Dogs and cats use many of the same pet body language signals to communicate with each other and with the humans who love them. Some of these behaviors mean the same thing, whether they come from your dog or your cat. However, others may have opposite meanings. Whether you have a cat or a dog (or both!), it’s important to understand what they’re trying to tell you.
Pet Body Language | What They’re Trying To Telling You
Some instances of pet body language can seem ambiguous. For example, with dogs, showing teeth can be an offensive, defensive, or submissive gesture. However, with cats, showing teeth almost always indicates a potential for aggression.
Cats have a wide range of body postures used as visual signals primarily to regulate aggressive behavior. Silent communication also makes use of the dog’s body from nose to tail. Determining the meaning of a signal or group of signals depends on context and what the rest of the body says.
Cat Body Talk
Rolling: Rolling is a component of female sexual behavior, usually accompanied by purring, stretching, and kneading interspersed with object-rubbing bouts. Other times, a position on the back presents all four paws (and claws!) at the ready and can be a defensive gesture — it is NOT an invitation to rub the cat’s tummy!
When an immature male cat rolls in the presence of a dominant male, the behavior signals appeasement. It says, “I’m no threat, treat me nice.” Neutered cats (both male and female) use rolling behavior toward humans as an appeasement gesture and sometimes as an invitation to interact or play.
Eyeballing: In any situation (offensive, defensive, or relaxed), cats control space from a distance with stares. During the preliminary stages of tense encounters, they may avoid looking at each other. However, eventually the dominant cats will use long-distance stares to keep other cats away from owned property (such as a litter box).
Fur Signals: As aggression increases, more overt signs develop. An aggressive cat fluffs their fur and has it stand at full height.
Ear Warnings: Ears are barometers of kitty mood. Erect, forward-facing ears indicate interest, but the more of the backs of the ears the cat shows, the greater their agitation and threat to attack.
Crouching: Cats don’t do “submission” the way dogs do. They communicate fear or non-contest by crouching on the ground, flattening ears and withdrawing head into the shoulders. Gauge kitty fearfulness by the degree to which the ears flatten.
Rolling Over: Assuming a “low” position in the presence of another dog (or human) is a sign of deference that signals “you are in charge.” Rolling over to show the genitals is the ultimate declaration of submission and is used to diffuse a threatening situation to show no threat. Youngsters tend to offer a tummy display to older dogs, and many canines enjoy a tummy rub and use this as an invitation to pet. Dogs may also use rolling over — or a front end down/butt up in a “play bow” — to invite a game.
Showing Teeth: Dogs “grin” and show their teeth by pulling their lips back horizontally. They indicate they mean no harm by licking their lips and assuming a low body posture at the same time. In contrast, during an offensive tooth display, the dog’s lips push forward but retract vertically. Dogs pull their lips back in defensive displays with the mouth wide open.
Ear Signals: Similarly, canine ear position tells you he if he’s feeling neutral (ears back) or alert (ears forward). However, be wary because cropped ears — surgically altered for a desired look — can interfere with meaning. A Doberman Pinscher with cropped (erect) looks quite different than natural ears (dropped). Initially, this can confuse other dogs.
Eye Contact: Eye contact is a universal sign of confidence, dominance, and challenge. This signal can be confused or misread in dogs with fur over their eyes.
Fur Elevation: Even fur position indicates emotional state of the dog. Piloerection — fur standing off the body — signals strong arousal, such as fear or aggression. Raised hackles (fur along the top line of the neck and shoulders) shout “warning” to other dogs and people that the dog is excited and possibly ready to attack.
This video by Fox News Insider invites Cesar Millan to reveal what you dog is trying to tell you: