Heymatt: My dog lifts his leg to pee. My cats don’t. I don’t know about other animals. Why does my dog do that, or why don’t my cats do that? Do any other animals lift their legs to pee? — Greg S., via email
Hello, Matthew: Will I ever be able to train my cat? I’m really getting sick of trying to get my cat to recognize commands. Why are cats so untrainable when dogs are instantly trainable? — Melissa Smith, via email
The tripod pee is mostly a dog thang. At least, among the thangs we commonly see. And it’s a fairly specific thang, the three-legged pee. Adult male dogs (and wolves and foxes). Not puppies, not females. Not cats, giraffes, hippos, anybody else. Male-dog pee is an aggressive sort of substance. It’s full of pheromones that identify the dog and say, “This territory is mine, so buzz off.” That warning lasts only as long as it takes for another adult male dog to trot by, smell the offending pee, lift a leg, and over-pee it. By lifting a leg and twisting his body, a dog can aim his stream higher on the tree trunk, fire hydrant, wall, whatever — closer to the nose level of other dogs, the better to communicate. Male cats have the same scent-marking urges, but since they spray from an orifice on their rear ends, they don’t need the additional boost. So, if you have a neighborhood full of male dogs, it could take you forever to walk yours, what with all the sniffing, lifting, and peeing.
Cats that follow orders? Meh. Boring felines, if you ask me. Dogs do it with enthusiasm. Cats, if they’re trainable at all, never lose their cooler-than-thou, condescending attitude. So, where did cats get that attitude? From us, obliquely. Cats are still much closer to their wild ancestors than are dogs. We adopted them as domestics strictly to catch vermin. We encouraged their great hunting skills, not their friendly, purry, lap-sitting selves. Cats are still lone hunters. As such, they don’t have much to gain from being obedient. Cats are trainable, of course, but it takes considerable patience on the part of the coach. And it seems that “tricks” done by cats would be unimpressive child’s play for a dog. But simply the fact that you can get a cat to do anything on command is worthy of admiration. A seeing-eye cat? I don’t think so.
Dogs have a long history of working side-by-side with humans. As pack animals, they have a natural affinity for affinity. They are used to reading signals from other dogs and modifying their behavior in return. Dogs are just more chatty and eager to fit in. This made them highly trainable and much more fun to be with, even if just a companion animal. I guess your preference for cats or dogs depends on whether you value cuddles or the cold shoulder.
Heymatt: Astrologers seem to think that their art is a science and that the position of the sun, moon, and planets actually influence our personalities and what’s going to happen to us each day. Is there any science at all behind astrology, or is that just a desperation belief in hucksters? — Anonymous, El Cajon
These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find an astrologer who actually believes those daily “Scorpio will meet a handsome mate today” newspaper fillers. They’re not very sold on the idea of astrology being so precisely predictive. On the other hand, they believe whole-heartedly in the idea that your birth astronomy affects your personality and general trends in your life. Which means astrologers must have universally pooh-poohed a 2003 study done of the subject at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada). It was conducted by a professor and a former astrologer, actually. They administered 2000 personality tests to sets of people who were “time twins” — born within minutes of one another, so they’d have identical astrological charts; ergo, identical or near-identical personality traits. You know where this is going, don’t you? Of course. There was absolutely no personality correlation between the star-matched subjects.
Okay, Matt: My boss told me today that kiwi fruit is a genetically engineered fruit, crossing a peach with a banana. PUH-lease tell me this is a farce. — Gretchen, via email
Assuming your boss wasn’t making a joke (personally, I think he was), would you rather be right or be employed? Of course, his story’s a farce, but does your boss want to hear that? But if you dare, tell him that kiwi fruit is actually part grape, part hamster. Then tell him that nectarines are a cross between a plum and a peach. Most people believe that, but that’s bunk, too. A nectarine is just a mutant peach that found a market.