How Pets Play, Why Cats Play, and What Dog Play Means

Nothing is more fun that watching how pets play. But do you know why cats play? or what dog play means? Turns out, it’s more than just fun and games.

why cats playHow pets play and why dogs and cats play games fascinates the people who love them. Cat play, dog play and kitten games are exactly the same–only different–with identical purposes but variation in styles. 😛 These days, I have a front-row seat with the “old lady” Seren-Kitty doing her best to keep order, while Magical-Dawg and Karma-Kitten wreak havoc.You can’t help but smile or laugh out loud when the fur-kids throw a play-party.

Oh, and that picture (above) of the kitten vaulting over another? That’s Karma’s latest favorite hiss-inspiring activity. I call it his “drive by” when he races across the room, and LEAPS over top of Seren, creating feline angst and prompting her to chase-to-chastise the furry miscreant. Of course, that’s what Karma wants, to get the old girl to chase him. When she catches the big guy, he immediately flops on the floor while she yells cat curses at him, and paw-swats his face.

When that doesn’t work, Karma simply tackles Seren, using his 13 pounds to pancake her petite 6-pound frame to the carpet. You can almost see him smile as she yodels her outrage.

Karma is in kitty heaven.

He does something similar with Magic. Karma saunters up to my 90+ pound German Shepherd, crouches for a moment, makes sure the Magical-Dawg is watching, and then SPRINGS away to duck under furniture. Magic takes the bait and invitation, and sprints after him. It makes me tired to watch.

HOW PETS PLAY…IS IT PLAY, OR AGGRESSION?

It can be hard to tell sometimes what’s “real” and what kind of play is “just fooling around.” In fact, both dog play and cat play can tip over into dangerous aggression if the pets get too wound up.

Dog and cat play use the same behaviors as hunting, attack, and aggressive behavior, but the pets use “meta signals” to let the other party know it’s all in good fun. For instance, dogs use the “play bow” with butt-end up and forepaws down to signal that everything that comes after this signal is not serious. Cats also can use a play bow, or roll on their back to solicit attention or a game.

Here’s a BIG clue. Doggy play includes growls, whines and barks. Cat play typically is silent. If your cats become vocal during play, it’s time to stop the games. And if both of the pets keep coming back for more, they’re likely just having a good time.

WHY CATS PLAY & WHAT DOG PLAY MEANS

In years’ past, the experts often ascribed play to be only the means by which juvenile animals practiced skills they’d need later as adults. Kittens played to hone hunting ability, while puppies played to strengthen muscles and practice various doggy techniques.

They neglected to mention that play, quite simply, is FUN! Cats stalk toy mice and kittens attack ankles for the pure joy, as an outlet for energy, stress reliever, and potent relaxation technique. Dogs steal socks and dance away out of reach, and play “tag” with owners, other animals, and even the reluctant cat. If you believe cats and dogs don’t laugh, just look more closely at your furry companion in the throws of blissful play.

how pets play

Now 13 pounds and a year old, the play has slowed down, and 17-year-old Seren is grateful!

KITTEN PLAY

By four weeks of age, kittens practice four basic play techniques: play fighting, mouse pounce, bird swat, and fish scoop. The first play displayed by kittens is on the back, belly-up, with paws waving. Feints at the back of a sibling’s neck mimic the prey-bite used to dispatch mice (toy or real). Kittens also practice the simpering sideways shuffle, back arched high, almost tiptoeing around other kittens or objects. Soon, the eye-paw coordination improves to execute the pounce, the boxer stance, chase and pursuit, horizontal leaps, and the face-off where kittens bat each other about the head.

Karma has decided “riding” a towel dragged across the floor is great fun. Kitty sledding, anyone? Keep in mind the high energy level of kittens when you decide to adopt.

Learn more about kittens development in the COMPLETE KITTEN CARE book.

PUPPY PLAY

Puppy play can be similar, but while kittens use paws to tap-tap-tap objects and manipulate/test their surroundings, pups mouth–everything. By five weeks, puppies often carry things around. This ensures owners must be good housekeepers or risk losing wallets, underwear, and other important valuables. About the same age, pups begin playing tug-of-war with your pant leg, each others’ tails, and anything within reach.

Magic still loves to play keep-away. Thank goodness he only targets doggy toys and human socks these days, rather than (urk!) puppy poop.

Puppy and kitten play offers endless entertainment to them as well as watching humans. The awkwardness, intensity, and abandon of these antics give way to greater finesse and dexterity as the pet matures. Learn more about puppy development in the Complete Puppy Care book.

what dog play means

HOW PETS PLAY…AS ADULTS

While adult pets play less than rambunctious babies, all dogs and cats play to some extent through their entire life. It’s not only fun for you both, but healthy as well. Keeping dogs and cats active and moving ensures they stay lean, and interested in the world around them.

