Why Dogs Pee in Their Bowls and Other Pet Behaviors Explained

We ask experts to decode the mysterious activities of our furred and feathered friends.

By Liz Langley
Published 7 Jan 2018, 18:34 GMT
A dog stands before a dish in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Canines can be territorial about resources, such ...
A dog stands before a dish in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Canines can be territorial about resources, such as food and living space.
Photograph by Joël Sartore, National Geographic Creative

We took some of our readers' pet questions to animal behaviourists for translation, and hope their answers gives a few furry—or feathered—friends a happier existence. (Read why pets are so good for us.)

Mirror, Mirror

Gaia Restrepo calls Priprie, her female pearly conure—a small emerald green parrot native to Brazil—"the Queen of Mirrors."

"She loves looking at her reflection" in mirrors throughout the house, Restrepo says, but Restrepo asked us why the parrot has been acting particularly aggressive toward a mirror in her cage.

A blue budgrerigar—also known as a common parakeet—checks itself out in the mirror.
Photograph by Dennis Jacobsen, Alamy

For starters, Priprie doesn't know it's her—self-recognition is rare among animals, says Bob Mulvihill, an ornithologist at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. Among birds, only pigeons and magpies understand that the animal in the mirror is themselves. 

Pigeons even recognize themselves in a video after a delay of seven seconds.

So despite their smarts, parrots aren’t known to recognise their reflections, Mulvihill says. It’s likely Priprie either sees her reflection as a potential competitor—hence the aggressive activity—or a potential friend.

If she were to gently nibble at her reflection, that would be an example of a friendly behaviour called "allo preening," or grooming another individual, Mulvihill says.

As advised by Bob Mulvihill, Restrepo put a perch for Priprie near a mirror.
Photograph by Gaia Restrepo

Since Priprie’s obsession with mirrors isn’t destructive or harmful, Mulvihill suggests providing her with a perch by the mirror so she can enjoy the extra "company."

Screen Taste

When my cat, Wasabi, watched some made-for-cats videos featuring flitting, chirping birds, he got so excited he bit the screen.

Obviously he liked the show, but I wondered if visuals-only stimulation, like TV or laser pointers, can be frustrating, since he can’t actually catch anything.

John Bradshaw, an expert in cat behavior at the UK’s University of Bristol, says by email that while there is no research on the subject, cats may get annoyed because they can't actually touch—or attack—what they're seeing. (Read what do cats think about us? You may be surprised.)

That's especially true because “play behaviour is so closely related to predatory behaviour in cats," Carlo Siracusa, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, adds by email.

General Boots, a mixed-breed cat, at the Capital Humane Society in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Photograph by Joël Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

Neither expert said this frustration is harmful to your cat, and emphasised ways to enhance play. For instance, to keep your cat happy watching TV, Bradshaw suggests keeping toys by the screen. Siracusa keeps treats nearby when he entertains his cat with a laser pointer.

Dog Psychology, With a Silent Pee

Joyce Jefferson wondered why her dogs urinate in their food dishes if they’re not collected right away.

It’s not a food review.

This is likely a territorial marking behavior, “either [on] the area where the dog eats, or the actual bowl,” says Leticia Fanucchi, an animal behaviorist at Washington State University.

Because Jefferson has more than one dog, the canines are likely competing for resources—whether it's food, dishes, or space. 

In some cases, underlying anxiety or being bullied by another dog can trigger a pet to mark its territory. Feeding pets in separate areas can help, Fanucchi says, and so can using ceramic or stainless steel bowls instead of plastic, which retains a dog’s odour. (Related dog facial expressions change when watched by humans.)

We’re so thankful our friends just put wine charms on their glasses.

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