51 Things You Didn’t Know About What Makes Your Pet Tick
What’s actually going on in their cute little fuzzy heads?
Your dog has a lot in common with a toddler
“The secret to understanding dog behavior is that the average dog has a mind that’s equivalent to a human two- to two-and-half-year-old,” says Stanley Coren, PhD, a professor emeritus in the psychology department at the University of British Columbia. Dogs can understand about 165 words, meaning they follow more of what you’re saying than just “walk,” “treat,” and “Ginger,” but they are most likely to learn single vocabulary words that have concrete objects or activities associated with them.
Some dogs are smarter than others
Coren says that “super-dogs”—those in the top 20 percent of the intelligence spectrum—are a little closer to three-year-olds, and can understand more than 250 words. “Every now and then you get a Mozart or Dickens of dogs who can understand 1,000 words,” he says, mentioning psychologist John Pilley’s dog Chaser, a border collie who showed knowledge of the names of 1,022 objects in a study published in the Behavioural Processes Journal in 2011. “But John worked with her four hours a day, like Mozart’s dad.” Take a look at these 13 secrets your dog knows about you.
Practice makes perfect
Chaser didn’t just learn the names of more than 1,000 objects—she also learned verbs, according to a USA Today article about her. Pilley can tell her to “take ball to Frisbee,” and she understands not just which objects to use but also what to do with them. Plus, she knows that “ball” means any round object, and “Frisbee” means any spinning disk object. Pilley says he had to label all the objects (800 of them were animal toys) because he couldn’t remember all their names, but Chaser gets them right 90 percent of the time.
Communication with dogs isn’t one-way
Dogs talk back to us as well—sometimes through barks and whines, but more often through body language, like when your dog paws at the bottom of the sofa to indicate that her ball is stuck underneath. “Humans are very visual creatures,” says Monique A. R. Udell, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of animal and rangeland sciences at Oregon State University. “Pet dogs are excellent at adapting their body language to provide us clues about how they feel and what they want.” Dogs also communicate using their tails: See the 12 secrets your dog’s tail is trying to tell you.
Horses can read your emotions
A 2016 study in Biology Letters showed that horses can tell the difference between happy and angry human expressions—when they looked at photographs of people making negative faces, their heart rates climbed and they turned their heads to allow them to focus with their left eye. This action is called “left-gaze bias“—researchers think they do this because the right hemisphere of the brain is better at processing negative emotions (dogs do this too).
Horses remember if you were mad when they last saw you
A new study explained in New Scientist took the experiment one step further—several hours after showing horses photographs of people with happy or angry expressions, those same people visited the horses in person, wearing neutral faces. If a horse had previously seen an angry-looking photo of that person, it exhibited a left-gaze bias and showed other signs of stress, including scratching the floor. Horses visited by people whose happy faces they’d seen in photos weren’t stressed.
Cats communicate with us too
Cats are not always as obvious as dogs about their meaning, but they are communicating. John Bradshaw, a University of Bristol anthrozoologist and the author of Cat Sense: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, told the Cut that feral cats he’s studied rarely meow to each other. Domesticated cats, on the other hand, meow all the time—because they’re meowing to get the attention of humans. Don’t miss the 17 things your cat would like to tell you.
Some cats fear vegetables
If you’ve ever watched cat videos online, you’ve probably seen a few of owners scaring their cats by surprising them with cucumbers. The cats typically jump back in fear and run away. So why are they so scared of a harmless vegetable? Well, there is no definitive answer, but one theory is that cats are so afraid of cucumbers because they look like snakes. Another theory is that they get startled simply because they’re surprised a random object has appeared next to them, similar to how humans get scared when someone sneaks up on them. Although scaring your furry friend might be funny, experts advise against it because it causes unnecessary stress and can be bad for their health.
Different meows have different meanings
For a 2003 study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, researchers played recordings of 12 different cats in a variety of situations to listeners. People who had “lived with, interacted with, and had a general affinity for cats,” according to the abstract, were better at identifying which scenario each recording was made in. That is, cats are making different sounds to get different messages across (“I’m bored,” “feed me,” etc.), and their people know what they’re saying—most of the time. These are the signs your cat is secretly mad at you.
Parrots are master talkers
We’re amazed to hear pet birds ask for crackers, but in the wild, parrots have elaborate ways of communicating with their own giant flocks. Timothy F. Wright, co-author of the book Parrots of the Wild: A Natural History of the World’s Most Captivating Birds, found that separate populations of the yellow-naped Amazon parrots he’d been studying in Costa Rica call out in different dialects that stay the same within each group over decades. Young birds can learn multiple dialects and communicate across groups. These are the hilarious bird photos you won’t want to miss.