Are your dogs and cats thinking what you're thinking? Not always, it seems...
Mistakes Even the Most Loving Owners Make
1. You think my tail wagging is always an invitation for you to pet me more. Wrong! Italian researchers found that dogs wag their tails slightly to the right when they see something they like and to the left when they’re confronted with something they want to back away from.
2. You might buy any dog-grooming brush at the pet store, but you should really pick the right one for my coat. A rubber brush will promote circulation and loosen dirt. A bristle brush removes dead hair.
3. Your favourite cat game to play with me involves a laser pointer. The result: I get really frustrated because I can’t catch it, and I live for the hunt. So if you’re going to use a pointer, please include an actual toy at the end so I have something to catch. It makes the game worth it.
4. You’re giving me too much food. How can you tell? I don’t seem motivated by food treats when you’re trying to train me. Cut back and I’ll start to pay attention.
5. Grooming day means you bring out the big hairdryer. Please don’t! To make dogs like me look fluffy, shake a little cornflour into the base of the fur and then brush. It will absorb oil and grease and untangle matted fur.
6. Please don’t rush me when I’m going to the toilet—there’s a reason dogs circle around before getting down to business: we have an instinct to be aligned with the earth’s magnetic field before we poo. In fact, researchers watched 70 of us engage in 1,893 defecations over a two-year period just to work this out.
7. You may think it’s nice to let me sleep all day, but too much nap time can affect my personality. A lot of behavioural problems can be solved by just taking your dog on a daily walk or by playing with your cat for 20 minutes every day.
8. Since I’m an old dog, I get to eat whatever I want, yes? No! If I have arthritis, I’ll be much happier if you give me a daily supplement that has glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, which protect joint cartilage. And switch me to a food formulated for an animal my age.
Ways I wish You’d Keep Me Safe
9. If you lose me, the first thing you should do is call every animal shelter within the vicinity of your home, and visit the nearest shelters every day if you can. For good measure, be sure to get me a microchip when I’m young.
10. If you’re getting me spayed, confirm with your vet that she will remove just my ovaries, not my uterus. It’s a less invasive procedure.
11. Because I’m a creature of habit, even a subtle change in my behaviour is a red flag that I might be ill. So if it takes me an hour to eat my food instead of 60 seconds as usual, if I’m tiring out faster when we play, if there are more urine clumps in the litter box than usual, or if I seem to be drinking more water, call the vet.
12. There’s no question that if you keep me inside and don’t let me wander the neighbourhood, whether I’m a dog or a cat, I’ll have a better chance of living a longer life. I won’t get hit by a car, stolen or just lost. But once I’ve been allowed to roam free, it’ll be hard to change me.
How to really make me your best friend
13. Please introduce me around when I’m young so I’m not afraid of strangers. Some experts say I should meet 100 new people of different sizes, genders and ethnicities in my first 100 days at home, even if it’s just a quick greeting. Make sure you include people wearing hats and sunglasses, since those accessories can look awfully scary to me.
14. You may think it’s cute when I rub my bum on the carpet, but it probably means that I’m itchy and would like to see a vet.
15. When you’re choosing a new pet, ask a vet or trainer for tests you can do to gauge temperament. For example, you can try rolling me over on my back to see how I handle it. If I really struggle, I’m probably going to be tougher to train than an animal who lies there placidly.
Surprising Things that dogs love
16. Forget the dog biscuits! If you really want me to pay attention when you’re training me, use a treat that’s moist, something so horrid you don’t even want to hold it in your hand, like a piece of greasy chicken.
17. While some of us gulp down grass only if we’ve eaten something that doesn’t agree with us and we’re trying to regurgitate it, some of us just love to munch the lawn. So let me graze—just make sure the grass I’m eating is free of pesticides.
18. Beware, Mum, because I will eat your underwear, especially if they’ve been worn. Veterinarians surgically remove hundreds of pairs from dogs’ bellies every year.
19. Please, can I choose my own bed? The most comfortable one will depend on how I sleep. Let me try out a few in a pet store. If I usually sleep with my legs sprawled out, I’ll be more comfortable on a flat bed without sides. But if I like to curl up, I’ll probably love one with sides.
…And what they secretly gate
20. You say I’m great with kids. But if I’m licking, pulling my ears back, turning my head away, or yawning (all signs of anxiety) while they play with me, I’m probably just barely tolerating them. If you keep letting them pull my tail, I might lose it one of these days.
21. Put those clippers down! No matter how hot it is or the length of my hair, I don’t need to be shaved. My undercoat actually insulates me from heat, so it helps me stay cool. Just make sure you keep my coat brushed and mat-free to promote good air circulation.
22. If you leave me in the garden when you’re out, don’t fool yourself that I’m going to run around and have fun. I’ll probably sit in one spot and wait for you to return. Dogs are den animals, and many of us prefer to be inside—ideally with you.
23. I love to fetch and would like to learn how to catch a flying disc, but those hard plastic Frisbees can hurt my teeth and gums. Instead, look for a soft one at a pet store.
24. If you reach out towards me when you first meet me, your hand may as well be a meat cleaver. Instead, crouch down on one leg and look slightly away. Then let me approach you and give you a sniff.
Cats: Our biggest mysteries, solved!
25. Declawing is not the same as cutting our nails. It’s a hideous, painful surgery that’s much more like amputating the last two knuckles of your fingers. If my scratching is really bad, try glue-on nail caps.
