GETTING TO KNOW YOUR ANIMALS: WHY DO THEY DO THAT?

Have you ever wondered why your dog walks in a circle before it lies down? Or why some cats can play too rough and bite your hands? Or why when you take a pig out of a group, they all seem to fight again once you put them back together? As an animal science major at Illinois State University, I have had the opportunity to take a Behavior of Domestic Animals class this semester. I think this information that any pet owner or livestock farmer should have in order to better understand and communicate with their animals!

To address the previous questions, dogs circle before they lie down because their wild ancestors would lie down in the grass. The circling beforehand would pack the grass so that they would have a flat spot to lie on. This behavior continues in dogs today even though they often already have a flat surface to lie on.

Has your dog ever tried to lick your face? Many people see this as a sign of affection, which still has not been ruled out. When they are young, however, puppies lick their mother’s face in order to stimulate her to regurgitate food for them. It is possible that they are just looking for you to give them a taste of your last meal!

If you have a cat that plays particularly rough, it may be because they were raised as a single kitten (without their litter mates).

These single kittens never learn to play fight with their littermates and consequently never learn to inhibit their bites. The same concept applies to dairy bulls, which are notoriously more aggressive than other bulls. Most dairy bulls are raised in solitude, so they never learn the consequences of their charges. When raised with other bulls, a charge usually results in some sort of retaliation, so those bulls think twice before charging someone. Bulls raised alone, however, have no inhibitions about being aggressive towards others.

Pigs (like most other species) establish a “pecking order” within their groups. When a pig is removed from a group and placed back with that group a few days later, sometimes the pigs will fight in order to reestablish that pig’s rank. It is the job of the subordinate pigs to remember who is above them; the dominant pigs simply know they are dominant; they do not seem to recognize the ranking of the rest of the pigs. If it is a dominant pig that has been removed, there is less of a chance of fighting when it is replaced because the other pigs will remember that dominant pig. If it is a subordinate pig, however, the pigs above it will not remember that pig and establish dominance over it once again.

Another interesting study that I found discovered a correlation between the placement of the circle of hair on a cow’s face and aggression. If the circle of hair was located right in the center of the face, between the eyes, the cow was fairly docile. If the circle of hair was off-centered on the head, that cow was more aggressive. 

Studies are also being conducted on humans to see if the placement of the circle of hair on the back of our heads has any correlation with behavioral issues.

These behaviors, along with countless others, are often overlooked or misunderstood by people. Pay attention to your animals, and if you are ever wondering why they are doing something, do a little research!  There have been thousands of studies on animal behavior, so look into it, and get to know your animals a little bit better!

Rosie Sanderson
Illinois State University student

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