Dog and Cat Body Language That Shows You're Bugging Them
We all have good intentions when it comes to our canine and feline companions. But from time to time, we do things that totally annoy them — sometimes without even knowing it. Fortunately, cat and dog body language isn't that hard to read, so you can tell when you're bugging them and fix it.
A few of these human behaviors rile both dogs and cats equally, while some are species-specific. There are obvious ones, like keeping noise levels moderate for both dogs and cats and rarely if ever washing your cat. Then, there are some less obvious ones, like wearing heavy fragrances or scratching your cat’s stomach (sorry Whiskers).
Did you really think you never did anything to annoy your pet? Read on to see exactly how many things you’re guilty of doing.
Over- or Under-Exercise
There are certain dog breeds that need a ton of exercise, but most canines are good with one or two walks a day and a bit of playtime or fetch. Every dog has his Goldilocks spot in this regard, and it’s very important for their human companion to figure it out and stick to the routine.
Both too much or too little exercise can have negative health and behavioral consequences. You don't need to be a dog body language expert to notice if your dog is in need of a walk. If they're pacing by the door, whining or chewing on things they're not supposed to, it's a good sign they need to burn off some steam.
Bring Children Into the Home
If you live with cats and are expecting, it’s probably a good idea to follow the advice of experts and get the cat prepared for the baby long before birth.
One of the most annoying things for a cat is when another small creature suddenly appears in the home and soaks up all the attention from the humans, whether it’s another cat, another pet or a tiny newborn. If your cat's body language is more standoffish and aloof than usual, it may be a cry for attention.
Why is it that we yell when we get upset? For a dog, yelling is the same as barking. And barking signals that something is off, something bad is happening.
Yelling creates all sorts of confusion for your dog, so if they’re behaving badly and you want them to know that their actions are unacceptable, develop a firm tone and speak briefly and clearly.
And be sure to have a positive tone when they’re doing things you approve of.
Expose Dogs to Excessive Noise
Just like yelling, exposing your dog to excessive noise — whether you created it or not — is undesirable. Dogs have incredibly sensitive hearing and are easily bothered by a loud TV or a boisterous party. And you know how much Fido hates fireworks during holidays.
This is why many folks try to keep their dogs as far away from the din as possible, and they are happier this way as long as you don’t leave them alone for 10 or more hours. Dog body language that indicates intense fear, like shaking, pacing and whining may be signs to ask your vet for medication to help keep your dog calm over the holidays.
Stare at Dogs for Extended Periods
Dogs get easily freaked out if you stare at them for too long. They think of it as a challenge, and they are always ready to defend themselves.
Approach looking at a dog like you do staring at the sun (although, yes, you can look at Fido a bit longer than you would the sun). But, in general, it’s just best to avoid staring at all, especially if the dog is agitated or aggressive. If your dog's body language turns tense, particularly if they pin their ears back or growl, back off immediately.
Pet Your Cat Too Aggressively
If you're new to cats, make sure you learn how to pet a cat correctly before you bring one home. Cats love affection as much as any domesticated animal, but they do not like rough petting.
They will quickly get swatty and hissy if you pet them with too much force. Gentle caressing is the optimal method to keep your feline friends purring away.
Dogs, on the other hand, might crave a good, hard scratch behind the ears or over the spine.
Be Inconsistent With Directives and Actions
This is a tough one for dog owners because while they might want to be completely open and free with their pooch, they most likely do not want their dog to behave this way with other people because not everyone wants a face full of drool or hair covering their black pants.
The problem is Fido doesn’t understand the difference. He thinks everyone is the same and that the way he behaves toward his human companions is acceptable for all interactions. Dog guardians must teach their pooches manners they expect them to follow all the time.
Rarely Empty the Litter Box
One of the great things about having a cat companion is that they are such neat and tidy animals. They actually prefer order over chaos, and they do not need to be taken outside for bowel and bladder relief.
However, if you don’t clean out your cat’s litter box regularly, you might find unwanted surprises in the worst possible places, like your shoes or closet. Cats have a tendency to let their humans know when they’re unhappy, and you don't need to be a cat body language expert to notice.
Men have an annoying tendency to over-explain things to other people, namely non-men. “Man-splaining,” as it’s known, is an undesirable quality in human interaction, and it’s even worse when a canine is involved.
Sure, Fido might have done something that you’ve told him not to do over and over again, but reliving all those times you explained why he shouldn’t chew up your furniture or knock over the trash can will do little to prevent either from happening again. Training and body language, however, will do the trick.
Force Interactions With Humans or Other Animals
Some dogs are social butterflies that love to be petted by any willing hand. Others are reserved, shy or suspicious of strangers and sometimes even people they know. So, even though you love your dog and want everyone to see what a good boy he is, let him do his thing.
