Although your pet can’t actually tell you when he is hungry, thirsty, tired, bored, or hurt via verbal communication, he still has ways to let you know what’s going on. Dogs and cats have all kinds of non-verbal cues that can clue their owners in to what they’re thinking and feeling. But before you can begin to unravel the mysteries of their wagging tails, raised brows, or various barks and meows, you need to understand that it’s not just that they can’t speak like humans, they also don’t think like people do. Their wants and needs are fairly simple (food, shelter, play, comfort, love) and the way you react could cause them to behave in certain ways. So here are just a few ways to interpret their non-verbal messages.
When it comes to both cats and dogs, the best communications can come from body language, and the end is a good place to start. Both of these species use their tails as a form of communication, and for both, a tail in the down position, or tucked between the legs is a sure sign that something is amiss. You should approach your pet with caution when the tail is down because it could signal that your furry friend is frightened or hurt. In either case your animal could go into fight or flight mode, so you might want to talk in soothing tones and approach slowly with an outstretched palm. And if he begins to growl or hiss, back off and give him some space. This auditory form of communication will confirm that he is agitated in some way. Some animals will get scared when they feel backed into a corner and they could behave in dangerous and unpredictable ways.
On the other hand, a wagging tail or one that is raised like a flagpole is a good indication that your pet feels comfortable, happy, or excited. If this body language is accompanied by an auditory cue like purring or barking, your pet may be pleased about something (probably your presence), or he could just be signaling that something is going on that he wants you to know about. He may be hungry or he might want to play. Once you get to know your pet you’ll learn to tell which barks and meows signal different basic needs (whether he wants food, playtime, or just some attention).
But what about dogs and cats that act out in ways you don’t understand, like biting or peeing where they’re not supposed to? You might think that your pet is just willful or aggressive, but this is rarely the case. Part of the problem could be that you don’t fully understand your breed. For example, retrievers and terriers are bred to find or kill small animals. So when you catch your pet carrying around shoes, socks, and other items that you’d rather he not chew, the message could be that you need to provide suitable toys.
And if he’s peeing in the house, it could be territorial (cats, especially, need their own litter boxes, sometimes more than one). But it could also be out of fear (especially if owners are prone to yelling or hitting) or it might simply be a submissive behavior. Of course, if you haven’t kept up-to-date with your pet’s immunization through vaccination, he could also be suffering from some kind of illness, so you should definitely check in with the vet on a regular basis (especially if there are problems). Only when you understand the cause of the behavior can you truly begin to understand your animal’s non-verbal communications.