and a meow. Just like us humans, pets can wave you goodbye, give warnings or kisses. Each part of your pet tells you something about how he is feeling at that moment and how he feels about you, but it's the sum of all the parts that tells you exactly what you need to know. Don't just look at the tail, the eyes or ears, but listen to what your pet is saying with their whole body. Soon you’ll learn to understand each other!