If you’ve never owned a cat, then you might be surprised to learn that they can be very effective communicators. Unlike the guttural barking of canines that lacks much variety, felines converse with a little more finesse via six to seven different vocal inflections. Cats reserve their widely varying styles of speaking out for just the right occasions.
Meows, Purrs & Chirrups
Most cat owners hear three types of cat communication above all others. The most ubiquitous is the easily recognizable “meow,” which is fitting because this type of cat sound is usually uttered to elicit human attention. Kittens learn to meow in order to receive care from their mothers. By meowing in the presence of their human owners as adults (some never stop meowing), they are most likely telling us that, “we’re here!,” or “we’re hungry!,” or “pet me!”
Purrs and chirrups indicate positive reactions to environmental stimuli. While purring is also quite commonplace like the meow, it is usually considered a positive response to a cat’s surroundings, although this may not always be the case. By comparison, chirrups are not as frequently heard by owners and these sounds are reminiscent of a questioning, more subtle “meow.” Again, a chirrup is construed as another positive sound, indicative of a cat that’s content and making pleasantries with its owner or other pets.
Growls, Hisses, Wails & Chatters
Hissing is often preceded by a growl, which the cat is using as a preliminary warning. Consistent growling should give owners pause and cause them to reflect on their cats’ emotional wellbeing. The hiss that follows the growl is a cat’s way to signal its ultimate displeasure, whether directed at an offending cat, dog or in worst case scenarios, its owner. A cat that is hissing on a regular basis means that something in the household must change. A wailing cat means that it is in heat, meaning owners would be wise to keep the cat indoors or consider a spay appointment with their local vets.
Chatters are the most elusive, most entertaining sounds that cats will make. Not all cats will chatter, but those that do sound like they’re making short, staccato clicks or coughs as they stare intently at a bird hovering by a window. Chatters can alert pets in the house to a special event being perceived by a single cat and are meant to elicit excitation. While chattering is relatively rare like growls, hisses and wails, it is a positive or neutral form of communication meant to get the attention of other animals.
Canine Training Misconceptions
In order to be effective dog owners, it is important to have a basic understanding of what manipulates their behavior. The road to Hell is often paved with good intentions, and the figurative cobblestones that we lay down as pet parents will often have the opposite effects than originally intended. It is commonly accepted across multiple cultures that a dog licks you as a way to “give kisses,” and that a dog is best discouraged from misbehavior through intense, negative reinforcement.
Shirin Merchant, an animal behavioralist, points out in her recent column several different ways that we can get better results from our dogs through understanding them more effectively. For instance, when dogs lick us, it is only a subtle symbol of their affection, but mostly them signaling their submission. Nuzzling and closeness are the canine’s primary method of showing love. Additionally, dogs do not process guilt or punishment in the same way as people. Merchant addresses the timing of this concept when she states that, “[dogs] have a two-second time connection between a reward or punishment and what happened.” With that said, continuing with an angry, verbal tirade that extends beyond this brief, crucial window for actual learning is meaningless. The verbal tongue lashing is not understood by the dog as it might be understood by a child from a parent.
Instead of blowing up and giving in to anger issues, it is best to learn methods that a dog readily understands, which requires an immense amount of patience. Positive reinforcement and attention should replace excessive treats following a praiseworthy action (Shirin accurately points out that a good trainer does not need treats). A calm, assertive resistance and a lack of attention in some cases should replace yelling, crating and hitting following an undesirable action. Research suggests that canine packs consistently follow the same leaders, and these leaders are the ones that both communicate the most effectively and actively guide the behavior of the other animals. Every mistake a dog makes is an opportunity to steer the owner-dog relationship in a more positive direction. Make your dogs work!
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