Can you decipher your pet’s body language?
Karen Potocek of St. Hubert’s Animal Shelter in Madison led a fun program at the Sussex-Wantage Library on how to communicate with dogs and cats. The program was part of the library’s Tails and Tales summer program.
“Dogs and cats express themselves basically through body language,” said Potocek.
She said a happy, contented dog will display specific body language: the signature doggie smile, no ear or body tension, eyes that are closed or have their natural almond shaped or closed, straight stature, and, of course, a wagging tail.
Dogs will also show a “play bow,” which expresses a wish to play with other dogs or people.
A dog expressing fear or anxiety will crouch, making itself as small and unassuming as possible, and will avoid eye contact. The dog’s ears will be pulled back and tail tucked under, their side-eye or whites of the eye showing.
Relaxed, comfortable cats hold their ears and tails straight up. They show satisfaction with their claws, kneading and brushing the person they adore.
Nervous, fearful cats will imitate the dog’s crouch, with accompanying flattened ears and a downward tail. A truly agitated cat will hiss and demonstrate the piloerection stance (raised hackles) of arched back and fur standing on end. Both cats and dogs will give a final warning by showing their teeth.
Potocek offered tips and stressed that children and adults alike should be respectful when dealing with animals.
“Pat, pet, and pause should be used when meeting a new dog,” Potocek said. “Pat your knees to call the dog over, gently pet, and then pause to let the dog decide on further engagement.”
Cats should always be allowed to move first when engaging with people.
A children’s book that addresses human and animal safety is “Tails are not for Pulling” by Elizabeth Verdick.
St. Hubert’s cares for and locates forever homes for homeless pets. Currently, the shelter houses between 400 and 600 companion animals and small animals, many rescued from the South.
“Pat, pet, and pause should be used when meeting a new dog. Pat your knees to call the dog over, gently pet, and then pause to let the dog decide on further engagement.” Karen Potocek