My Cat Can Talk: Reading Feline Body Language

What is YOUR cat saying? Our cats will never speak with the same verbal language as you and I, but they do tell us everything we need to know about how they are feeling through body postures and vocalizations. Using their ears, eyes, whiskers, and tails our cats speak loud and clear. It is our job to learn to speak their language so we can interpret what they are saying and respond in an appropriate manner.

When your cat is comfortable and relaxed he will be calm, quiet, and content. He will lie on the floor stretched out with his tail extended or wrapped around his body. He will walk around the house with his head held high. His whiskers will be in their normal position – protruding from the side of his mouth. His eyes will be soft and his ears will be in the normal position – high on his head with the opening facing forward. When your cat is comfortable he may meow or purr as you pet him, signaling his happiness.

When there is a change in the cat's environment or he finds himself in an uncomfortable social situation the neutral, relaxed body postures will change to signal his emotional state. Recognizing these changes and responding appropriately will ensure your cat's behavior does not progress in undesirable ways.

Below you learn about:

  • Signs My Cat Wants Attention
  • Signs My Cat is Anxious
  • Signs My Cat is Afraid
  • Signs My Cat May Bite

My Cat Wants Attention

When your cat wants to interact with others, people or animals, he will approach with his tail either level with his back or high in the air with a slight curl at the end. He will rub his face against the new friend and may purr softly. Some cats will roll over to expose their stomach. When petting your cat, remember to use long strokes down his back and body but avoid petting his stomach. Exposing his stomach may have been a signal he wanted you to pet him, however, cats do not enjoy having their bellies rubbed.

My Cat is Anxious

When your cat is feeling anxious he will likely sit very still with little to no movement or he may actively be looking for an escape route to remove himself from the unpleasant situation. When he is standing, the back of his body will be lower than the front as if he is slinking away. His head will sink into his shoulders so you are unable to see his neck. Your cat's eyes will be wide and his pupils will begin to dilate. His ears will begin to turn out to the side. His tail will be low and he is likely to begin flicking the tip back and forth. Depending on his level of anxiety, he may be meowing, growling, or offering a deeper yowl. If the level of anxiety is high enough your cat may also begin to pant with an open mouth like a dog.

My Cat is Afraid

Many things can cause our cats to be afraid; a noise, a guest in the home, a visit to the veterinarian, or even an unfamiliar animal. Depending on the closeness of the cause for his fear, your cat may stand motionless or he may try to get away. He will be crouched down, cowering away, with his body slightly arched as he rests on his toes ready to escape if needed. His pupils will be dilated and his ears will be turned out and lowering towards his head. He may offer a low growl or hiss. His whiskers will be flat against his face and his tail will be curled close to his body.

If the item causing his fear moves closer, your cat is likely to stand up tall, arch his back (think Halloween cat) with his hair bristled on end, and begin to hiss, swat, or growl. His whiskers will be flat against his face as will his ears be against his head.

My Cat May Bite

If your cat's level of stress reaches the point he feels he must fight in order to defend himself, he will stand tall on all four feet and his whiskers will be forward appearing to stand on end. His tail will be high in the air and flicking rapidly from side to side.

What Is My Dog Saying? Reading Dog Body Language

Keys to Understanding Your Dogs Dog Body 

Our dogs will never speak to us with the same verbal language as a human, but they do tell us everything we need to know about how they are feeling through body postures and vocalizations. Using their ears, eyes, mouth, teeth, tongue, and tail our dogs speak loud and clear. It is our job to learn to speak their language so we can interpret what they are saying, and respond in an appropriate manner.

Below – we will teach you:

  • Signs Your Dog is Happy/Friendly
  • Signs Your Dog is Excited
  • Signs Your Dog is Fearful
  • Signs Your Dog is Stressed

How Dogs Say – "I'm Happy and Friendly"

Is your dog trying to tell you something?