26. If I’m spraying outside the box, I’m not being spiteful. Something is stressing me out. It may be a new person, a new pet, or even a new piece of furniture that seems to be encroaching on my territory.
27. Before you buy a fancy cabinet to put my litter box in, keep in mind that most of us don’t like to feel cornered. I prefer an uncovered box that’s out of the way, but where I have a view of the room and can escape if I see anything threatening.
28. I’m not untrainable! I can learn to sit, come, touch a target with my nose, jump through a hoop, give you a high five and even use the toilet—as fast as or even faster than a dog. Check YouTube for some great tutorials.
29. If I stiffen every time you run a hand down my back, take the hint. A 2013 study found that cats who didn’t like the sensation but allowed their owners to stroke them anyway were more stressed-out than those who avoided touch.
30. Remember, I see the world as vertical, not horizontal. So instead of getting angry when I knock things off the mantlepiece, build me a cat route around the room. Put up a shelf that leads up to a bookcase that leads to a mantlepiece that leads to a chair that gets me down.
31. Just because I’m purring doesn’t mean I’m happy and content. I also purr when I’m in pain or mortally afraid because it’s a self-soothing mechanism.
32. Thinking about getting me a friend? I’ll get along best with a cat who’s of the opposite sex and slightly younger than I am, but don’t just throw us in a room together. Talk to your vet or a trainer about how to introduce us gradually. If I’m an older cat and I’ve lived alone with you for years, I don’t need a friend. Really. I’m already too set in my ways.
33. Excuse me for putting my bum in your face, but you should actually consider it an incredibly high compliment. It harks back to when I was a kitten and would do the same thing to Mum so she could clean my behind. It means I perceive you as a maternal figure.
34. I love fancy toys and gadgets, but I can have just as much fun with a paper bag with the handles cut off, an aluminium foil ball or a plain box. It’s actually quite easy to create a homemade toy that I’ll love. Anything shiny or that I can scratch is going to make my day.
Training tricks that help us learn
35. Don’t wait until I’m six months old to start correcting bad behaviour. By then, I’ll be used to drinking out of the toilet and chewing shoes. Experts say it’s easier to instill good habits from the start.
36. I’m confused. When I jumped up on you earlier, you gave me such a nice stroke. But now you’re angry at me for leaping on Aunt Lucy. Am I allowed to jump up or not?
37. To stop me from scratching a piece of furniture, cover the entire area with an old bed sheet, aluminium foil or strips of doublesided tape, because those don’t feel good under my paws. Then put a tall scratching post right in front of it.
38. If you let me on the furniture now, while I’m young and cute, I’ll always think it’s OK—no matter how big I get.
39. What do you mean you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? My owner taught me to fetch the newspaper and take it to him when I was ten.
40. Remember when I was little and you shoved my nose in a puddle of urine I left? I have no idea why you did that. Instead, get me outside as quickly as possible and praise me whenever I pee outdoors.
41. Want me to learn to walk by your side on a lead? Well, give me some incentive. As soon as I start to pull ahead, stop walking. When I turn and look back, offer me a treat right next to your leg. I’ll quickly figure out that I need to stay next to you in order to keep doing what I love most: moving and exploring.
42. Whether I’m a cat or a dog, if you’re tired of finding pet hair on your sofa and want to keep me off, try a Scat Mat, which gives out a small, harmless electrostatic pulse when it’s stepped on. Or buy a car mat and turn it upside down on your couch, so the little rubber prongs are facing up. I hate those.
43. When I bark, jump and grab the towel off the worktop, I’m not trying to be bad. I’m just bored. I want your attention! Please, get off your smartphone and play with me.
44. If I’m a dog who is scared of thunderstorms or loud noises, get me a snug-fitting Thundershirt. Or you can make your own. Wrap a bandage across my chest, cross it over the top of my body and then back under, going over and under until it’s midway down my back, and then secure it. The constant pressure against the middle of my body will help ease my anxiety and calm me down.
The best (and worst) foods for us
45. Remember, my digestive system is very different from yours. Raisins and grapes can shut down a dog’s kidneys. Other dangerous foods include chocolate, coffee, macadamia nuts and avocado. Speaking of kidneys, cats can develop issues with them, too. Speaking of kidneys, cats can develop issues with them, too. To help them with this, Kate Barrington suggests these low phosphorus cat foods
46. Want my coat to be thick and shiny? Make sure my diet has plenty of essential fatty acids. Most high-quality commercial pet foods have enough, but pets on low-quality foods or homemade diets that aren’t balanced may develop a dull coat.
47. When buying pet food, choose a product that has undergone animal-feeding trials rather than been “formulated” by a computer. The trials are expensive, but they indicate that real dogs actually ate the food for six months with good results.
48. Check with a veterinary nutritionist before giving me a homemade-food diet. Researchers at the University of California, who examined 200 recipes last year for home-prepared dog food found that 95 per cent had some serious nutritional deficiencies.
49. Did you hear the hype about grain-free cat and dog food? That’s what it is: hype. Feeding me grains is fine—they can actually be an important part of a balanced diet. Before you make any change, talk to your vet.
50. If you switch me to a raw diet, I may end up with cracked teeth or a bacterial infection. Also, exposure to my faeces could put anyone with a weakened immune system at risk