Our pets are our family, and oftentimes who we spend most of our day with — from early morning walks to binge-watching the latest Netflix series together on the couch. And while their hilarious, and sometimes bizarre, behaviour provides us with endless social content possibilities, they also leave us scratching our heads. As a pet owner you may have asked yourself, “is my dog really watching tv?”
We spoke with Megan Holmes, BA, ABC-DT, IAABC, Elite FFCP and Animal Behaviour Coordinator, Ontario SPCA and Humane Society to get to the bottom of some of the strangest things we’ve seen our pets do.
Does my dog understand me?
Most pet owners speak to their pets in the same way you might speak to an infant. Turns out that — like small children — dogs are able to make eye contact and listen to cues from their owners.
“Yes, dogs can understand you, especially those that you have built a relationship and bonded with,” Holmes explains. “Dogs are very good at reading body language and listening to the tone of your voice. Remember, because dogs are so sensitive to our tone of voice, always make sure to use a soft and higher tone while speaking with them.”
While you might think the head tilt your dog makes while you’re speaking shows confusion, it may be actually be a sign your dog is understanding your facial expression or cues.
Can my dog tell when I’m sad?
Truly man’s (or person’s) best friend, your dog can tell when something in wrong.
“It has been said that a dog’s mind is close to that of a human toddler in respects to understanding emotion,” says Holmes. “Although dogs are able to recognize the emotion in humans, their own individual way of proving comfort can vary. Some dogs will try and cheer up their human by grabbing a toy and trying to play with them, some may bark, others will curl up or lay on the person’s lap and then some dogs will go lay down and wait until their human is feeling better.” They may also try and provide comfort by cuddling with you or just being near you.
Why does my dog have a wet nose?
A cold, wet nose is very normal, and may help regulator your pets temperature. The glands inside a dog’s nose recreates a thin, watery liquid that wicks out to the nose surface and evaporates, which helps keep them cool. The nose pad and footpads are the only places dogs are able to sweat, along with panting. If your pup is looking a little worn out from the heat, it’s a good idea to keep them out of the sun and help them stay cool by trying things like dipping their paws and nose into a cold bowl of water.
Why does my dog turn in circles before lying down?
It may seem a bit odd, but your dog might have their own bedtime routine before snuggling down for the night. Sleepy dogs turn in circles before going to sleep, which dog behaviourists believe is an inherited practice from their ancestors, including wolves.
“There are many different reasons why dogs turn in circles before lying down. Evolutionarily speaking, dogs may have had to do that when in the wild to make sure that they are able to defend themselves from an attack. It can allow them to look for predators before resting,” explains Holmes.
It has also been said to be a part of a pack mentality where dogs would need to scan their pack to make sure the group is protected. Since dogs have become domesticated, one of the main reasons we continue to see this behaviour is nesting. Simply, turning in circles helps your dog to make their bed or sleeping area more comfortable. Always make sure to watch this behaviour, however, as excessive circling may be an indicator of pain, especially when you notice them laying down and repositioning many times.
Why does my cat like boxes?
The internet is full of adorable and hilarious cat content, but a recurring theme seems to suggest that cats love boxes. Whether jumping in or out, cats like boxes because they provides them with a spot to ambush predators.
“Boxes are great hiding places. Cats are both predator and prey animals, so hiding is a good way to keep anything from surprising them or can also help them to surprise attack their ‘prey’ as well,” says Holmes. “They can be a fun texture for them to scratch and bite on during play as cats do this to express natural behaviours. It also is a good way to keep their stress low as hiding places provide reassurance and security.”
So, in times of high stress or when changing environments, try giving your cat a box to help comfort them.
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What does catnip do to my cat?
Does your cat go crazy for catnip? If your pet is among the estimated 50 percent of cats that have inherited the sensitivity to the herb, you may have seen its effects. But what exactly is it? Catnip is one of the approximate 250 species in the mint family and has a leafy green appearance. Nepetalactone, the essential oil in catnip, can turn even the laziest couch potato into a frenzied fur ball.
“[Catnip] is a plant that some, but not all cats, react to,” explains Holmes. “The cats that have the sensitivity to catnip can have different reactions based on how they interact with it. When a cat sniffs catnip, they usually become more high-energy and playful, whereas, when they eat it, it can help to calm them down. Most cats will try and roll and play with it and it can be a great enrichment activity for them.”
Remember: catnip may also produce over-arousal and even aggression in some cats, so always make sure to monitor your cat and provide catnip in moderation.
Related: All cat breeds as zodiac signs.
Why does my parrot mimic my words?
While no species of parrot is exactly the same, many parrots used as pets learn to adopt the sounds of their owners, including human voices. Holmes says that parrots mimic words as a way to try to fit in. “This is done with their flock in the wild, and, when in the care of humans, they will do the same by mimicking their human’s sounds. Parrots have a high ability to use their vocal cords to mimic sounds such as the words we say.”
Related: The richest pets in the world.
Why did my gecko lose its tail?
If your gecko has lost its tail, it could indicate your pet is feeling stressed or threatened. “It is usually more common in younger geckos, and when they regrow their tails, it may not look the same as before. This is a natural process that happens, however, because it is happening in times of high stress and fear, it is important to try to avoid situations where this could occur,” says Holmes.
Infection or an illness can be another reason why your gecko may lose their tail. If you have noticed that this has happened, it’s always a good idea to follow up with your vet for further instructions on care and treatment.
Does my dog watch TV?
Dog owners often notice their pets watch television or computer screens, but what’s really going on their head?
Holmes explains that dogs do have the ability to watch tv, but they may perceive the sounds and images differently than we do. “Even though dogs have the ability to watch TV, not all dogs do,” she says. “Personality and breed can be a factor as to their reactions. Some dogs will ignore the TV completely, but others will tilt their head in curiosity or even bark or jump at it. Scent dogs like hounds may not be interested in the TV, as that is not activating their ‘scenting’ behaviours, however sight dogs like the herding breeds may be more predisposed to watching TV, as they are attracted to the movement on screen.”
Why does my cat knead?
No, your cat hasn’t joined the masses and taken up sourdough baking. It turns out that a cat’s kneading is an instinctual behaviour — however it we aren’t totally certain as to why this occurs. Holmes shares that there are many theories as to why cats knead, and that this behaviour may be an instinct for feeding. “When kittens are little, they drink their cat mother’s milk, the kneading is a way for them to stimulate the milk flow. Kneading is often seen when creating a place to sleep for them as well, they are trying to get more comfortable, just like a dog spinning,” says Holmes.
Kneading is a normal cat behaviour, but when it becomes obsessive, it is time to intervene with techniques such as distraction, keeping soft material in their bed and keeping your cat’s nails trimmed.