Oh Behave – Superhuman Senses

By on February 23, 2012

 

Oh Behave!

Confounded by your canine

Frustrated by your feline?

Relax.

Pet expert Arden Moore is here to deliver the real truth about cats, dogs…and you, with her column appropriately called, “Oh Behave!”

Q. I can be downstairs in the family room and my dog can be snoozing upstairs in the back bedroom. Within seconds of opening a bag of potato chips, she seems to suddenly appear, tail wagging and putting on her best begging performance. When we go out on walks in the neighborhood, I am always amazed at how she can find sniff out a cat hiding under a bush or a parked car. She also seems to spot a squirrel scampering up a tree faster than I can. When it comes to our senses, how do we rate compared to dogs?

A. We know better than to challenge our dogs to a hearing contest. Even breeds like Cocker Spaniels with thick, flop-down ears can distinguish the arrival of their owners’ cars from all other traffic a block or more away. Credit the erect ears of your Siberian husky for the reason she magically appears from a deep snooze in a bedroom upstairs mere seconds after you open a potato chip bag downstairs in the kitchen.

Canine ears, whether erect like a German Shepherd dog, folded like a Labrador retriever or dropped (pendulous) like a Papillon, capture more sounds at greater distances and wider frequencies than human ears. Despite the many different shapes and sizes, canine ears take on two main tasks: to zero in on sounds – like that magic word, treat, (or in your case, the opening of a potato chip bag) and to keep them balanced. They can also manipulate the muscles in the outer ear to express happiness, playfulness, curiosity, submissiveness, dominance, and other emotions.

They can hear about four times better than us. For a quick science refresher lesson, remember that Hertz (Hz) is a measure of sound wavelength, or cycles per second. People can hear sounds in a frequency range between 63 and 23,000 Hz. Dogs can hear up in ranges between 67 and 45,000 Hz. But dogs take a back seat to the family cat in hearing abilities. Cats can capture sounds between 45 and 64,000 Hz. A cat can tune into a mouse in the house quicker than your dog because cats are better at hearing high-pitched sounds.

Hearing prowess takes second only to a dog’s acute ability to smell. The phrase, led by the nose, carries a lot of validity in the canine world. Bolstering a dog’s smell power are tiny hairs called cilia that are coated with mucus to help trap scents inside the nose. Olfactory receptor cells inside the canine nose are capable of breaking down the ingredients in each scent. Not only does your dog smell fried chicken, but he can distinguish each spice you put on the poultry.

Bottom line: your dog can smell about a million times better than you can. People have about five million olfactory receptor cells compared to 100-million plus in dogs. The bigger the dog and the longer the muzzle, the better the ability to smell. A German Shepherd Dog, for example, has about 220 million of these cells compared to a Dachshund with 125 million.

In the battle of the senses, the closest contest we can give our dogs deals with vision. We rely on our eyes more than our dogs do. Canine eyes are much more sensitive to movement and to light than ours, but they can’t focus on objects as well as we can. They tend to be nearsighted. That explains why your dog can spot a bird flying by at dusk but sometimes misses a bright, yellow tennis ball motionless about a foot away. Their large pupils and wide field of vision enables them to zoom in on moving objects or potential prey. Standing still, your dog can see up to 250 degrees around him without turning his head. We can see, at best, up to 180 degrees.

In summary, your dog wins by a nose and is all ears – compared to you.

Seeking Solution for Super Shy

Q. We rescued an extremely shy Greyhound named Strider from a farm where he was kept in a pen in a barn for nearly the first year of his life. He and other Greyhounds were virtually isolated from the rest of the world. We found out that the owner had planned on breeding them to make a quick buck, but then changed his mind and left the dogs to starve to death. Fortunately, the local animal control officer heard about the farm and was able to save the dogs before they died. Strider has received medical care, but acts anxious and submissive. Sometimes, he will just cower or slink when we go to pet him. He is also just getting used to everyday sights and sounds like vacuum cleaners and televisions. What can we do to boost his confidence and conquer his shyness?

A. Strider has had a lot to download since his many months inside what was a very small world – a pen in a barn. He is still transitioning from the bad puppy days and has yet to realize that your home is his permanent – and loving – home. It is important that you exercise lots of gentleness and patience with Strider.

When I adopted Chipper, my Golden Retriever/Husky mix, she was about fourteen months old and had lived in three shelters and one Husky rescue camp. Like Strider, she lacked exposure to items and activities most dogs take for granted. She paced nervously inside my house. On walks, she would walk side to side, seeming to be on the lookout for a place to hide. If I spoke loudly, she would go belly-up and cower. Only after about six months – with lots of consistent obedience training and consistent daily routines – did Chipper’s true personality begin to flourish. Happily, she is now a confident jokester ready for a car ride and the latest adventure.

The same can be possible for Strider. Time needs to be your ally as you and your family strive to earn Strider’s trust. It is common for submissive dogs to cower, avoid direct eye contact and try to make themselves look smaller. In extreme situations, they will tuck their tail between their legs and expose their bellies. In dog language, these actions convey that they pose no challenge to you – whom they regard as higher in the hierarchy.

