Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Mice and squirrels race for the safety of their burrows, and all it takes is a smile. Because we humans smile to show pleasure and friendliness, it's easy to forget that animals consider a show of teeth as a threat or hostility. My furry little companions in the barn, comfortable as they are in my presence, are still on high alert at all times for any sign of danger. Working with animals requires a different mind set, one which sometimes goes against instinct. It's important to move slowly and speak softly, even in a potentially dangerous situation. Yelling can be interpreted as aggression and, at the very least, increases excitement. Even mice dislike a direct look...not hard to understand when one remembers the mesmerizing stare of a cat on the hunt. Dogs particularly consider prolonged eye contact as aggression. When petting, it's best to reach under the chin first and not over the head. Most predators (or human abusers) attack from above, and keeping the hands low reduces fear. Because an animal's hide is so tough, it's easy to forget that their skin is sensitive enough to feel a fly land, so a slap must be painful. Grazing animals' eyes are wide set in order to expand their field of vision, but they still cannot see behind themselves, so keeping a hand on their rump while passing behind lets them know where you are. Goats are sensitive to touch and really prefer two hands on at all times...just one hand on the udder will start them dancing (and they're ticklish!). I can't communicate my thoughts or intentions to the animals with words, so it's up to me to give cues that can be understood. I don't have any scientific studies to back me, but I do spend a lot of time observing and trying to see the world through others' eyes. While I am constantly amused by my little and not-so-little friends, I try not to show teeth.