At age 17, Seren still races laps around the living room and up and down the stairs. While she’d deny it, chasing the Karma-Kitten has brought a gleam back to her eyes and Seren really seems to enjoy the tag-team matches they play.

Now eight years old, Magic could play “fetch” literally for hours, with his ball, a stick, a stuffed toy–anything at all that fits into that grinning mouth. Frisbees are a favorite. In the summer, hose-tag keeps him happy. And of course, rolling on his back with a squeaky-chew in his mouth is right up there with treats. His most favorite game of all, though, is sniffing cat butt. Ahem.

Play is serious business for our dogs and cats. Take a lesson from them, and find time to play every day. In a stress-filled world, we all benefit from a daily dose of giggles. Play with your pets–and watch them smile from both ends. Just for fun, here’s a kitten fix, below!

So what special games do your cats and dogs play? Seren used to love to play “chase the feather” as it disappeared underneath a pillow. Are doggy (or kitty) games learned from each other? Do tell!

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Ask Amy: Why Does My Dog Suck…Pillows?

No, this isn’t some anti-canine post about why dogs suck. Rather, this post and video helps explain why some dogs practice nursing behavior on objects, and suck pillows or toys. Maybe your dogs suck, too!

why dogs suck

“My name is Magic–and I’m a suck-aholic.” Image Copr. Amy Shojai, CABC

Why Dogs Suck

Has your dog ever had an obsession with a particular toy or object? It’s not at all unusual for kittens to nurse on their own toes, or the tail of a sibling. Just like with human infants, the behavior seems to be self-calming. Some dogs may outgrow the behavior as they mature and develop.

Dogs also can find stress relief by nursing on objects. Blankets, pillows and stuff toys are common targets. Licking or sucking can become an obsessive/compulsive behavior. For instance, Dobermans seem to indulge in “flank sucking” behavior and other dogs may lick-lick-lick a paw or toe until it becomes raw.

But in the case of puppies and even adults that indulge intermittently, it may not be a problem. (Magical-dawg told me to say that!). Now it’s your turn–what kinds of items does your pet target with licks? Do tell!

Of course, with THANKSGIVING tomorrow, there are lots more tasty things for dogs to munch. Just be sure they’re safe–a small amount of “treats” is fine but some can prove dangerous. Check out this article on people food for puppies to see what’s acceptable and what’s not–or even poisonous!

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Ask Amy: What To Do With Sniff-A-Holic Dogs

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I’m traveling today and may not be able to reply as quickly. But I wanted to share this fun new ASK AMY and find out how y’all handle your “nosy” dogs.

Dogs are lead around by the nose throughout life, and it starts early–as in this Ask Amy “rude” puppy behavior! What about your furry wonder? Has your dog’s nosy behavior ever gotten him or her in trouble? Created embarrassing moments? (Once our Magical-Dawg puppy stole underwear from the laundry basket and brought it out to show guests…sigh). Your turn, do tell!

In my forthcoming thriller HIDE AND SEEK, the dog hero character has been trained to track lost pets. So Shadow’s nose actually saves the day–with the help of Macy the Maine Coon cat. In these cases, savvy dogs may detect very important info that humans miss, and it’s up to the person to trust the dog’s nose. Shadow even laments the fact that scent-blind humans should pay closer attention to good-dogs able to smell important stuff. What do you think?

Here’s an article about a dog’s nose structure and sense of smell that explains a lot of what’s going on. What have I missed?

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, check out weekly PUPPY CARE must knows, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter.

Cat Treats Help Make Cats Friendlier!

HidingCat

Image Copr. Amy Shojai, CABC

HOW CAN I MAKE MY CAT FRIENDLIER?

What does cat food and cat treats have to do with making your house cat more friendly? One the most common questions I get as a cat behavior consultant deals with the evolving c’attitude of maturing kitties. Pretty much all kittens are in-your-face clueless (and confident!) spit-fires that never met a stranger. They gallop and pounce through life, love to play until they collapse–and then snuggle and purr themselves to sleep on your lap.

But the baby cat grows up and then OH NO! What happened to the snuggle-puss? Well, sometimes they stay cuddly throughout life. But very often, the baby grows up to be a bit more selective in how he or she wishes to interact. That can put the human’s nose out of joint when suddenly Junior-Cat disses the person who brought them into the house. So–what can you do?

TREATS & TIPS FOR TABBIES

People readily think about treats with dogs, but not so often with cats–and in fact, cats relish not only the tastiness but also the special interaction that comes with any food “extras.” That can encourage your cat to act friendlier and interact with you.

