54 Secrets Pets Won't Tell You

Everything you should know about your best friend.

54 Secrets Pets Won't Tell You

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 old 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 sub in an actual toy at the end, so I have something to catch and kill. Then, it makes the game worth it.

4. Humans often tend to confuse love with food and, sometimes, instead of showing us love they feed us. So the next time we come to you, don't automatically reach for that food treat. Instead, why not spend time with us? Take us for walks, play games or give us a massage.

5. Grooming day means you bring out the big blow-dryer. 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 detangle matted fur.  

6. Please don't rush me when I'm going to the bathroom-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 poop. In fact, researchers watched 70 of us engage in 1,893 defecations over a two-year period just to figure this out.

7. You may think it's nice to let me sleep all day, but too much naptime 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 contains glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate, which protect joint cartilage. And please switch me to a food formulated for an animal my age.

9. Sometimes, if I spend too much time alone with you at home, I can get overly attached to you. Then when you go out and leave me alone, I do not know how to cope and my anxiety can lead to destruction, toileting problems and stress. Please teach me how to stay happily by myself so that I can cope better when you go out.

Ways I Wish You'd Keep Me Safe

10. If you lose me, don't let the worry show in your voice when you call out for me. I will hear it in your voice and perhaps fail to recognize you. Call me calmly, especially if you see me running away. If I am close to home, I will try to find my way back, or, if I am the nervous sort, hide. If I am gone for a while, think of everything you know about my temperament and me. Chances are I was either chasing a scent, was curious about a female in heat,  wanted to meet other dogs or something must have scared me away. Let people in the area know that I am lost. Perhaps ask them to leave food for me. You could even give this trick a shot: Take some old, unwashed T-shirts, place some food in them and leave them in a few places. If I find the clothes, I will smell you and probably keep coming back. You could also tag me (attach a metal locket to my collar with my name and address on it) when I am young, so I can be found easily.

11. I have a great sense of hearing and can often pick up a pitch that you can't hear. We don't like loud sounds like thunder or crackers during Diwali. They make us paranoid and scared. There are a few of us who learn to ignore these sounds, but most of us prefer to go into a corner. Don't burst a cracker in front of me or try to get me 'used' to the sound. Instead, take me to a familiar room. Close all the windows, create a little white noise (perhaps the fan, radio or television) and let me get into a tight corner. Help me create my safe zone and let me ride it out.

12. If you are spaying or neutering me, do remember that my metabolism reduces by about 30 per cent. Many dogs tend to put on weight or get lazy. So, it is important to change or reduce my diet accordingly.

13. Because I'm a creature of habit, even a subtle change in my behaviour is a red flag that I might be sick. Being listless, total reluctance to eat or loss of appetite, excessive water intake, gaining or losing weight, bumping into things are all warning signs. Call the vet right away.  

14. If I am a street dog that you feed regularly, keep an eye on how much I am eating. Chances are you are not the only one feeding me. In such cases, we stop working for our food, stay in one place and sometimes become territorial and snappy. Feed me in different parts of my territory. Perhaps you could try training me in exchange for food, with basic commands, such as sit or stay. This would specially work if you start training me at a young age. I would be a well-behaved street dog then, wouldn't I?

How to Really Make Me Your Best Friend

15. 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.   

16. You know all the times you have tied me up in one place for long periods? It hurts. I feel confused and isolated. I am, by nature, a social animal and social structure is very important for me. Imagine going to a party where no one spoke to you and all you did was sit in a corner? Do think about why you are tying me up and try fixing that problem. If you are tying me up to prevent me from being destructive or badly behaved when guests are over, please teach me how to behave and I will learn-instead of dealing with the problems of tying me up. You could also get me a kennel, crate or a spacious cage. It will be like a room of my own!

17. Remember to be extra careful during extreme weather. If it's really hot and I have been in an air-conditioned room all day, don't take me out for a walk immediately. Let me run around the house a bit first, to warm up. Make sure I wear a jacket in winter. Avoid stagnant water when taking me for a walk during the monsoon-I may lick some when you are not looking. When we come back from a wet walk, dab my paws dry and dust them with some powder or newspaper to neutralize excess moisture. 

18. You may think it's cute when I rub my butt on the carpet, but it probably means that I'm itchy and would like to see a vet.

19. When you are deciding to get a dog, do a little research on breeds. If I am a Labrador, a Siberian husky or even a street dog, I am energetic and will need loads of exercise and training. Please don't look at my size or how 'cool' I seem, but evaluate my temperament and your lifestyle. You don't want me to become overweight and unhealthy, do you?

20. When you're choosing a new furry friend, ask a vet or trainer for simple 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 am really struggling, I'm probably going to be tougher to train than an animal that lies there placidly.

21. If you decide to adopt a street dog (and you should, we are way cooler), then do remember our origins. We love that you are pampering us, but we need a lot of exercise, as much as a boxer. Otherwise, we can become anxious and our behaviour may change.

Surprising Things That Dogs Love …

22. Forget dog biscuits! If you want me to really pay attention when you're training me, use a treat that's moist, something so gross you don't even want to hold it in your hand, like a piece of greasy chicken, eggs, fish or paneer. Also, make me work for my treats. I will value them more. Don't forget, though, a treat should be used as a bait to train a dog. It cannot replace a meal.

23. 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, others just love to munch the lawn. So do let me graze-just make sure the grass I'm eating is free of pesticides.

24. Beware, Mum, because I will eat your underwear, especially if they've been worn. Veterinarians in the US surgically remove hundreds of pairs from dogs' bellies every year.

25. Please, 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 side bumpers. But if I like to curl up, I'll probably love a bumper bed.  

… And What We Secretly Hate

26. 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, one of these days, I might lose it.  

