Once you’ve uncovered what your furry friends really think, you’ll never look at them the same way again!
Have you ever wondered what your pet is really thinking? Or what their behaviour really means? Or even where they came from in the first place? As human beings, we are hard-wired to find cute, furry things adorable, but what do we really know about our pets?
If you’ve seen The Secret Life of Pets, Illumination Entertainment’s awesome animated movie, you’ll know that the film follows the adventures of a dog called Max who lives with his owner in New York City. After all the humans leave for work and school each morning, we get to witness the hilarious interpretation of what really goes on when the pets have the run of the house. When terrier-mix Max is introduced to his new giant, shaggy, rescue-dog ‘brother’ Duke, the pair are thrown into a journey that takes them all over the city, introducing them to all kinds of other pets who have secret lives – just like they do
Of course in the real world it’s unlikely that our own pets have this much fun, but their personalities are just as individual and their languages are just as complex – we just need to learn how to understand them. So, read on to find out why our pets behave the way they do and exactly where this behaviour might have come from.
A dog’s life
Domestic dogs have been man’s best friend for thousands of years. While most are family pets, providing entertainment and companionship – not to mention endless silly capers for putting on YouTube – dogs were once solely bred for a specific role or purpose. Last year the results of a genetic study suggested that the process began over 30,000 years ago, and that modern-day domestic dogs are descended from various regional wolf populations.
Dogs have retained some wolf-like behaviour, although this is very muted. Wolves are pack animals, and so are dogs; they are incredibly sociable animals and like to be near people and other dogs for a full and happy life.
As they have co-evolved with humans, dogs have also developed amazing ways to communicate with us. For example, adult wolves don’t bark (but juveniles do), meaning that barking is a behaviour that has developed through human/dog evolution specifically as a language for us to understand.
The huge diversity in breeds that we see today is also a result of intense breeding. As the human/dog relationship progressed, we recognised their willingness to learn, which could be used to our advantage. Selecting the best dogs for specific tasks such as herding, or retrieving gave way to various breeds and groups such as sheepdogs and gundogs.
Rabbits are adorable, there’s no doubt about that. They can be kept outdoors in a hutch, or you can train your bunny to be a house rabbit and have a more hands-on relationship with it. But where does your bunny come from? The domestic rabbit is any type of bunny that is bred to be a pet. There are many breeds, but they’re all genetically similar to wild rabbits that roam the hedgerows – they just have a slightly cushtier life!
The romans held rabbits in high regard, and French monks were the first to properly domesticate them in the 5th century. Rabbits came to the UK in the 12th century, but the practice of keeping them as pets really took off during the Victorian era. The middle and upper classes became very taken with breeding rabbits, and the practice of showing your prize bunnies at agricultural shows became a hit.
The humble goldfish
Goldfish are undoubtedly the easiest pet to take care of. They don’t need walks, they don’t chew the furniture and their food is as simple as a tub of fish flakes instead of a giant sack of puppy chow. Goldfish are also relaxing to watch; it’s a proven fact that gazing at a fish-filled aquarium can lower blood pressure. They are surprisingly clever (for fish), and will learn what time they are being fed each day and even recognise people’s faces.
Modern goldfish are a domesticated version of a carp species originating from eastern Asia that was bred for meat. These fish were grey, but every so often an orange one would appear; these were kept in ponds from as early as 975 CE. By the 1500s it had become commonplace to keep goldfish in bowls, and after that the various breeding and development of varieties of goldfish began to develop.
As the world’s most popular pet, cats provide us with plenty of fun, companionship and laughs. The domestication of cats began when people started settling and farming the land 10-12,000 years ago. The rodent populations attracted wild cats to live near human settlements, and they may have been fed and homed in order to keep rat numbers down. It’s thought that these cats then moved as people moved, travelling alongside tribes and spreading throughout the world. Like other domestic pets, there are many different breeds of cats, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Moggies are very intelligent creatures and have an amazing array of physical attributes and sharp senses. Our cats can also key into our emotions and communicate with us very effectively. Vocalisation is a large part of this, as is body language.
A happy cat who wants to be stroked will arch its back under your hand and purr, but if a cat shrinks away, its not interested. Flattened ears can mean they’re worried or anxious, and hissing and spitting means they’re ready to fight. Conversely, when your cat is relaxed and does that curious ‘slow-blink’ at you, this is a relaxed gesture that means all is well in the cat’s world.
Birds of a feather
Budgies, or budgerigars, originally hark from the green scrublands of Australia. They are one of many species of parakeet, and the first budgie was brought to Europe in 1840. Their popularity as domestic pets rose throughout the 20th century and it’s easy to see why. They make great pets as they have the beautiful vibrant plumage and the individual personality of their larger cousins but in a smaller package. These feathery friends will sing and tweet and can even learn to mimic words if trained properly. They are very intelligent animals that can form real bonds with the humans in their flock.
Also known as a cavy, the guinea pig has been domesticated for a whopping 3,000 years. The species Cavia porcellus originated in South America and it no longer exists in the wild. Bred by the Inca civilisation, these rodents were kept as pets, for food and for offering to the gods. These days, a pet guinea pig’s life is much less about ritual sacrifice and more about cuddles and joy.
There are many different breeds of guinea pig, with many different coat lengths and colours. They’re chatty animals, and as instinctively social creatures they still maintain sounds as their primary method of communication with others. Guinea pigs are also very active, with moves such as ‘popcorning’ (intense, excitable jumping) to show off. They’re most active at dawn and dusk and are creatures of habit, so changes to routine need to be introduced gradually. They are affectionate though and do like to cuddle. Anyone who has ever seen a guinea pig yawn will tell you just how cute they are.
Discover more amazing animal facts in the latest issue of World of Animals. It’s available from all good retailers, or you can order it online from the ImagineShop. If you have a tablet or smartphone, you can also download the digital version onto your iOS or Android device. To make sure you never miss an issue of World of Animals magazine, make sure you subscribe today!