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Border collie in a park
Photograph: Anna Kucera

Talk to the animals

The animals in The Secret Life of Pets aren’t the only ones that can talk. Any pet you meet has the power to communicate with you – you just need to figure out how to speak its language.

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We spoke to Dr Jo Righetti, a consultant animal behaviourist for Purina, to get a beginners’ animal phrasebook;

Cat 101

Cat language is nowhere near as complex as dog. Cats just put it all out there, right away. Or, as Dr Righetti puts it: “if a cat doesn’t want to meet you, you will know about it.” Aside from running away, some other common cat phrases include:

Rubbing up against you

“I call this flirting,” says Dr Righetti. It means the cat is looking for some love and attention.

Tail Whipping

Unlike with dogs, where tail wagging could mean one of many things, with a cat there are only two options. Either kitty is hunting (and is therefore looking to pounce) or it’s afraid (and is therefore looking to pounce). But, not all tail movements mean ‘stay away’. “[Cats] have a lovely little tail greeting, where the tail is right up in the air and sort of in the shape of a question mark,” and this means they want to say hello.


This means the cat wants something from you: “A lot of cats will try to talk to you. They do a little chirpy meow if they want you to come over, or they want to be fed. It’s called a solicitation meow or a solicitation purr.”

Dog 101

You might think you can speak dog, but there are some quirks to puppy-talk that might surprise you. Here’s what Mr Peanutbutter is trying to tell you with his actions.

Wagging tail

This isn’t actually dog-speak for ‘happy’. A wagging tail really means ‘I’m having a lot of feelings right now.’ Often, those feelings are positive, but dogs also wag their tails when they’re over-excited or nervous. So, a wagging tail certainly doesn’t mean ‘come and pat me’.

Soft eyes, and a slightly open mouth

This is a doggy smile – and it almost looks like a human smile. If a dog has a relaxed demeanour and is panting slightly, it is probably friendly. Of course, a dog might change its mind. “Ever y action has a reaction,” says Dr Righetti, so if a dog stops smiling when you step towards it, it’s time to leave it alone.

Pricked up ears

This means a dog is listening intently – just like in The Secret Life of Pets, whenever a squirrel appears.

Standing very close

Dog’s are “very good at reading human body language. Probably better than we are at assessing dogs body language.” Says Dr Righetti. If a dog comes right up to you, it’s looking for a pat. Meanwhile, if you want to ask a dog for permission to pat, you should let it sniff your hand. 

Read more about the Secret life of Sydney pets

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