Like other newly adopted dogs, Strider needs to know the household rules – with plenty of TLC and support from you and your family. Start by not forcing Strider into any scary situations. Approach him slowly and do not rush up or force hugs on him. If he musters the courage to come to you when you are sitting still on the recliner, don’t be tempted to reach out and touch him. Let him make the move.

Meal time offers a special opportunity to shoo away Strider’s shyness and bolster the bond between you. Hand feed Strider’s meals and treats. You may need to start one piece at a time. If he back pedals, remain still and let him come back. If he acts scared, toss the treats and return to hand feeding when he regains some confidence.

Voice tone is vital. Stick with soft, upbeat, or warm tones. Never yell or speak harshly because you run the risk of instilling more fear in Strider.

Exercise also helps. Take short walks around your immediate neighborhood in the beginning. These walks allow Strider to build up a database of familiar sights, sounds, and smells. If a car backfires or other noise causes him to try to bolt, move him away quickly and give him the chance to settle down. Do not coddle him because it will only justify his fear feelings. Speak in a happy, confident tone and resume your walk.

Inside your home or fenced backyard, engage Strider in some confidence-building activities like teaching him a trick and offering a food reward. Within weeks, shy dogs are prone to warm up and trust their immediate family members.

Once this occurs, I recommend you enroll Strider in a basic dog obedience class so he can have the chance to be around other dogs in a controlled setting. I did this with Chipper, who then went on to complete her Canine Good Citizenship class and looks forward to her weekly agility class.

You also are ready to work on conquering Strider’s shyness around newcomers to the house and strangers he meets when he is out and about with you. Encourage your friends who visit to not make direct eye contact with Strider and to sit quietly. As Strider’s curiosity takes hold, have your friends offer treats to Strider. This helps him form a positive association with your friends.

Good luck with Strider!

Can’t Stay Away

Q. My two cats often avoid visitors who want to pet them, but will always march right over to my friend who has terrible allergies! Why do cats always seem to make a beeline for the one person who wants to avoid them?

A. While some people – and dogs – enjoy being rushed by admirers, cats exhibit their own brand of class. Anything that moves quickly toward them is likely to be regarded as a threat. So even if your Aunt Lilly simply adores your Persian and wants to smother her in lipstick-coated kisses, your kitty wants no part of such overwhelming attention and flees the scene.

Cats like to call the shots and control introductions. It is safer that way, not to mention more dignified. Your friend with the allergies is doing his best to avoid any eye contact with or physically touching your cats. In cat communication, he is showing good feline manners. Your friend mistakenly thinks ignoring your cats will make them not interested, but it has the opposite impact. They regard him as non-threatening and friendly.

Silly as it sounds, ask your friend with the allergies enter the door and start talking loudly, making wild hand gestures, and walking fast. Then see how your two cats receive him. My money is that they will stay clear of this unsettling human. With your cat-admiring friends, suggest they enter the room quietly, act like a log, and not budge off the sofa for a few minutes. They should not reach for or make eye contact with your cats. With quieter body language, they may achieve the desired interaction with your two cats.

The Purpose of Purring

Q. My cat, Felix, loves to purr and does it quite loudly. All I have to do is pet him and he starts rumbling away. But my sister’s cat, Ginger, hardly ever purrs, even though she seems to be happy and is quite pampered. I’ve heard a lot of different things about why cats purr. What’s the real story?

A. The phenomenon of purring has fascinated humans for ages. A lot of research has been conducted to figure out this feline mystique, but no one knows for certain why cats purr, though it is believed to be a voluntary act initiated by the central nervous system. In other words, cats purr on purpose, not just as an instinctive response.

Scientists report that cats produce purring sounds by using the diaphragm to push air back and forth across vibrating nerves in the larynx. Purring occurs in a frequency range between 25 and 150 Hertz. At the lower end of the range, that rumbling sound can resemble an idling diesel engine, which has a similar velocity.

All domestic cats and most wild felids are born with the ability to purr. Felines, from young kittens to senior citizens, purr when they are happy, such as when they are being petted; anticipating dinner, or snuggling on a warm, cozy bed. Mother cats purr when giving birth and nursing their kittens and kittens purr when nursing.

But many cats also purr when they are afraid or in pain. That helps explain why some cats start to purr when they are being examined at a veterinary clinic or when they are recovering from an injury. The purring might serve to reassure or comfort the frightened cat, and some studies suggest that the low-level vibrations of purring physically stimulate feline muscles and bones to keep them healthy and actually hasten the healing process. Cats purr right to the end — when my beloved cat, Samantha, had to be euthanized due to liver disease several years ago, sound of her purring comforted both of us as she slipped peacefully away in my arms.

[BOX] Feline Trivia

Did you know that cats can purr while inhaling and exhaling? That’s a feat we can’t imitate. That’s a true feline fact. Try making a purr sound as you inhale and exhale. It is tougher than trying to say, “toy boat,” 10 times quickly.

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