When your dog is happy and friendly it should be quite clear. He will walk with his head high, ears up, and have an alert expression on his face. His eyes will be bright with excitement, and his tail may wag softly in-line with his back. He will approach new situations with a soft, wiggly body, and may curve around to sniff or investigate. When our dogs are happy and friendly they will initiate social interaction by nudging our hand, bringing us a toy, or bowing with their front legs on the floor and their rear-end high in the air.

Most people believe a wagging tail is a sign of friendliness. When the wagging tail is accompanied by a dog who exhibits soft, relaxed, neutral body postures it certainly may be a sign of friendliness. However, this is not always the case. Dogs that are fearful or conflicted about how to proceed in a new situation may also wag their tail.

When family and friends want to engage with your dog, encourage them to call him over versus invading his personal space. Some attempts to show our dogs affection are unnatural for them, such as hovering over them, talking in a high-pitched voice, hugging them, and kissing their faces. Many dogs learn to tolerate these gestures, maybe even enjoy them, others will become fearful, or defensive during these social greetings because they require more personal space.

How Dogs Say – "I'm Excited"

Our dogs will display a variety of behaviors and body postures when they are aroused or excited by something they notice in their environment. In some instances they will begin barking, jumping, and pulling in an attempt to move towards the thing that has grabbed their attention.

When your dog is aroused he will raise his tail above his back, exposing his rectum. The hair on the tail may be bristled, while the tail itself will be stiff with a slow tick-tick wag at the tip. This may not be as noticeable in breeds that have short tails due to docking.

When our dogs are aroused, their ears will be up and forward. In breeds with long ears you will notice the ear position rise to the top of the dog's skull. Their eyes will be large and may appear "glassy", and he will be staring directly at the item of interest. They will be standing tall and stiff with much of their weight shifted to their front legs. Their mouths may be slightly open with their lips tense and their teeth slightly exposed.

Excited or aroused dogs will often have raised hackles (the hair over their shoulder and along their back). A common myth amongst dog owners is that a dog with raised Hackles is aggressive. Any dog who is aroused or excited will raise their hackles; even dogs who want to play with another dog. We must look at the entire picture the dog offers through his body language in order to interpret what he is saying.

When your dog is aroused you will want to use verbal cues such as "Leave it", his name, or a jolly tone of voice to redirect his focus to you. Once you have his attention you can lead him away from the situation to regain control of his behavior. Harsh tones of voice and tugging on his leash or collar may cause frustration, which could trigger an aggressive or reactive response.

“Enough is Enough” – Signs of Stress in Dogs

When dogs are feeling stressed or uncomfortable it is written all over their bodies. Dogs don’t bite without warning. They always communicate their discomfort through body language before exhibiting aggressive behavior. Your job is to learn to read your dog’s body language so you can interpret what he is saying and intervene when necessary. Once you are adept at interpreting the messages your dog is sending, give the dog space when you see the signs that your dog is uncomfortable.

Common signs of stress include:

  • Lip Licking
  • Yawning
  • Freezing
  • Turning Away
  • Pacing
  • Panting
  • Whale Eye – showing the white part of their eye

If you recognize your dog is uncomfortable, remove him from the situation and give him space. Utilize his crate or his “room” – a safe, quiet place divided by a baby gate. Once your dog is relaxed and the trigger of his stress is gone, allow him to rejoin the family. This isn’t a punishment for your dog, nor will he learn to be more afraid. Advocating for him in this manner will teach him that there is no need to progress his behavior because you are in control of the situation.

A professional trainer can help develop a plan of action to address a dog’s specific stressors. Do not hesitate to bring in a professional if you see your dog demonstrate signs of stress. The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers is a great resource.



How to Select the Right Family Dog

There are a lot of things to consider before purchasing your next family pet.

If you have a child, chances are you either have a dog or at some point you will be asked to get one. Caring for a dog can be beneficial to a child; enhancing self-esteem, instilling a sense of responsibility and teaching empathy towards another creature. Selecting the right dog for your family is an important decision.
What breed is best for my family?

There is no single breed that is best suited for the job of "family dog". First and foremost, parents must consider the temperament and personality of the individual dog. A family dog loves people, especially children. When all else fails, if you can't agree on an individual dog go with the recommendation of Colleen Pelar, Mother and Certified Professional Dog Trainer, and choose whichever one mom wants – she will be caring for the dog anyway!

