When it comes to sleeping, cats really do seem to be the experts, clocking up between sixteen and twenty-four hours out of every 24. This means that an elderly cat of 18 or so years has actually only been awake for between 3-6 years of its total life.
It is believed that one reason cats have evolved to sleep so much is because they proved themselves to be such supreme hunters that they needed far less time than other carnivores to satisfy their appetites each day, leaving twice as much spare time just to doze and dream. Presumably, once cats had ‘taught’ humans to take care of the hunting for them, they found themselves with even more quality sleeping time on their paws?
It’s probably also true to say that nothing falls asleep quite so quickly and easily as the cat, who can and does indulge in the briefest periods of light sleep – known as a catnap – at any and every opportunity. Apart from this almost unique ability, another mystery to us humans is the tendency for our cats to sleep in what appear to us to be the most peculiar and uncomfortable of positions, yet to awaken seemingly none the worse for the experience. Here are just a few examples:
Awkward cat sleeping positions
Super-funny sleeping positions of cats
If you have a photo of your cat sleeping in a particularly strange or uncomfortable place/pose, please do send them in or post them on our Facebook page.
The other day I noticed a woman frantically feeding her little dog treats in an attempt to stop him ‘yapping’ at the people she was chatting with. Unfortunately, as can so easily happen, her timing was off so that she was effectively rewarding and thus encouraging the over-excited barking rather than stopping it. The more the dog yapped, the more rewards and petting he received – definitely a win-win situation for him anyway!
We are all aware of instances of this sort of thing with children. A child in the supermarket starts screaming because he wants a packet of sweets and, embarrassed by the scene he’s creating, Mum gives in, thus reinforcing in the child’s mind that the best way of getting something he wants is to scream and stamp his feet.
Of course, it’s a bit different with dogs. Your dog isn’t likely to throw a temper tantrum to get his own way, is he? Or, is he? Let me give you another example. Your dog starts whining and barking while you are on the phone so you throw him a toy to keep him quiet. What you have actually done is teach him that whining and barking when you are on the phone is a great way of getting a game with a toy.
Here’s another one. Your dog jumps up at you excitedly when you walk into the room. You are wearing a brand new outfit that you don’t want covered in dog hairs so you yell at him and/or push him away impatiently. Unfortunately, instead of learning that you don’t like him jumping up, your reaction has actually reinforced in his mind that this is a great way of getting your attention and even a bit of a game.
Going back to that parent averting an embarrassing scene in the supermarket, how often are we guilty of letting our dog do something we don’t really want him to do because it’s easier than trying to stop him? No? What about when he barks and jumps around like a mad thing in his excitement to get out of the door, so we let him out? What about when he pulls us down the road after another dog or makes us laugh when he leaps around madly while we are trying to put on his leash to go for a walk?
Positive reinforcement only works when the reward – treat, praise, petting, game with toy – is delivered immediately in response to the desired behaviour. However, we also always need to remember that any and every time we deliver anything our dog finds rewarding, he will probably associate that reward with whatever he was doing a split second earlier…
Since we first started our Missing Pets page in June 2011, we’ve recorded literally hundreds of lost cats across Berkshire, over 240 of which are still sadly unaccounted for at this time. Undoubtedly, there are many more we never got to hear about too.
Sometimes, it’s possible to see sudden ‘trends’ when, within a short space of time, several cats all go missing from the same postcode area. This always feels me with dread, because I immediately worry someone is deliberately targeting them so we always try to get a warning out when we see signs of a missing cat ‘hot spot’.
Hot spots or not, I can’t help wondering where on earth all these lost cats get to and if there isn’t more we could do to find them. Of course, sadly, a large number are probably killed on busy roads, but many more just seem to disappear. So where do they all go?
One problem of course is that most people probably don’t really notice a stray cat when they see one. Subconsciously, we just assume it’s out and about because that’s what cats do. It may only be if you continue to see the same cat in your area for a while and start to realise it doesn’t belong to any of your neighbours that you begin to suspect it’s lost. A stray dog, on the other hand, is far more likely to be noticed almost immediately by most people.
Lost cat behaviour can vary not only according to whether or not the cat is used to being outside but also according to its personality too so, knowing what you are looking for can sometimes be the key to finding it. Cats that regularly go outside are territorial so, if they suddenly vanish, it means they are either trapped or injured or have been taken away from or scared out of their normal territory. Of course, if you have recently moved, it’s entirely possible your cat is trying to return to his/her old home turf and it is surprising just how far some cats will travel to get back home.
Timid cats that have become lost may just go into hiding, which can make finding them again especially difficult. Braver ones, on the other hand, may well continue to travel and explore and/or seek out other humans, making them more likely to become ‘adopted’ by new owners or handed in to an animal rescue centre. While the more timid cats may be hiding closer to home, bolder ones could easily end up much further away so poster campaigns and door to door enquires may well be your most effective means of tracking them down.
The ‘escaped’ indoor cat, however, has no outside territory of its own and will therefore probably hide in the nearest ‘safe’ place it can find. If your indoor cat goes missing, you would be wise to make a thorough search of the immediate surrounding area, especially all those little nooks and crannies where a scared cat could wriggle into. Humane cat traps can also be very effective, so contact your local Cat’s Protection to see if they can help you with this.
Always register your missing cat with the major lost pet websites and follow their advice. Also see our Missing Page for further details and make sure your pet has both an identification disc and, ideally, microchip identification too. If you do see a cat you don’t recognise in your area, remember that someone may be desperate to find him/her so please do check the lost pet databases, just in case.
Although many of you will have already seen the Yellow Dog advert box we’ve been displaying for a while, I thought it would also be a good idea to write a bit about this rapidly growing concept and to ask all of you to help spread this brilliant idea far and wide.
Yellow Dog is an international campaign which began in June last year in Sweden and is designed to create awareness that ‘some dogs need more space’. Support is rapidly growing wordwide, with dedicated websites now available in many countries, including the UK: Yellow Dog UK
Like most great ideas, the Yellow Dog concept is simple – if you and your dog need some space, then place a yellow ribbon, strip or bandanna on your dog’s leash to let other people know.
There can be all sorts of reasons why some dogs don’t like being approached by strangers, especially other dogs. For example, they may be:
- unwell or recovering from surgery
- newly rescued or rehomed
- in training or rehabilitation
- naturally fearful and/or under-socialised
- in season
- old and perhaps in discomfort
The problem is that some people, especially those who don’t have dogs or who have ‘happy-go-lucky’ dogs who get on with everyone, don’t always stop to think about the stress they can cause by approaching too close to a dog who ‘just needs more space’. There is nothing more scary than a bouncy dog and/or a well-meaning, over-friendly person bearing down on you when you have a nervous dog ready to explode on the end of your leash! Unfortunately, if you’re scared, your dog will know it and that will just make him worse…
So, please remember – if you see a dog with a YELLOW ribbon, bandanna or similar on the leash or on the dog, this dog needs some space. Please, do not approach the dog or his people or allow your dog to get too close. How close is too close? Only the dog or his people know, so maintain your distance and give them time to move out of your way.
I read a wonderful comment on Facebook recently from an owner who is so thrilled at how much better her dog is out walking now that she is using a yellow ribbon and people and other dogs are giving them the space they need. It is clearly a win-win situation, because her new-found confidence is rubbing off on her dog who, in turn, is becoming much calmer and better-behaved and may, one day, no longer need that space.
Of course, the Yellow Dog concept can only work if people know what the yellow ribbon means and are willing to respect it, so the more people you tell, the better – not just other dog owners but everyone! Mums and Dads, tell your kids, teachers tell your pupils, everyone tell your friends and work mates. Let’s ensure that by the end of 2013, EVERYONE knows that if a dog is wearing a yellow ribbon, you and your dog need to stay back and give them the space they need! Thank you.
Few subjects create such contentious debate among dog people as to whether or not the dogs in our homes still think and act much like their wolf ancestors. Those who speak out most often on the subject tell us that science has long-since proved modern day dogs have very little in common with their wolf ancestors and that there is nothing to be gained from understanding the wolf in order to better understand our dogs. However, if you look a little deeper you find that many scientists and behaviourists are still hard at work studying both wolves and dogs to try to answer this very question.
