If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then cats and dogs must come from Jupiter. How else to explain some of their, well, alien behaviors? Just what, exactly, is a dog thinking when he rolls around in something stinky? If a cat naps on a computer keyboard, is it because she’s expecting an email? We went to the experts (the human kind!) for answers.
My dog seems to run in his sleep. Could he be dreaming?
Perhaps. “We can’t really ask them,” says veterinarian Melissa Bain, associate professor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, “but we think they dream.” That’s because their brain-wave patterns resemble those seen in people. “Dogs go through sleep cycles very similar to humans’, with periods of deep sleep and periods of rapid eye movement, or REM, sleep,” says Stephen Zawistowski, Ph.D., an applied animal behaviorist and science adviser to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “Dreaming happens during REM sleep, which is also when dogs twitch their legs, move their lips, or vocalize.” Wonder when your own dog might be dreaming? As a dog starts to doze, and his sleep becomes deeper, his breathing will become more regular, says canine behavior expert Stanley Coren in his book How Dogs Think. “After a period of about 20 minutes,” Coren writes, “his first dream should start.”
Why can a cat always land on its feet?
“Cats have a very flexible spine that allows them to twist in the air and right themselves as they fall,” says Zawistowski. “But cats can injure themselves quite severely if they fall from high places. Every year, vets treat [many] cats that fall from windows in upper floors of apartment buildings. This is so common that it has a name, ‘high rise syndrome,’ due to the consistent nature of the injuries.”
Why do dogs like to have their bellies scratched?
“Not all dogs like it, but for those that do, it’s a way of bonding,” says Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and applied animal behaviorist in Davis, Calif. Besides which, Zawistowski says, “Dogs have a difficult time scratching some areas of their own bellies. Because they’re sensitive there, the greater agility of human fingers is probably more pleasant than their own toenails.” But remember, Bain says, when a dog rolls over, “that can also be a sign of fear.” If you approach a dog that is uncomfortable or afraid, keep in mind that it could respond by showing aggression.