Colleen states that a family dog must…

  • Be social and outgoing
  • Have moderate energy levels that meld with the family
  • Enjoy people, especially children
  • Not exhibit aggressive behavior around food, toys or other valued possessions

Check out PetPlace's Dog Breed Library for more info on individual breeds.

Who Will Care for the Dog?

It's unrealistic to expect a child, regardless of age, to have sole responsibility of caring for a dog. Not only do dogs need the basic necessities like food, water and shelter, they also need to be played with, exercised and trained on a consistent basis. Teaching a dog the rules of the house and helping him become a good companion is too overwhelming for a young child. While responsible teenagers may be up to the task, they may not be willing to spend an adequate amount of time with the dog, as their desire to be with their friends usually takes over at this age. If you're adopting a dog with the expectation it will be the children's responsibility to care for, please reconsider.

Should we Get a Puppy or Adult dog?

Parents often have an idealistic view of what raising kids and dogs should be like. We want our children to grow up with a dog, sharing a similar relationship to Timmy and Lassie. June made raising kids and dogs look so easy, but the truth is raising kids and dogs is a lot of work. Raising a puppy with young children can be double trouble.

If you are going to get a puppy be prepared for house training, socialization, puppy-proofing the house, destructive chewing, nipping and rough play. If your children are young (under five) ask yourself if you have the additional time to add puppy-raising to your list of responsibilities. Puppies, even confident ones, can become frightened, or even injured, by a well-meaning, curious child who wants to constantly pick him up, hug him or explore his body by pulling on his tail or ears. A child's normal behavior of running and screaming will entice the puppy to do the same, leading to potential scrapes from sharp puppy teeth, falls and scuffles. Puppies also tend to jump up on small children and knock them down. All interactions between your child and puppy will need to be closely supervised in order to minimize the chances of either being injured.

A family seeking a new dog for their home should not rule out adolescent or adult dogs. These dogs typically require less time and attention once they've adjusted to your family routine. An adult dog's personality is less likely to change compared to a puppy who is still being molded by life experiences. Many are already house trained and past the destructive chewing and mouthing phases of development.

Large vs. Small Dogs

For many families there is a big attraction to small breed dogs. Small breed dogs require less food, less space, are easier to transport, shed less (in some cases) and require less exercise – all big draws for busy families.

Many small breeds are confident, outgoing and social, necessities for life as a family dog, but special consideration needs to be made before acquiring a small breed dog for your family. These dogs are more likely to be injured if they are dropped or stepped on by kids playing. They are more likely to be frightened by the sounds of boys playing cops and robbers and may be physically sensitive to being toted around by a little girl playing house.

Teach Your Cat to Enjoy Being Held

Some cats love being held and others don't! How can you train your cat to enjoy being held and touched? We will give you tips to do just that.

Whether it is for petting, grooming, nail trims or veterinary exams, some cats become stressed when they are being handled and restrained. Your cat may demonstrate his dislike for the physical interaction by trying to wiggle or squirm out of your arms. He may meow or growl as you are holding him, and the most obvious sign your cat is displeased will be his tail flicking back and forth as you handle him.

Your cat may not enjoy being held, or having the veterinarian examine him, but this is a necessary part of being a cat. It is our job to ensure he is trained to tolerate, if not enjoy, these experiences.

