60 Things You Didn’t Know About What Makes Your Pet Tick
What’s actually going on in their cute little fuzzy heads?
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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.
Cats don’t like being ignored
“Cats will more frequently approach and play with a person who is attentive to them compared to a person who is ignoring them,” says Kristyn Vitale, PhD, a researcher in the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at Oregon State University. Then again, she says, sometimes cats want to be left alone. Vitale says if a cat is showing signs of aggression (dilated pupils, a fast-twitching tail, fur standing on end, hissing, or growling), just walk away. “It’s better to end the interaction before an incident occurs that may lead to a strain in the relationship,” she says.
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.
Parrots can mimic us because they’re good at copying one another
In the wild, parrots squawk at each other constantly, updating one another on where the best seeds are and which direction to search next for food. Wright told the New York Times that it’s very rare for the birds to mimic the sounds made by animals from other species in the wild. But in captivity, they’re doing their best to fit in and communicate with their human flock. Check out these 5 things your macaw wants you to know.
Parrots can do more than talk
Alex the African Grey parrot was famous for learning to say more than 100 words to accurately describe objects, actions, and colors. He was trained by Harvard researcher Irene Pepperberg starting in 1977 until he died in 2007, and it was clear that he wasn’t just mimicking words back to her: Pepperberg wrote in her 2008 book Alex & Me that the bird learned fairly early on to say “no” when he didn’t want to cooperate with training. Eventually (despite his occasional irritation with the process), he learned to count to six and understood the concepts of bigger and smaller and same and different. These are the world’s smartest animals.
Dogs will tell you when they’re lonely
Alert pet owners know that the pitch, duration, and frequency of their dog’s bark differ depending on the circumstances, and researchers are learning what some of that nuance among vocalizations means. For example, dogs bark differently when they’re encountering a stranger than when they’re hungry or want company. Two to four high-pitched barks mean a dog senses a threat and is alerting the pack to potential danger, Coren says. But a long string of single barks with pauses in between? That probably means your dog is lonely.
Social evolution explains why some pets bond to humans
Like parrots, dogs evolved to live in groups, and therefore have highly developed communication skills. Unlike birds, they’ve evolved into an entirely separate species since they’ve been hanging out with us. To wit, wolves communicate well with their fellow pack members, but dogs have learned the ins and outs of reading human emotions through facial expressions and language. A recent study in Biology Letters found that pet dogs could tell from photos of human facial expressions and recordings of voices whether the person in question was happy or mad. (They can read the faces and vocalizations of other dogs too.) These are the signs your dog trusts you.
Adult dogs are big puppies
“Dogs, and many domesticated animals, retain more juvenile characteristics throughout their lives than their wild relatives,” says Monique Udell. “These include puppy-like physical features, more time spent focused on socializing and play, and a greater variety and frequency of vocalizations as adults.” In other words, some of our favorite features of domesticated dogs—floppy ears, big eyes, playful spirits, chattiness—are things that few wolves carry with them to adulthood. The same is true for your feline friends: “Cats also show signs of developmental delays, or the retention of juvenile characteristics into adulthood,” Udell says.
Your dog does not feel guilt
Like intelligence, dogs’ emotional maturity is similar to that of toddlers, Coren says. “The average two- to three-year-old has all the basic emotions, like joy and sadness and fear and anger and disgust and surprise,” he says. “But they don’t have complex social emotions like guilt, shame, and pride.” He explains that when you come home to find that your dog has made a mess, and she tucks her tail and looks ashamed, she’s really just afraid of your anger—she’s smart enough to associate the mess with you being upset, but guilt isn’t part of her repertoire. Here are 15 signs your dog might be angry.
The way you nurture your cat can affect their nature
Just as kids can be influenced by the environment in which they grow up, an owner’s personality can rub off on a cat. One study found that cats with neurotic owners were more prone to exhibit stress, fear, and even aggressiveness.