Most pet owners feel they understand their cat, dog or hamster. Pets are cute, loving and adored, with familiar behaviors that make them seem far removed from their wild counterparts. But exactly why do hamsters love to run on a wheel, what are cat and mouse games really all about, and how do dogs know the rules of the pack? As these two hours show, while our pets may have been tame for thousands of years and made a successful transition to domestic life, they were wild for millions more, and their natural instincts remain intact, hiding in plain sight.
This two-part series delves into the secret world our pets inhabit, ruled by their intrinsic wild behavior, extraordinary senses and special skills. Using spy cameras, moving x-rays, ultra slow-motion and thermal imagery, filmmakers uncover the hidden powers that pets possess.
The first episode “Playful Creatures” explores how pets get in touch with their wild side through play. In one example, seven-week-old Cockapoo puppies are shown jostling with each other, but there’s more than just play going on. They are, in fact, rehearsing the same rules that enable wolves to hunt as an organized pack. Although dominant puppies fight the weaker ones, they learn to restrain their bite so no one gets hurt. They may practice killer holds, but if a puppy rolls overexposing its vulnerable belly, that’s a signal to stop. If this rule is ignored, the offending puppy is ostracized.
In another segment, it is revealed that pet hamsters are almost addicted to their exercise wheels because they literally have to run – it’s in their genes. Their need for speed can be traced back to the wild where hamsters have to outrun predators in order to survive. But pet hamsters often run just for fun, for competition with one another, or to experience a runner’s high with its accompanying rush of endorphins.
Parakeets are hardwired to seek out company due to the extremely social nature of their wild equivalents that gather in large flocks and chat away all day long. Wild parakeets also mimic each other and assign special calls to name their offspring. Disco, the parakeet featured in the film, is a highly-skilled mimic and has memorized over 130 phrases.