How to train your cat to love being held:

  1. Start your first training session when your cat is relaxed. Invite him up on your lap and begin to pet him in long strokes down his body, scratch his ears, and allow him to rub his face in against your hand. Be sure to include other parts of his body such as his tail, legs, and stomach. Always use long strokes, and a soothing voice. Practice this step three to four times per day for thirty seconds. After your cat demonstrates he is comfortable with having his body petted you are ready to move to the next step.
  2. Pick up your cat and place him in your lap. Have your hands around his shoulders while he sits in your lap for five to ten seconds. Offer him a special treat and allow him to jump back on the floor. If your cat is comfortable with this step and can sit in your lap for brief periods, begin picking up his foot, letting go of the foot and offering him a treat. Repeat this step as you touch his mouth/treat, touch his tail/treat, rub his belly/treat. You want to work in small increments several times per day to increase his tolerance for sitting patiently in your lap as well as having different parts of his body handled. The goal is to keep him within his threshold for tolerating the handling. Do not try to do too much, too soon where he is overwhelmed and attempts to get away.
  3. Incorporate these handling exercises into playtime with your cat. Encourage him to chase one of his toys on a string for several seconds. Take a brief pause, handle his feet and begin playing again. The goal is always touch/treat, or touch/play as we build our cat's tolerance level for handling and restraint. If you find yourself in a situation where you cat is becoming stressed, take a break and resume at a later time.

Practice makes perfect here, so when your cat is comfortable with you holding him, begin to invite others to practice the same steps. Before you know it, your cat will be able to tolerate being held even at the vet's office.



How to Train Your Cat to Love the Carrier

Carriers are important to transport your cat, but how can you make it enjoyable for your cat and not so stressful?

In order to transport your cat safely he must be comfortable being confined to a carrier. The problem is most cats only see their carrier when it is time to visit the veterinarian, or go to the boarding kennel. These unpleasant experiences can create a negative association with the carrier, and many cats begin running away each time the carrier is brought out of the closet. Rather than fight with your cat, or avoiding taking him into the veterinarian we can train him to be comfortable in his carrier.

Begin by leaving the carrier in a neutral location in your house.

If the carrier is out more frequently your cat will habituate to its presence. If your carrier has a door, take it off. You can hide toys, or special treats in the carrier to encourage your cat to explore inside. We want the carrier to become a “room” where your cat feels secure going in and out. Periodically feeding your cat, or offering a small amount of canned cat food on a dish in the back of the carrier will also encourage him to go in. The initial goal is to change the association your cat has with the carrier and allow him to go in and out at will.

Once you see your cat going in and out of the carrier comfortably, maybe even relaxing in the carrier, you can replace the door. Begin offering your cat a small amount of canned cat food on a dish inside the carrier once or twice a day. Close the door once your cat is inside the carrier and allow him to eat. If your cat will not walk inside the carrier by himself, you can try to gently place him in the kennel, but do not force the issue. He may need more time at step one. Open the door when he has finished his snack. As your cat continues to go in willingly to eat his snack, you can begin leaving him in the carrier for brief periods of time after he is through eating. You will also want to begin picking the carrier up, walking around the house, then placing the kennel back on the floor to release your cat.

It’s not a difficult process to carrier train our cats, but it does take planning.

The goal is to use the carrier more like the cats room where he eats, plays with toys, and has snacks vs. the scary box he is placed in when it is time for a visit to the veterinarian.



What to Look For in an Ethical Dog Breeder

Most dog lovers prefer to purchase their puppy from an ethical breeder. How do you find and ethical breeder? What do you look for when looking for an ethical breeder? With no national standard for dog breeding practices, it is up to the puppy buyer to do his homework before getting a dog.

Ethical Dog Breeders make it their life's passion to learn about the history of their breed, canine health, genetics and structure and produce the best quality dogs possible. Great breeders care about their dogs and want to make sure the specific breed and puppy is a good for its new home. They are interested in forming relationships with their puppy buyers and want to have continued contact throughout the dogs' lives to ensure they are valued members of the family.

