You may think you’re getting pawsitive reactions from your pet, but what we think they like may be miles apart from what they actually want from us. So, we talked to animal behaviorists to unleash the truth about what we’re accidentally doing to frustrate our beloved pets.
Let’s start with man’s best friend…
Changing Your Mind
“There is no right or wrong when it comes to individual house rules,” Russell Becque, CEO of The Academy of Modern Canine Behavior & Training tells us, “but when you’re creating a behavior with your dog, make sure it works for you when they’re a puppy and also when they’re a 35lb dog.
“For example, if you let your puppy jump all over you every time you walk through the door but then get annoyed when they leap up and knock you over when they’re fully-grown, it’s confusing. So only nurture behaviors you are happy for them to mature with.”
Not being clear is something Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviorist Rosie Barclay also thinks is really unfair on dogs: “One minute you’re rewarding him for jumping up at you saying ‘hello good boy’ and then the next, you’re telling him to ‘get down!’
“He barks at the loud noise outside after you say to him ‘what’s that?’ and then you tell him to ‘be quiet!’
“All these contradictions are likely to confuse your dog and he won’t know what to do so may jump up even higher or bark at every noise to warn it away in case you tell him off. Think about how you might be sending mixed messages and how difficult it will be for your dog to understand clearly what it is you’re asking of them.”
Hugging Your Dog
“A hug may be the norm for a social greeting for humans, but it isn’t for dogs,” Nathalie Ingham, Canine Behaviorist and Training Manager at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in London tells us.
Hugging your pet invades their personal space.
“Subtle stress signals can be missed when you’re hugging your pet and this could lead to a negative reaction, so it’s about recognizing when your dog is uncomfortable.
“Hugging your pet invades their personal space and limits an ‘escape route’ for them to take themselves away from an uncomfortable situation. A family pet may tolerate a hug but it doesn’t mean they like it.”
“Dogs smell stuff to learn territory and to pick up information,” Becque explains.
“There comes a time when you have to lead the walk and say ‘no you’re not sniffing like that all the time’ but by the same token, I actively allow my dogs to sniff because it’s mental stimulation for them—it’s how they gain information of their area and territory.”
Telling Them Off
“Your dog might begin to ‘distrust’ you if you use aversive training techniques that are punishing or painful to her,” behaviorist Barclay says.
“Instead, use rewarding techniques such as healthy treats, praise and toys to tell her what she can do, rather than telling her off for showing behavior you don’t want her to do.”
Dressing Them Up
“As tempting as it is to put accessories on your dog, it isn’t something that is natural to them,” says Ingham.
“Dogs have their own coat of fur, so there’s really no need for any extras. In extreme weather conditions, we may support them with coats to protect them further from the elements but it’s important that they are introduced to them gradually and carefully to ensure they are comfortable, don’t feel restricted in them, and that you don’t end up hurting them when you are putting them on/taking them off.”
“There are certain items that dogs have to wear as a legal requirement such as a collar and a tag. It’s important to get puppies used to wearing collars and harnesses so that they are ready for heading off on their walks when they are fully vaccinated.”
Not Reading Your Dog’s Signals
“They give you a lot of signals,” Becque tells us. “They’ll pace a lot if they’re uncomfortable or they’ll be tense and you can see this through their body language. If they’re relaxed, they lay down without a care in the world, and you can see that.”
“If they’re not relaxed, they’ll give you an open eye and a wide open eye is showing you the dog is stressed.”
“Licking their lips a lot is also a sign of stress and yawning can be a sign of stress too, even though a lot of people read it as the dog being relaxed.”
“And of course, there are the other obvious signs like them backing away, growling, or raising a lip, but that’s a more extreme level.”
Taking Things Away From Them
According to Barclay, your dog might get ‘angry’ if you keep trying to take things away from them.
Consistency and predictability are key experiences that will make your dog love you even more.
“How would you like it if someone kept removing your dinner or stopped you playing and you had no idea when this was likely to happen?”
“Instead of taking food, away allow them to eat quietly, and add more rather than taking it away, and give a consistent signal such as ‘all done’ when the fun is ending so they can predict what is likely to happen or not happen next. Consistency and predictability are key experiences that will make your dog love you even more.”
Picking Them Up
According to Ingham, some dogs just don’t like constantly being handled and picked up: “A bit like hugging, this reinforces the idea that there is no escape and can make them feel that they’re not in control of the situation, which could worry your dog.”
“If you want to show your dog love and affection, then it’s best to pet your dog where they are most comfortable with, keeping it calm. Every dog is different so look out for any signs they are showing stress—these can be very subtle—a few examples being tense or wide eyes and licking their lips.”