If he wants to sit in the corner for the first 20 minutes when friends come over, then by gosh, he will sit in that corner, and you’ll love him just as much. Dog body language should be your guide, not your own idea what a fun day at the dog park looks like. Provide clean water every day, and give doggie visitors their own dish from which to drink.
Be Too Lax With Schedules
We are all creatures of habit, and this is especially so for dogs. There’s a metaphor about moving a dog’s water dish for a reason — she will have absolutely no clue why it happened and will be powerless to remedy the situation.
The same goes for all routine-based activities like two walks a day, a set time for meals or keeping her sleeping area in the same place with the same amenities. Dogs need routines to prevent acting out and other bad behaviors.
Leave Their Water Dish Dirty
When you take your dog outside and she inevitably finds a puddle of water to lap up, it’s easy to assume that a water dish at home that’s accumulated hair, food bits, dust and whatever else might be floating around the house will go unnoticed.
However, a dog is keen to drink clean water whenever possible, even if the next thing they do is lick their butt.
Roughhouse With Them
Dogs and cats are sensitive creatures who prefer warmth, friendliness and love, just like people. Children have a tendency to look at the family pet like one of their toys — “This is mine to do with as I please.”
Dogs and especially cats do not like to be poked and prodded, tossed around, slapped, wrestled with or generally mistreated in any way. There are breeds of dogs that love to roughhouse and roll around in the dirt with the kiddos, but each animal has its threshold, and it’s imperative that human companions learn this.
In this instance, cat body language is easier to read that dog body language. Cats are usually less tolerant of rough handling, hissing when they've lost patience. Dogs have a longer fuse, so make sure to teach kids to respect the family pet's boundaries to getting snapped at.
Pay Zero Attention to Your Cat’s Eating Habits
Unlike dogs, cats are finicky eaters that rely heavily on routine and like to stick with the same meal program. If you ignore these peculiarities, then you will have a very unhappy feline friend around the house.
The food, timing of each meal and the location of the container are extremely important, and your cat expects you to heed these demands. Cat body language can be subtle, but a hungry cat isn't hard to read: Most of them will meow at your bedroom door at 3 a.m. if they're anxious for more kibble.
Tease Your Dog or Cat
Neither dogs nor cats like to be teased, and really the same goes for humans. But humans, especially children, are prone to messing with their animal companions from time to time. As fun as it might be to watch Mittens go agro on the laser pointer, keep this activity to a minimum. The same goes for chasing Fido, barking back at him or moving his food dish around while he eats.
And never tease your dog or cat with their favorite toy without eventually letting them have it. This kind of behavior might seem innocent and make you laugh, but it’s mean-spirited, and it's actually one of the most common things that annoy dogs.
Bathe Dogs Too Often
Imagine if every time you had to take a shower, another person had to lather you up and down with no regard for your body parts and then hose you off with the coldest water they could find. Sounds awful, and Fido feels the same way!
Bathing should be kept to a minimum, as dogs rely on their natural oils to protect their coats and skin. Excessive bathing will dry out their fur and can lead to skin problems and uncontrollable itching. If your dog is overly smelly, then a bath is fine, but use warm water and avoid getting soap in their eyes.
Distract Them While They Eat
Mealtime is for many a time of relaxation and rejuvenation, and the same is true for dogs and cats. Don’t make mealtimes an afterthought. Dogs and cats love to eat, especially dogs, but they also love to do so in a quiet place.
Never feed your pets in high-traffic areas of the home or when there are a lot of people in the room making a bunch of noise. Give them their space and allow them to finish before taking the dish away.
Hug Too Tightly
If your pooch ever puts his paws up on your shoulders or body, it might seem like he’s trying to hug you, but this is never the case. It’s actually a move that signals domination or an attempt to gain control over you. Unlike primates, dogs don’t hug and never have. The same goes for cats.
And for both animals, tight and long hugs are uncomfortable. Dog body language can also be deceiving. While it's cute when they look up and lick their nose, it's actually a sign of nervousness. It might be hard for humans to understand, as we show affection through embrace, but gentle and meaningful petting of your dog or cat is the way to show you care.
Leave Dogs Alone Too Long
While this isn't necessarily one of the things that annoy dogs, it'll definitely wipe the pep from their step. Many folks seek out canine companionship because dogs are lovable, loyal and generally agreeable — except when you leave them alone for 10 or more hours a day. It’s easy to do this, as most of us have day jobs and other life obligations that prevent us from being with Fido during all waking hours.
However, this simply will not work for your pooch. He needs serious attention, but more importantly, he needs to be shown the respect of any family member because he is definitely part of your clan.
Take Dogs to Crowded Dog Parks
It might seem fun to bring your pooch to a dog park where there are dozens of canines of all sizes for them to play and socialize with. Some dogs love this, but most dogs can’t stand it because it’s just too much commotion for them to feel secure.
It’s best to go to dog parks when they’re lightly crowded or nearly empty and to be conscious of Fido’s behavior if more and more pooches show up.
Wake Them Suddenly
This one goes for dogs and cats, as both species absolutely hate being jostled awake. Sound familiar? Yeah, humans hate it, too. And have you ever been suddenly awakened and then felt defensive or scared for a second or two, or just super-annoyed?
Dogs and cats have these same reactions, but the results can be painful for humans because Fido might decide to nip you or Mittens might sink a claw or five into your flesh. It’s a natural instinct for both, so never try to mess with their sleep on purpose.
Bring a Stranger Dog Into the Home
A lot of dog owners think their canines are perfect little angels who get along with other dogs just fine. So, they have no second thoughts about inviting over friends who have dogs of their own and introducing each other’s pooches inside the home.
The problem with this is dogs are territorial and protective of their domains, and when a stranger dog enters the picture, things can get pear-shaped fast. The best time for dogs to meet is during walks.
Allow Leash Strain
We’ve all seen it or experienced it: Human and dog walking down the street, leash stretched like a game of Tug of War with the human just trying to keep up. Sadly, this means the dog has not been trained to perform confident, loose-leash walks — the ideal gait for both human and pup.
And while the dog is causing the stretching, which can lead to serious thyroid issues, it’s doing so because it doesn’t know any better. Proper training will stop this practice.
Improperly Greet a Stranger's Dog
Most people think it’s fine to kneel down and offer their hand to a dog upon meeting them, but dog trainers advise against this common practice.
When a canine sees an unknown human crouch in front of them and babble on while extending their hand, they immediately seize up because these actions mimic those of a predator.
You’re actually supposed to ignore the dog and greet its human companion, which will show the pooch that you’re friendly and harmless.
Rub Your Cat’s Stomach
When you manage to make a serious connection with a cat and are in the midst of a petting session, the cat very likely will roll over onto his back as if he wants you to rub his stomach.
Cat body language, however, is very different than dog body language. Go in for a tummy rub, and you'll likely end up with your hand and arm covered in bite marks and scratches or the cat simply springing up and leaving the scene as if he never met you.
The fur follicles on the stomach are very sensitive — just like the tail, which cats also don’t want you to grab — and so the rubbing is uncomfortable.
Play Dress Up
Chances are you’ve seen a kitty in the same Halloween costume as their human companion. Or maybe you let your children put endless different outfits on your mopey-faced basset hound just for the shares.
It seems fun, it seems innocent, but your pets are not having as much fun as everyone else. Being dressed up in an uncomfortable costume, or even a sweater, is probably one of the biggest things that annoy dogs.
Dogs and cats simply do not like outfits, as they make them feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, unable to perform their natural movements. Unless you have a pet that needs the warmth of a jacket, it’s best to leave costume parties to the humans.
Expose Dogs to Heavy Odors
You already know there are plenty of sounds that annoy dogs, but smells can set them on edge, too. Like their hearing ability, dogs have a keen sense of smell. This helps make them excellent hunting companions and rescue animals.
But it also means that, if you like heavy colognes on your body or air fresheners around the home, they could drive your doggie crazy and worse.
Not only is it generally off-putting, but it can actually damage sensitive tissue in the snout. It’s best to simply avoid harsh or potent products like cologne, cleaning solvents and odor neutralizers around the dogs.
Pull Dogs Along on Walks
This one also has to do with their sense of smell but in a different way. Dogs love to sniff around while taking a walk. It helps them understand where they are and how many other dogs have been there before.
But us humans can get impatient with the starts and stops of a curious pooch, tugging at her in hopes of settling into a brisk pace so we can return to our non-dog-walking lives as soon as possible. Keep the peace at home, and let them experience the olfactory sensations of your neighborhood.
Purposely Put Dogs in Vulnerable Situations
Dogs experience fear and vulnerability, and there are situations that they must be put in even if they don’t like them. But unlike when humans have these emotions, it’s harder for dogs to compartmentalize without some guidance.
So, when Fido resists bathtime or riding in the back of the car, it’s best not to force him into these situations without patience, encouragement and plenty of treats for milestones along the way.
Wash Your Cat
Most cat owners know that they should never bathe their feline companions. Cats simply do not need to be washed like dogs, as they are terrific self-groomers who constantly lick themselves as a means to keep their body temperature up, distribute skin oil and promote good circulation.
Yet some people think it’s funny to post photos on social media of unhappy cats soaking wet in the tub or kitchen sink. It might get you some likes, but it’s not good for your cat.
Strangely, some cats actually like water. If your cat willingly hops in the kitchen sink and begins batting at the dripping tap, without stressed out cat body language like raised fur or laid back ears, let him.
Expose Dogs to Your Wild Emotional Swings
We’re all human, right? Except for our dogs. They might feel emotions similar to us, but they don’t understand them as we do.
There are little nuance and few gray areas with canines, so when their human companions ride the emotional roller coaster of life right out in the open all the time, it throws off their balance and sense of what to do.
This might not be on the list of things that annoy dogs, exactly, but it will mess with their mood. They will act out, almost in solidarity, but they will not understand why you’re always so moody. The good thing is that having control over your emotions is good for you and your doggy.
There is certainly a difference between animal abuse and firm spanking that does not cause injury, but while one is a serious crime, they are both unacceptable. Some people spank their dogs when they behave badly, thinking it will teach them a lesson.
The lesson is actually that you are abusive, and they need to be extremely careful around you. It’s an unhealthy dynamic for everyone, and in some cases, it is indeed criminal. Animal behaviorists exist to prevent physical punishment.
Let Them Eat Table Scraps
When it comes to food, most dogs will eat just about anything, even if it could lead to their untimely demise. This means their human companions have to be conscious of what exactly is going into their bodies. Certain breeds require expensive designer food products to keep them healthy, happy and sporting a seriously beautiful coat.
Others might be pickier or not picky at all, and those are the pooches that might get violently ill from your Saturday-night leftovers. Avoid an emergency vet visit by resisting the urge to feed your dog something their digestive system can’t handle (the list is long).
Treat Pee on the Floor Like the End of Days
It’s easy to wig out when you come home to a giant mess of pee or poop in the apartment, but that doesn’t mean you need to take it out on the source. Fido didn’t want to do it, and he’s likely been sitting at home shivering with fear ever since. He knew it wasn’t OK, but he had no choice.
It’s an unpleasant surprise after a long day at work, but it’s going to happen even to doggies that are potty trained. It also could signal a health issue, so be mindful instead of angry. Dogs just want to make you happy, so if their body language looks sad and dejected, cowering with their tail between their legs, make sure to reassure them with gentle pets and a positive tone of voice.
Jingle All the Way
If you want to see a cat go bananas, place a little bell on their collar. It might seem amusing to you or your kids, but it’s torture for an animal that relies heavily on its sly maneuvering skills and graceful movements.
Your cat also might think there is a toy nearby for it to play with, but it will never be able to find the toy because you sutured it to their neck, you heathen.
Expect a Dog to Know What You Want
There’s a reason the old saying “practice makes perfect” has stuck around — it’s actually true. No one is born an expert; skills take time and patience to acquire. And dogs are no different, even if they will never understand quantum physics.
What they will understand is repetitive training exercises. So, instead of throwing up your arms when your pooch doesn’t do something you want them to do, figure out how to train them so they understand your commands.
Do Nothing All Day
With all due respect, you might be a boring person who happens to enjoy a sedentary life and also wants the companionship of a canine. There are breeds and mixes that don’t mind lounging around the house, but for the most part, every dog needs some activity in their life and at least moderate exercise every day.
Dogs can actually be great enablers of simple activities like walks and visits to parks you knew about but never visited for whatever reason. Break out of your shell to benefit your pooch.
Meddle With Their 'Spot'
Most of us think that our dog companions love to be scratched in their spot because they become so animated whenever it’s touched. They kick that one hind leg and maybe even whip their head around and sniff at the spot.
We think we’ve hit paydirt when it comes to giving our pooches some relief from an itch, but we’re actually exacerbating an already uncomfortable situation. So when you see that back leg start to jiggle, stop scratching immediately.
Think of it this way. If being tickled annoys people, why wouldn't it be one of the things that annoy dogs?
Brush the Wrong Way
When you have a canine companion, grooming is a part of life. Certain dogs need more frequent sessions than others, but every pooch likes a good brush down. That is, if you do it correctly.
Have you ever tugged your own hair in the opposite direction of how it grows? It’s not pleasant. Well brushing a dog’s thick and stubborn coat against its natural flow causes the same unpleasant feelings. They usually bristle at this sensation, which is a good indication that you’re being annoying.
If your dog is pulling away or trying to bite the brush, their body language is saying, "Stop, that hurts."
Take the Cat for a Ride
Here’s another area where dogs and cats dramatically differ. Dogs tend to be right at home in the back of a pickup truck or hanging their jowls out the passenger side window, as the streaming air splatters drool across the windows.
But for cats, the car is one of the most traumatic places. Car movement makes cats anxious and confused, throws off their sense of balance and is generally the worst thing you can put them through, even though it’s totally necessary sometimes for a vet visit.