The hidden history behind our pets’ most revolting habits – BBC News

The other is that these small mammalian pets will chew everything, regardless of what it’s made of. Many species have teeth that grow continually, and must be worn down in case they get too long.

It’s less common for dogs and cats to chew wires, but when they do, it’s often because they’re bored or enjoy the interesting texture in their mouth. It’s also natural for many animals to chew on things instinctively as a way of exploring them.

But despite these frequent complaints, Serpell thinks our pets are overwhelmingly well-adapted to life with humans. “The thing that stands out for me is how few major behaviour problems they have, which is a testament to how well they’ve managed to adapt to requirements,” he says. If you’re not convinced, he points out that living with a wildcat or wolf would be significantly more problematic.

In fact, it seems that many of the so-called annoying habits that our pets have are just adaptations to humans.

“[Pet] animals are just like humans actually, we carry out a whole evolutionary history with us,” says Viranyi, who points out that our requirements have been changing so fast, it’s hard for them to keep up. “Moving the animals into this artificial urban environment – we live under circumstances that are different to the ones they evolved in.” Historically, these behaviours were useful, but things have now changed and we’ve decided we don’t want them.

One example is the border collie, which was first bred at the Anglo-Scottish border for herding sheep. “They have an inexhaustible appetite for this,” says Serpell. “And if you don’t give them sheep to herd, they’ll find other things to do, which can be extremely disruptive in a kind of urban or suburban family context.” Urban border collies might try to herd children or develop obsessive fetching behaviours – they’re well-adapted to what they were bred for, but it can be difficult to keep them occupied if that’s not what you want from them.

“So there’s all sorts of sort of ramifications when we take these animals that we’ve selected particular types of behaviour for many generations, and then we basically arbitrarily decide at some point that we no longer want them to do that anymore,” says Serpell.

For more minor annoyances, understanding where our pets’ habits come from might help us to reframe them as what they are – fascinating ghosts from the past, rather than personality flaws to be eradicated. 

Zaria Gorvett is a senior journalist for BBC Future and …….


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