Taking Your Dog To The Café
“A lot of dogs find the situation where there are lots of people, like a café situation, stressful,” Becque tells us.
Don’t throw your dog into a new type of atmosphere just because you enjoy it.
“I’ve actually dealt with dogs who have bitten people in bars where they haven’t been able to cope with the atmosphere. Even though they’ve been in there 30 times before and there’s never been an incident, that doesn’t mean they’re coping with it, or enjoying it.”
“Pubs are often loud, people are elevated, and children are running around, and a lot of dogs just can’t cope with this. So don’t throw your dog into a new type of atmosphere just because you enjoy it. If you do, learn to read your dog’s body language to see if they’re relaxed or not. Otherwise, it may be better to leave the dog at home in a secure environment that it knows and trusts.”
Ingham agrees that being in big crowds can also be too much for your dog: “It can be overwhelming for a dog and can cause them a lot of stress. When dogs feel uncomfortable, they will want to take themselves away from the situation, which they may not be able to do if they are in a place with lots of people walking past and bumping into them.”
Seeking Emotional Comfort From Them
“Dogs pick up on our moods very quickly,” Becque says. “They’re in tune with us more than I think even experts realize.”
They study us, our reactions and our body language so they know us as well as we know ourselves—if not better.
“And, dogs pick up on the pheromones we give off for our different moods very quickly and they will know whether we’re in a good mood, bad mood or are feeling anxious.”
“It can be hard for dogs to cope when they realize something is wrong with you, so be wary of that. They study us, our reactions and our body language so they know us as well as we know ourselves—if not better.”
Ignoring Them After You Have A Baby
“This can be a difficult time for a dog because they’re going from being treated like the baby of the family to now being pushed out because a new member of the pack has arrived,” says Becque.
“It can be resolved, but it can cause issues at the outset.”
Avoid A Cat-astrophe
Now, on to our feline friends. Cats have always gotten a tougher rep than dogs—cats are snooty, unimpressed by humans, and would sooner scratch your eyes out than snuggle up on the sofa—but the popularity of cat memes have safely cemented their ascent into pop culture. Not to mention our hearts.
But, despite the fact that cats have been cohabiting with us for 9,000 years, man’s second best friend still remains a meowing mystery.
We really know nothing about our cats
For instance, you know how your cat rubs itself against your legs and it seems really cute? Like they really like you and want to show some affection?
It’s actually a sign of ownership, as all they’re doing is releasing pheromone secretions on your legs. Yup, we really know nothing. And…ew?
So, we took to animal behavior experts to find out how we can be the best cat owners out there by stopping any accidental annoying behavior. Sorry felines, we’re trying our best to be good owners.
Giving Your Cat A Hug
According to animal behaviorist Janetta Smith, many cats just won’t tolerate being picked up and cuddled for any length of time. If they want to cozy up with us, it has to be on the cat’s terms.
“Of course, this depends upon how affectionate and socialized your cat is,” she says, “but if their ears are slightly back or fully back, then avoid too much handling as they are not content or happy with the situation.
“The same applies to their eyes being dilated and/or tip of the tail thrashing frantically.”
Tickling Your Cat’s Tummy
Yes, this is going to be a difficult feat because we accept your cat’s belly is really cute and fluffy and just asking for a good old-fashioned tickling. But trust us here, that’s one body part your cat really doesn’t want you messing with.
Rubbing a cat’s belly will typically get you scratched or bitten
“In general, the cat’s tummy is off-limits,” reveals author and cat expert Pam Johnson-Bennett. “When cats roll over and expose their stomachs, it doesn’t mean they’re asking for a belly rub.
“Petting the belly on a cat will typically result in a defensive reaction, so avoid getting scratched or bitten and stay away from that area.”
Not Stimulating Your Cat Enough
You might enjoy sitting around in front of the TV, stuffing your face with chips, and doing as little as possible (and to be fair, that is a very enjoyable pastime), but cats need to be active.
If you’re going to own a cat, you need to take responsibility for keeping it stimulated.
“Cats are natural hunters,” Smith tells us. “Outdoor cats will catch mice and birds and bring them in on occasions. It’s unnatural to expect a cat not to do this—no matter how unpleasant it can be for the human.
“Often, indoor cats replicate this on toys/objects/furniture and sometimes on people which in some cases causes aggressive behavior so keep your cat mentally stimulated.”
Spraying Your Cat With Water
You may think you’re the next cat whisperer, but that water spray may not be the best idea in teaching your pet good behavior.
