What’s Your Pet Trying to Tell You?

By Gabrielle Lichterman

Sure you know that when your dog licks you and your cat purrs, it means they’re happy.   But there are lots of other things your dogs and cats are telling you – such as when they’re confused, jealous or even when they think something’s funny!  Find out what the latest animal studies and experts say are all the surprising ways your pets are trying to communicate to you.

What your dog is trying to tell you

A peek at his ears reveals… his mood. One of a dog’s cutest features in an instant barometer for what he’s feeling.  For instance, are his ears relaxed and neither pushed forward nor back on his head? He’s happy and feeling sure of himself, says psychologist Stanley Coren, PH.D., author of How to Speak Dog:  Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication.  If they’re floppy ears, are they stuck close to his head? Or, if they’re prick ears, are they open, forming a “V”? He’s feeling less confident and may be a little worried.  Are his ears bending forward? He’s unhappy or feeling threatened, so you may want to give him space.

Look at her eyebrows to know…when she’s confused.  If she’s not following your commands, her eyebrows (the distinctive ridge above his eyes), can tell you if it’s because she doesn’t’ understand what you want. What to look for?  One eyebrow up and one eyebrow down or both eyebrows are lowered, says Cheryl Smith, author of The Rosetta Bone: The Key to Communication between Humans and Canines.  And what does it mean when the both eyebrow shoot up?  Like humans, it means she’s surprised.

His nose tells you…when he’s jealous. If he’s using his sniffer to push another person or dog away from you, it’s a sure sign he wants you all to himself. That’s the news from psychologists at the University of Portsmouth in England, who were surprised to discover that, just like humans, dogs suffer pangs of jealousy.

Look to her mouth to find out…if she’s laughing. Yes, dogs laugh!  According to researchers at the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service in Washington, a dog’s laugh is like a regular pant, only longer and louder. In fact, it’s such a distinct sound, their research found it’s the one sound that has the power to soothe other anxious dogs.

What his tongue to see…when he’s feeling stressed.  The easy clue:  He’s flicking his tongue in and out of his mouth or is licking his nose.  “Dogs do this when they feel discomfort or unease.” Smith explains.  For instance, he may do this when you’re brushing tangles out of his coat or the vet is examining him.

Tip: An easy dog destressor:  A lavender sachet.  Researchers recently discovered this sweet scent, which is known to soothe humans, also instantly relaxes dogs.
When he cocks his head sideways…he’s curious.  It’s one of a dog’s funniest expressions, but what he’s really trying to ask is, “What was that?” For example, maybe he heard a weird noise outside or you said something in a funny voice, says Brenda Aloff, author of Canine Body Language:  A Photographic Guide.

Tip:  Think his head tilt is super-cute? Here’s how to get him to do it on command.  When he does it on his own, reward him with praise, such as “Good tilt! ”, then give him a treat.  Pretty soon, all you’ll need is the command “tilt” to get him to do it.

Look at her paw tells you….when she needs more information.  Think she’s trying to shake hands when she sits down and offers one of her front paws without warning?  Not necessarily.  This is also her way of saying “I’m not sure what to do now,” says Smith.  Giving her a command such as “lay down” or “fetch a toy” will make her instantly happier.

His tail reveals…how he feels about what he’s approaching.  When your dog wags his tail to the right side of his rump, he’s happy about what’s he’s heading toward, like you or another friendly dog.  When he wags it to the left side, he’s afraid of what’s ahead, reveals a study published in the journal Current Biology.  The reason?  Each side of a dog’s body corresponds to a different hemisphere in the brain that governs these emotions, the researchers say.

Tip: A wagging tail isn’t always friendly!  If it’s a swishy, loose wag that’s parallel to the ground, he’s happy.  But if his tail is high and moving in short fast strokes or is low and moving in very slow strokes or is low and moving in very slow strokes, he’s anxious or angry, say Jamie Shaw, author of Dog to Dog Communication: The Right Way to Socialize Your Dog.

When she does this with her body…she’s telling you she loves you.  It’s no secret that when your dog covers your face with kisses she thinks you’re the greatest person around.  However, there’s another way your dog lets you know she loves you:  When she bows down while doing a great big stretch with her front or back legs.  “This is a greeting stretch says Aloff.  And when she does it in front of you, it’s extra special, Aloff says, because it’s a greeting dogs save only for those they adore the most.

What your cat is trying to tell you

He uses his forehead to tell you…I love you.  When your cat butts his head against your head or leg, he’s rubbing his scent on you. “This is your cat’s way of expressing his deep affection for you.  It’s equivalent to how humans use hugs,” explains cat behavior expert Pam Johnson-Bennet, author of Starting from Scratch: How to Correct Behavior Problems in Your Adult Cat.

If she presents her tail end…it’s a sign of respect.  It seems peculiar, but when cats turn around to show their rear, they’re telling other cats that they respect them and consider them to be in charge.  And our cats do the same thing with us, says Johnson-Bennet.  When your kitty suddenly turns around and wiggles her tail at you, its means, “You’re the head honcho around here!”

When he rubs you with his side…he’s saying “Than you.”  You may think he’s trying to trip you as he weaves in and out of your legs as you walk. Yet, what he’s really trying to do is rub the side of his body against your legs, which is his way of showing appreciation to you, especially when you’re headed to his food bowl to fill it up, says Johnson-Bennet.

Look to her tail…to find out her mood. Is her tail held high with little flicks at the end? She’s feeling happy and confident, says Jean Craighead George, author of How to Talk to Your Cat.  If her tail lashing back and forth?  Then watch out:  “something’s ticking her off.”  Is her tail at “half-mast” not straight up, but not straight down? She’s feeling relaxed.

Listen for this…to know when he’s lonely.  Does your kitty meow frequently?  Then he wants to talk with you, reveals Sonya Fitzpatrck, author of Cat Talk: The Secrets of Communicating with Your Cat. “He’s trying to imitate the way humans speak and have a conversation with you.”  Does your cat make a deep, low meow while you’re trying to sleep?  He’s wondering where everybody went! “Cats can get disoriented at night when it’s dark, quiet and no one’s around,” explains Johnson-Bennet: Her advice: “Leave a radio on for him, switch on a night light and leave out a few of his favorite toys.”  He’ll be happier and will stop meowing, which will help you sleep more soundly.

Seeing her tummy is a sign that… she totally trusts you.  Like a dog, cats sometimes roll on their back and show you their stomach. However, unlike their canine pals, cats don’t necessarily want a tummy rub.  Instead, by exposing the most vulnerable part of her body, your cat is telling you that she’s completely comfortable with you.

His purr reveals…when he does and doesn’t want to be pet.  Ever wonder why our cat suddenly swipes at you while you were petting him? “Unlike dogs, cats get overstimulated from too much petting, which makes them aggressive,” explains Johnson-Bennet. The sure sign he’s had enough cuddling?  He stops purring, she says.  Other signs to look for:  If he turns and looks at you suddenly, his ears push back, his skin twitches or his tail lashes back and forth.