There are traits you should look for in an ethical breeder, questions you should ask and things you should look for as you visit the breeder's home. Here are some tips to help:

Traits of an Ethical Dog Breeder:

  • Is a member in good standing with the official parent club for the breed
  • Follows the parent club's Code of Ethics
  • Provides complete, accurate health records for the puppies
  • Provides results from genetic medical testing of the parents
  • Offers a written guarantee against genetic health problems
  • Provides buyers with a four generation pedigree
  • Retains puppies until they are a minimum of nine weeks of age
  • Interviews puppy buyers to ensure they can provide a great home for the puppy and the puppy is a good fit for their lifestyle and home
  • Encourages potential buyers to visit their home prior to the pickup day
  • Ensures their puppies are exposed to other animals, new people, children and noises
  • Provides puppies with a specific elimination area away from the sleeping area
  • Encourages buyers to participate in puppy socialization and/or basic obedience classes
  • Encourages buyers to always crate train the puppy
  • Will take the puppy back from the buyer at any time for any reason

Questions to Ask the Breeder:

  • Have they begun house training the puppies? If yes, how?
  • Do the puppies know any basic obedience skills? It is never too early to start training a dog.
  • Have they begun separating puppies from the rest of the litter for short periods of time and placing them in crates?
  • Dogs are social! Going from being part of a litter to alone in the crate in a strange place can be very traumatic. The breeder should have started this process.
  • If this is a breed that requires routine grooming, has the breeder begun handling the puppies? Have they bathed the puppies, or clipped them?
  • Do either of the parents guard food, toys, bones?
  • Is there any history of behavior problems in the pedigree i.e. separation anxiety, dog aggression, confinement stress?
  • How many people outside of the breeder's immediate family have the puppies met?
  • Have the puppies been around any other dogs aside from their mother?
  • Have the puppies been exposed to loud and unexpected noises? This would include slamming doors, men yelling, vacuum cleaner etc.
  • Have the puppies been examined by a veterinarian? Have they been dewormed and vaccinated?
  • How old are the puppies parents? How big are they? Do they have any health issues? How about the puppies' grandparents?

Things to Notice About the Breeders Environment:

  • Is there a single crate or exercise pen with newspaper spread out all over the floor, or do the puppies have a specific area to eliminate? Is there urine and feces in the elimination area or all over the floor?
  • Look to see if there is one food bowl or multiple food bowls. As the puppies become older, they are likely to develop competitive behavior. There should be one bowl for each puppy.
  • Are the puppies playing with one another or do they seem to be “arguing” over toys?
  • Are they respectful of you and your personal space or do they jump all over you and constantly play bite your hands?
  • Do they self-entertain with toys or are they always running around looking for something to do?
  • What happens if you stop one of the puppies from playing and try to restrain him?

Consider Choosing Another Breeder IF:

There are some red flags that may make you want to consider a different breeder.

  • You are unable to meet the mother and/or the father
  • The parents growl, snap or show extreme signs of being afraid of you
  • The breeder cannot provide results for the genetic medical testing (varies by breed)
  • The breeder can't provide with a Health Certificate from a veterinarian
  • The breeder can't provide with a Certificate of Sale (varies by state)
  • The majority of the litter does not appear social and confident
  • The puppies have not been exposed to any other people outside of the breeder's home
  • Your gut says something isn't right

How to Pick the Best Scratching Post for Your Cat

Scratching Posts are a great option for offering your cat an appropriate outlet for his instinctual need to scratch. In order for the scratching post to be effective you must consider your cat’s preferences. Does he enjoy scratching on vertical surfaces or horizontal? Does he scratch hard surfaces or soft surfaces? The scratching post you provide must meet his needs, or else he will continue scratching on your belongings.

There are a few basics every scratching post must have:

  1. The post should be made of an appealing texture. This includes sisal twine, burlap, corrugated cardboard, or bare wood. Look at what item(s) your cat currently enjoys scratching and try to replicate.
  2. The post should be stable enough to stand up against the weight of your cat and tall enough for him to stretch his entire body upwards against the post.
  3. The post should be tall enough or long enough for your cat to really stretch as he scratches

The post should be placed in a location that is appealing to your cat. Place the scratching post near the area or object where your likes to scratch. If you have multiple cats and/or your cat enjoys scratching in multiple locations, you will need to have more than one post available.

When introducing your cat to the scratching post, most feline behavior experts discourage owners from holding their cat’s paw to demonstrate the desired scratching behavior. For some cats, this can create an aversion to the new post.

If there is a need to replace your cats scratching post, place the new post right next to the old one until your cat begins to use both posts.