The key to treating cats, though, is to remember they are “grazers.” A full meal for a cat tends to be 4-8 individual kibbles. That’s all! They’re not going to belly up to the smorgasbord and gulp mouthfuls or handfuls the way Shadow-Pup does. So a teeeeeny tiny amount is enough–the smell as much as the taste and the attention–that associates something positive for the cat with your presence.

The human with the pocketbook decides the treat choice, but ultimately it’s in the cat’s paws whether or not s/he will indulge. Of course, we don’t want over-nutrition to create tubby Tabbies so it’s best to choose a treat that compliments the cat’s existing diet. Most pet food companies offer a “family” of products that go well together.

Treats that make kitty sit up and purr tend to be very different than what s/he eats on a regular basis. Reserving a very unique tasting/smelling food–a canned ration, for example–can be a great way to make your cat feel special without potentially upsetting the nutrition.

POSITIVE TREATING FOR FRIENDLIER CATS

How should you treat to help your cat be friendlier? Establish a routine. That could be every morning while you’re eating breakfast, or while you brush your teeth–or perhaps every evening while watching the evening news. Cats love routine, and once Kitty figures out the time and place that TREATS get delivered, you won’t have to remember–she’ll remind YOU!

Tiny bits are enough. You don’t want cats to gobble and spoil their appetite. Maybe dip your finger in the canned food. My Karma-Kat comes when called, sits up, waves, and (we’re working on) speak! with just me holding up my finger–he EXPECTS a tasty treat whenever I call. Eventually, you don’t need to reward every time. Intermittent rewards (reinforcement) works better, because Kitty never knows when he’ll get that reward, so he’d better come when called every time, just in case!

By rewarding your cat for a natural behavior, you also reinforce the interaction and teach the kitty there’s a benefit to paying attention to you. If the cat still won’t come near…use dry treats you can toss to him. And the next time toss it closer to you…and the next, closer still. Do this in cat-size steps, not all at once, and your cat will become friendlier without even realizing it!

FEEDING DIFFERENT FOODS?

Well, yes. Some cats do very well on the same old food all the time, but others relish variety. If your cat won’t eat, refer to this post. And let’s face it, PEOPLE love variety, So even if cats could eat MOUSE every single day, it makes us feel good (rewards US!) to offer variety to our beloved cats, too.

For instance, you could choose to provide a dry kibble in puzzle toys for “hunting” throughout the day, and then give a bonus wet food for the evening or morning meal. If your cat is a bit tubby, try putting treats in a cat puzzle toy for added feline enjoyment (and exercise).

For more tips on making your cat friendlier and having a great relationship, refer to this post on environmental enrichment. Be sure to check out the video, below. What are some other tips you have for helping cats act “friendlier?”

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I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE: Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I recommend nothing unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Vote for Name That Cat!

Alas

Image Copr. Florence Ivy/Flickr

Yes, the day has come. I am delighted at the outpouring of interest in naming cats who appear in HIDE AND SEEK, the sequel to my thriller LOST AND FOUND. There were 35 total suggestions for feline character names, me-WOW! I ended up choosing four or five of my favorites from your suggestions and then drawing the remainder out of a fish bowl. Two feline characters will be named based on your votes. (Check out Wednesday’s blog for the doggy poll picks!).

The winner’s names and why they chose their selection will also be included in the book, and winners will receive an advance copy of the book.

Just who ARE these kitty characters?

  • A sick cat that Shadow (the hero dog) tracks and saves after the kitty escapes from a car accident. The cat’s illness holds the key to the mystery plaguing area animals–and their people. What a legacy!
  • A mother barn cat befriended by a young girl whose cat-allergic mother won’t let her have a cat. When the cat’s “real” owner disappears, the little girl’s desperate need to rescue this “momma kitty” puts them in the bad guy’s path–will it be a happy ending for the pair?

Does your cat’s name embody the essence of these kitty characters? Love, devotion, fearlessness, stoic in the face of despair and smart as only a cat can be? Looks don’t matter, neither does breed or age or even sex–everyone knows that all cats are heroes at heart when they snuggle with us or bring smiles to our faces when we are at our lowest, so make your choice and follow your heart!

The poll below allows you to choose THREE (3) of your favorites. You can come back and vote again as many times as you’d like–and I hope you’ll encourage family and friends to champion your kitty cause and also vote.

DEADLINE FRIDAY NOVEMBER 15TH!

WINNERS ANNOUNCED MONDAY NOVEMBER 19th!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly PUPPY CARE must knows, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Don’t forget to vote for your NAME THAT DOG/CAT character choice in the forthcoming THRILLER, LOST & FOUND!