27. If you leave me in the yard when you're not home, don't fool yourself that I'm going to run around and have fun. The truth is, I'm probably going to 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.

28. 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.

29. If I'm not used to strangers and 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.

30. If I am a street dog that you have adopted, remember that there was a time I used to scavenge for food. It's okay to make us work for it on occasion. How about placing food in different parts of the house or using it for training? It will keep me engaged.

31. Hold those clippers! No matter how high the mercury climbs or how long my hair is, I don't need to be shaved. You often see dogs, like German shepherds who have a thick double coat, sheared to their bare skin. Now that is a really bad idea. The fur is insulation. We are photosensitive and our skin burns. We are prone to heat strokes as well. Also, when you shear my fur, I am prone to skin infections or clip dermatitis. Just make sure that you keep my coat brushed and mat-free in order to promote good air circulation.  

Cats: Our Biggest Mysteries Solved!

32. Let's get one thing straight: 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.

33. If I'm spraying outside the box, I'm not being spiteful. There is something that is stressing me out. It could be a new person, a new pet or even a new piece of furniture in the house that seems to be encroaching on my territory.  

34. 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.

35. If I stiffen every time you run a hand down my back, take the hint. A 2013 study published in Physiology and Behavior 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.

36. Remember, I see the world as vertical, not horizontal. So, instead of getting mad when I knock things off the mantel, build me a cat superhighway around the room. Put up a shelf that leads up to a bookcase that leads to a mantel that leads to a chair that gets me down.

37. 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.

38. Thinking about getting me a buddy? I'll get along best with a cat from the opposite sex and slightly younger, 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.

39. Excuse me, but I am 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.

40. Sorry for putting my bottom 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 bottom. It means I perceive you as a maternal figure.

41. 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 home-made toy that I'll love. Anything that is shiny or that I can scratch is going to make my day.

Training Tricks That Help Us Learn

42. 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 instil good habits from the beginning than to un-train bad habits.

43. We dogs communicate using body language and we are excellent at reading it. So can you please be clear with how you communicate with me? What confuses me is how sometimes, when I am being bad, you are saying 'no', but you are smiling and your body and tone are relaxed. When I am angry, my whole body is angry. When I am happy, my entire body expresses it. Be consistent and I will understand you better.

44. To stop me from scratching a piece of furniture, cover the entire area with an old bed sheet, aluminium foil or strips of double-sided tape, because those don't feel good under my paws. Then put a tall scratching post right in front of it.

45. You keep complaining that I jump on the sofa or climb on to your bed. But it seems so much more exciting because you are there. Don't call me over to play or pet me. How about coming to me instead? Play with me on the floor and make it a more exciting place.

46. What do you mean you can't teach an old dog new tricks? My owner taught me to fetch the newspaper from the driveway and take it to him when I was 10.

47. Remember when I was little and you shoved my nose in a puddle of pee 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.  

48. Want me to learn to walk by your side on a leash? 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 I need to stay next to you in order to keep doing what I love most: moving and exploring.

49. When I bark, jump and grab the towel off the countertop, I'm not trying to be bad. I'm just bored! I want your attention! Please, get off your smartphone and play with me. Maybe throw me a ball to catch?

The Best (and Worst) Foods for Us

50. 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.

51. 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 home-made diets that aren't balanced may develop a dull coat.

52. Check with your vet before giving me a home-made diet. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, who examined 200 recipes last year for home-prepared dog food found that 95 per cent had some serious nutritional deficiencies.

53. Most dogs are gluten-allergic. So giving me roti and bread may not be such a good idea. Packaged food does translate into a balanced diet. There are several other practical advantages, such as it is dry, therefore easier to eat and manage food volume. This also results in smaller and drier poop that's easier to clean. If you are giving me home-cooked meals, then you could give me paneer or tofu, yellow moong dal, unpolished rice, seasonal vegetables, chicken, healthy fish or eggs. Avoid mutton and beef, and please don't give me small bones. They are not good for me.

54. Did you hear the hype about grain-free cat and dog food? That's what it is: hype. There's nothing wrong with feeding me grains-they can actually be an important part of a balanced diet. Before you make any change, talk to your vet.

Sources: Shirin Merchant, canine behaviourist, Canines Can Care, Mumbai; Dr Pradeep Rana, veterinary surgeon, New Delhi; Dr Narendra Gandhi, veterinary surgeon, New Delhi; Adnan Khan, dog trainer, behaviour expert and owner of K9 School, New Delhi; Jackson Galaxy, cat behaviourist and host of Animal Planet's My Cat from Hell; Brian Hare, PhD, co-director of the Canine Cognition Center at Duke University; Rebecca Remillard, PhD, DVM, DACVN, a veterinary nutritionist at North Carolina State University and founder of petdiets.com; Jorge Bendersky, a groomer and pet stylist in New York City; Spencer Williams, owner and president of West Paw Design, a company that makes pet toys and beds; Nancy Kay, DVM, author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life; Jennifer Coates, DVM, veterinary adviser to petmd.com; Victoria Schade, dog-training and behavioural expert at pet360.com and author of Bonding with Your Dog: A Trainer's Secrets for Building a Better Relationship; Sophia Yin, DVM, a veterinarian and animal behaviourist and the author of How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves; K. C. Theisen, director of pet-care issues at the Humane Society of the United States; Amy Farcas, DVM, DACVN, a veterinary nutritionist at the University of Pennsylvania; Marilyn Krieger, cat behavioural consultant and author of Naughty No More; Karen 'Doc' Halligan, DVM, author of Doc Halligan's What Every Pet Owner Should Know; Stephen Zawistowski, PhD, animal behaviourist and adviser at the ASPCA.

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