According to the Wolf Science Centre, for example, who are currently comparing cognitive abilities and social behaviour of dogs and wolves, although all dogs originated from wolves, it remains unknown whether and to what degree they still think in a wolf-like way or how their problem solving, learning skills and co-operative dispositions with humans may have changed due to domestication. At the moment, the Wolf Science Centre believes that, while our understanding of dog behaviour is rapidly increasing, the complimentary wolf data are largely lacking. The main goal of their project is thus to try to collect these data using wolves hand-raised by scientists so as to ensure a close and trustful working relationship.
Wolfman Shaun Ellis, who has actually lived for extended periods as a pack member among wolves both in captivity and in the wild, as well as working as a dog behaviourist for many years, writes in his book ‘The Wolf Within’ that “it is useful to translate the wolf social structure to the dog world because most of the problems we have with dogs are caused by our failure to understand the similarities between dogs and wolves”. In answer to the question “Should we act like the pact leader or take a softer approach with our dogs?” Shaun believes what we should really be asking ourselves is “How can we be a good leader, based not on just our world but also through the eyes and mind of our dogs?” This to me, seems very good advice.
Shaun, founder of the Wolf Pack Foundation, currently lives and works at his home and centre in Devon, where he not only continues his study of wolves but also offers a range of specially designed dog training courses presenting general principles of wolf psychology and behaviour to provide a better understanding of what he calls “the wild side of your dog.”
So, far from being over and done with, it would seem that the question of whether or not the domestic dog is just a wolf in dog’s clothing or is as far removed from his ancient ancestors as we are from a chimpanzee, is still the subject of much serious debate and study.
While I was out walking with my GSD Kodi the other day, we passed by two small girls.
“Look,” said one, pointing. “It looks like a wolf.”
“Probably is a wolf, then,” replied the other.
Out of the mouths of babes?
You may also like to see Dog Listener Jan Fennell’s recent blog article: Trying To Make sense Out Of Nonsense
Last week I wrote about the importance of learning to understand what our dogs are trying to tell us so that we are better be able to communicate with them. This got me thinking about feline communication. Despite the fact that cats tend to live a more solitary life than dogs, feral cats do often gather together in communal areas and cats have therefore also developed an efficient method of communicating with each other to avoid misunderstandings that could lead to serious fights.
In fact, just like dogs, cats will use scent, body language and sound to communicate with each other and also to communicate with us. Knowing how to read your cat will therefore make it much easier to understand his needs and his moods. Whether or not it will make it any easier to convince a cat to do anything other than what he/she wants to do, of course, is another matter!
Body language can tell you a lot about what your cat is feeling and thinking. For example, if his pupils are dilated, it may mean that your cat is becoming aggressive, especially if his tail is also swishing or flicking rapidly, his facial muscles are taut and his whiskers are swept forward. However, if his ears are laid back flat against his head, it could mean he is afraid.
A relaxed, contented cat, on the other hand, will point his ears forward, half close his eyes, and maybe even purr. His tail will be held fairly low and still. In this state he may also roll over on his back for a tummy rub. Beware – not all cats like this and you may find his claws in your fingers should you be tempted!
The pitch, intensity, frequency, rapidity, and volume of the sounds your cat makes all clearly reflect his different emotional states and physical needs. In general, the more rapid, intense, and loud the sound, the more panicked, scared or anxious your cat may be feeling. Conversely, the slower and less intense the sounds are, the more confident, contented or potentially assertive your cat is being.
Scent is a very important means of communication for your cat and urine marking is often used in the wild as a way of defining a territory. A cat will also rub pheromones onto objects with his cheeks and forehead to mark them as familiar, and friendly cats will head butt each other – and us – for the same reason. Similarly, after greeting us a cat will often go and wash himself so that he can ‘taste’ our scent on his fur.
If you would like to find out more about what your cat’s behaviour is telling you, check out these links:
Communicate with your cat
Talking to your cat