Kevin McClintock: Our pets show us love in their own ways

“Fat” Willy lets the McClintock family know she loves them by rolling over onto her back.Globe | Kevin McClintock

Editor’s note: This column originally ran in 2017.

I think I’ve shown on multiple occasions how we as humans show love for our pets. Over the past couple of years, I have showcased in this column more than 100 dogs and cats, and I know at least a third of those (and probably more) have found good and permanent homes by some good and kindhearted people.

So here’s the question: How do dogs and cats show affection back to us, we thick-headed humans? Some displays are obvious, of course — a cat’s meow and a dog’s wagging tail, for examples. But both felines and canines show their affection for their chosen humans in a variety of ways. And some of them may surprise you.

So here are several ways cats and dogs say “I love you” without actually saying it (because, you know, that would be weird and just a tad bit creepy):

• It’s all in the eyes: Cats show their affection for you by giving you what’s scientifically called the “slow blink.” (I’m kidding — it’s not scientific, though it’s darn cute if you catch them doing it!) After all, it’s cats we’re talking about here. They never do anything that’s loud and expressive like dogs might do; that is so beneath them. But look for it when you get the chance — sometimes their eyes will stay closed for up to 10 seconds. These slow blinks are also called “kitty kisses.”

“The concept of closing their eyes to you in a slow way is not something that they would do,” says cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy. “They’re letting you know that they are vulnerable to you.”

In our household, we have several cats who will do this: Sassy, our Himalayan cat, probably does it the most.

• Head to head: You know, if some dude walked up to me and mashed his forehead against mine it would more than likely lead to a brawl. But when a cat does it to me, I don’t mind it so much. Weird, huh? Cats do this because, well, they have scent glands tucked away all around their face, and what they’re essentially doing is leaving their scent on you — so you’ll smell more like them, I assume?

They’re essentially claiming ownership over you. But they do it in such a cute way that you probably don’t even realize it or give it much thought. Still, it’s a cat’s way of bonding with you, and I’d much rather have my cats do it this way than to shred the nearby couch.

• Belly up: Another way cats like to show their affection is, rather strangely, by playing possum. In other words, they’ll roll over on their backs and, like a sinking ship, will lie belly up. From this rather awkward position they’ll just stare at you, unblinking, waiting. For a dog, this means an immediate belly rub. But if you do this to most cats, you’ll wind up with a bloody stump for a hand. Rather, the cat is exposing his or her belly to you as a sign of trust.

In our household, our “Fat Willy” will often meow loudly when one of us approaches her, will flop down on her side and, making a strange mewing sound, will then roll over onto her back. I usually make it a point to drop down next to her and give her some love just so her gymnastic tumbles don’t go to waste.

• Can’t keep the paws off: It’s called kneading. It apparently is an old habit that dies hard in adult cats; it’s what kittens do to help stimulate the flow of milk with their mommas. Allegedly, the spearing jabs of their clawed paws against my tender love handles is a sign that they are relaxed and content, although there is little relaxing or content feelings on my end. Sassy, our slow eye blinker, loves to knead. Day and night. Twenty-four hours a day. Using her claws. It’s not fun, folks.

Here are a few ways dogs express their love to us:

• Body contact: Odie, my beagle mix, spent two years inside two different animal shelters in two different states before we finally rescued him and brought him home to spend the rest of his days with us. Ever since then, we found that he’s quite the hugger. In other words, he must have physical body contact at all times with one of us, day or night, couch or bed or floor. He is truly content and at rest when he can feel my arm looped over his back or if he’s pressed up against my leg and hip at nighttime.

But this goes beyond a simple need for reassurance, experts say: A dog’s affection is most evident if they desire to be physically close to you. So, essentially, I’m Odie’s thunder shirt.

• Dream a little dream: Another sure sign of affection from your dogs is if they want to sleep with you. After all, dogs are pack animals. You are a member of their pack (more times than not the pack alpha), so they want to be near you. Dogs, in the wild, will often huddle together at night for warmth and protection, so when Odie or Mini snuggles up against the wife and I, it means they consider us to be important members of their pack.

And it has been shown that such “canine cuddles” actually helps us human sleep better at night. Apparently they don’t mind my snoring.

• Read you like a book: If you have a close bond with your dogs, more likely than not they can read your body language and sense your mood or the mood of a room. I do believe that our moods give off a scent; a scent that dogs can easily pick up. Anger “smells” differently than, say, “excitement.”

So after reading this, look for some of these tell-tale signs of affection from your furry four-leggers. And be sure to reciprocate these gestures with love of your own. Above all, the best thing you can do is simply give your dog or cat more of you, because that’s what our pets want most of all: More of you.

Address correspondence to Kevin McClintock, c/o The Joplin Globe, Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email

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