How to Interpret What Your Pet is Telling You

Pet Language Interpretation
Bowing Bulldog Letting You Know You’re The Boss

Animals don’t show what they’re feeling the same way humans do. For certain monkeys, for example, a smile is actually a form of aggression.

Through millions of years of evolution, every animal has developed its own form of communication. As a pet owner, the more you understand what your pet is telling you, the better you’ll be able to care for it. The following are several behaviors that often mean your pet is trying to tell you something.

Dog Behaviors and Language

Dogs commonly communicate via body language and behaviors. Barking is a form of communication, but barking often sounds the same and can mean anything, from “please play with me now” to “I’m angry with you” to “I hear a noise outside.” Body language is the key to understanding a dog’s behavior. Some common body language includes:

  • Stepping on Your Foot, Standing in Your Way – Some of the most common problematic dog behaviors are barely noticeable unless you’re looking for them. For example, you may notice that a dog walks over to you and sticks its paw on your foot, or you may find that your dog stands in your way often and doesn’t want to move. These are dominant behaviors. They’re actually a way that your dog is trying to tell you it is and/or wants to be alpha male.
  • Showing Teeth – If you’ve ever been to a dog park and seen a dog show teeth at another dog or an owner, you may have thought to yourself “that’s an aggressive dog.” But the reality is that showing teeth is not always a sign of aggression. Sometimes it’s a sign of fear, or telling someone else not to bother it. Showing teeth is actually a good behavior, because a dog that is taught not to show teeth may sometimes be quick to bite.
  • Not Eating/Lethargy – Dogs are remarkable with how easily they can be happy and carefree even when they are in pain. That’s why some owners have trouble noticing when their dog is sick or in pain. If you notice that your dog stops eating and seems lethargic even when they have not received a walk, it may be a sign your dog needs to go to the vet.
  • Bowing – You may sometimes notice your dog appears to be bowing to you as though you’re royalty. Bowing can mean two things: it can mean that it’s lowering your head and acknowledging your presence, or it can mean your dog wants to play. The latter is especially important when your dog looks like it’s “playing rough” – if the two dogs are bowing, then they know it’s all in good fun.

Cat Behaviors and Language

Pet Language Interpretation
Cat With Arched Back Wants To Be Left In Peace

Cats also communicate through body language. Cat body language can sometimes be subtle, and other times can be obvious – especially given certain situations.

  • Kneading – If you’ve ever had a cat sit on your lap and claw at your knee, then you’ve seen your cat “kneading.” Some people think their cat is using them as a scratching post, but the truth is that kneading your leg is actually a sign of affection. It’s telling you it loves you, in what unfortunately is a very painful way.
  • Arched Back – The most well-known cat behavior is the arched back, often with hair that sticks out on ends. This is a signal of fear, and a warning that the cat doesn’t want you to come close.
  • Cat Standing Straight, Tail in Air – Cats don’t always seem like the most affectionate creatures because they’re very solitary. But cats do often try to tell you they’re happy to see you, and that’s what they are doing when they are standing normally with their tail straight in the air.


  • Cat Walks Towards You and Flops on Ground – You’ll often notice outdoor cats walk in your direction only to flop on the ground in front of you and look “lazy.” This behavior means that the cat is trying to tell you it is not a threat, and that it is friendly. Cats that put themselves in that position are trying to show you they mean no harm and want no harm.
  • Urination – Cats are generally trained to pee in litter boxes. But at times they may start to urinate in random spots around the house. This is often a sign that your cat is sick, and may need to see a veterinarian.

Deciphering Your Pet’s Body Language

Paying attention to the signals your pet gives are important, as is educating yourself on what these behaviors mean. Pets cannot tell you what they’re feeling, but they can show you, and the better you pay attention to the signals your pet is sending, the happier and healthier you’ll both be.



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