Recently I was visiting my friend Melissa. Her guinea pigs just adore her and take every opportunity to greet and chat to her whenever she approaches. Yes, Melissa does provide her boys with food and water, they even get taken by her inside every evening, to ensure they never overheat or get too cold.
Melissa's guinea pigs love and trust her. She is truly their human. However, I am not. When I approached Melissa's guinea pigs, they took shelter in a safe place while they checked me out. They repeated this behaviour every time I approached. This is because I am a stranger. I have not built the same trust with her boys that Melissa has. For all they know, I may be a very big predator about to eat them!
My own guinea pigs always greeted and chatted with me the moment I entered the backyard. However, if a stranger arrived, like Melissa's guinea pigs, they would head for cover to make sure they were safe.
If you own a cat, dog or even a horse, you will be aware of what behaviours your animal(s) use to greet your arrival. Some dogs even turn summersaults of excitement when their human arrives home. All my horses would always give me a welcoming whinny of greeting and my dear Moggy Boy, would come running and smooch, following me around when ever I arrived home. A previous cat would wait for me to arrive home from on top of a pillar, at the gate.
Animals can be quite different with how they greet their favourite person in the world, but one thing is for sure, they can and will recognise the humans that regularly love and care for them and acknowledge this in their behaviour. They often reward us with undying loyalty once we establish trust with them. They will be more confident around that person, always. Even our hereford cows would be wary of strangers, as opposed to being friendly and confident around familiar humans.
This is why it is vitally important that you observe what is normal and repeated behaviour in your animal(s). It is also important, when bringing a new animal into your life that you introduce it gently to your world and gain its confidence by offeriing it regular nutritious food, a constant supply of fresh water and lots of specific individual attention and care, appropriate to the species. Don't ovewhelm it with affection for hours at a time in its first days with you. Give it some time out to rest up.
A funny case in point is the day I had an animal photographer here, doing a shoot with my menagerie. All went well with Whippet Boy and my Moggie. Then came time to shoot with the chickens. I led Peter down to chookyard and decided we might go for something arty; in this case, me lying on the ground, with my chooks dining on top of me.
Problem number one. Peter was an unfamiliar human. Problem number two was that I didn't want to lie in chook poo, so spead out a big purple sheet to lie on. Peter was then going to dot me with food and the girls would oblige by eating it off me.
In my pursuit of art, I forgot my girls were simply chickens. Yes, Peter, was not someone they knew, however, I made the situation way worse, by introducing a big flappy bit of fabric. My girls would have been thinking giant scary predator, not mum with food. They beat a hasty retreat under the safety of the fig tree. No amount of coaxing would get them out, until I got rid of that scary fabric and asked Peter to back off. Once they relaxed, the girls were happy to oblige for photos in a natural, familiar setting.
The point here is that we should never forget that our pets are not human. They come to us as descendants of their wild forbears. Horses and cows are herd animals on the look out for big prey animals. Dogs are pack animals, descended from wolves. Cats are solitary. Both are hunters. Small animals, like rabbits, guinea pigs and birds, including chickens, are at the bottom of the food chain and on the look out for predators constantly.
As a pack animal your dog must be put in its place. Humans are at the top of the pack. The dog is on the bottom of that scale. Your cat will come to you when it chooses. You can not call the shots with a cat, they are notorious as independant thinkers. As for those animals we keep that are used to being on the lookout for predators themselves, be gentle and reassuring in their presence. You will soon be accepted as friend, not foe.
However, remember that everytime you bring a new person into their territory, they too will have to earn the trust of your animals to be regarded as part of the family.
Observe your own animals' behaviours as consciously as you possibly can. You will never stop learning from them.
They will demonstrate passive and agressive behaviours, excitement, fear, hunger, contentment and temperature sensitivity. Recognising these behaviours can help you in the process of meeting their needs as well as in their training and interaction with you.