“Do not use this as a deterrent for behavioral issues,” says Smith. “It adds to the stress of the situation and can make it worse. In some cases, it can make the cat hand shy of the owner, breaking any bond that was there in the first place.”
Not Giving Your Cat Space
“Many people feel the need to rough play, over handle and are constantly in their personal space for attention,” reveals Smith. “Cats are not dogs, they’re more independent and need their space.”
“Rough play can often cause the cat to get ‘spiteful’ around humans and other pets.”
Not Realizing Your Mood Affects Them
Research has shown that cats are in fact very sensitive to human moods. This means they’re less likely to approach you if you’re feeling sad so don’t rush to them for sympathy.
Try to shake off your mood for your cat, or they could start feeling the same way
“Many cats are sensitive – especially breeds like Ragdolls, Siamese, Bengal & Maine Coons – and are able to pick up on human body language and can replicate humans behavior like depression, loss of appetite, bereavement and becoming more reactive to situations or skittish,” reveals Smith.
So, if you can’t perk up for yourself, try to shake off your mood for your cat, otherwise they can experience stress, aggression, destructiveness, over vocalization, or they’ll eventually leave home.
Thinking Your Cat Is Super Loyal
Cats are only loyal to a point—and that point is self-preservation. Yes, they’re asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?”
Cats will exhibit attention seeking behaviors to get what they want
“Cats will only do something if they get something out it,” says Smith. “Often cats will exhibit attention seeking behaviors towards humans—such as becoming more vocal, affectionate, house soiling, aggressive and/or destructive, or a combination—to get what they want.”
“If it works, it can lead into habit forming type behaviors and longer-term problems.”
Not Being Patient Enough
“Always be patient with a cat,” advises Smith. “Sit with them quietly without invading their space. They need to accept you first and want to interact. Try ‘nice treats’, gentle play and massage until they engage with you.”
Our number one takeaway? Cats are complex creatures and cannot be rushed.
Blaming Your Cat For Not Being Toilet-trained
Has your cat littered in random places? Or on your favorite carpet? Well, before you blame them, ask yourself whether their litter box is right for them. Is it the right size? Is it clean?
Punishing the cat for the behavior will only increase stress
“If cats are not presented with a clean litter box, the cat’s protest may be to litter in random places,” says cat therapist Carole Wilbourn. “A cat’s attraction to the litter box is instinctive. If it avoids the box, there are reasons and answers.”
And, Johnson-Bennett agrees. “A cat will only do this if there is a cause, such as the litter box setup is not correct or there’s something happening in the environment. Punishing the cat for the behavior will only increase stress, so instead, find the underlying cause and then you can figure out the solution.”
Not Giving Your Cat Independence
Want to befriend your cat? You need to go at their pace.
An easy way to get a cat to warm up to you is playing with an interactive toy
“Cats do best when they feel they have a choice,” says Johnson-Bennett. “Such as the choice of whether to hide or come out in the open or the choice of whether to engage with you or not. Give the cat a reason to like you by appearing non-threatening and giving them time to evaluate the situation.”
“One of the easiest ways to get a cat to warm up to you is through playtime with an interactive toy as this way, the cat can go after the toy at the end of the string and still remain in his comfort zone.”
Not Reading Your Cat’s Body Language
“Your cat will generally let you know where he/she doesn’t want to be touched,” says Wilbourn. “Reactions like flip of a tail, ripple of the back, flattened ears and/or a hiss or meow can mean they’re not happy.”
“Instead, look out for when they are in sync with your touch as they will purr, relax their body or bump or nuzzle your hand as a sign of their happy pheromones,” Wilbourn adds.
Leaving your cat alone for too long
We all know that cats are way more independent than dogs. You wouldn’t find a cat pining at the door for you to come home, then going crazy the second you return.
But don’t confuse a cat’s aloofness with a lack of affection for its human counterpart.
“People often assume a cat can be left alone for a day or so as long as there’s enough food and water, but this is a myth,” says Wilbourn. “Your cat needs some human contact, even if people-shy.”
Basically, your cat may act untouchable, but they aren’t—they get lonely too!
Not Meeting Your Cat’s Biological Needs
A cat needs more than just a tidy litter box. According to Wilbourn, your cat needs a sunny area, cat grass, paper bags, tissue paper, and boxes to play and romp in.
“Relax with your cat and nurture them so they can get a contact high, and you will get unconditional love from your cat.”
But it’s not all on you, researchers from Oregon State University concluded that cats actually prefer the company of humans to food, catnip, and the smell of fellow cats—so maybe they really do love you, after all.