Documentary revealing secrets behind pets' behaviour - why hamsters run in a wheel, how dogs pick up pack rules and how kittens learn to be solitary hunters.
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Our favourite pets are among the most amazing animals on Earth.
They've taken to a domestic life and become our perfect companions.
But their natural instincts remain intact.
They may have been tamed for thousands of years...
..but they were wild animals for millions more.
Some were smart and supreme predators.
Others were alert and fleet-footed prey.
Whatever their origins, they now live happily among us.
But behaviour that feels familiar was born in the wild.
Take a closer look, and discover the true animal sharing your home.
A creature just a wing-beat from the wild.
We think we understand our pets.
Cute and adored,
they seem far removed from their wild living relatives.
We love to watch them play.
But there's more to their games than meets the eye.
These puppies are still training for life as a predator.
As they play, they rehearse the same rules
that enable wolves to hunt as an organised pack.
They must take care - even at seven weeks,
these cockerpoos are armed with 28 needle-sharp teeth.
Dominant puppies choose to fight weaker ones, but no-one gets hurt.
Puppies that ignore the rules are soon ostracised by the others.
They must learn to restrain their bite.
If a puppy shows its vulnerable belly,
then it's a signal to take time out.
All else is fair game - a chance to let rip and practice killer holds.
And death shakes too.
They need teamwork to bring down large prey,
even if, for now, it's just a cushion.
They may have been domesticated for 30,000 years,
but play still prepares them for life in the wild.
But their games have modern relevance too.
Dogs, more than any of our pets, must learn to rub along together.
They're often forced into situations no wild animal would tolerate.
In New York, dog walkers exercise many different breeds at a time.
It's the closest the dogs get to pack life.
But, unlike hunting wolves, these dogs are completely unrelated.
Recent research in a New York dog park
revealed the full complexity of their social interactions.
They first become reacquainted using their celebrated sense of smell -
up to 100,000 times more sensitive than our own.
By sniffing scent glands on another dog's bottom,
they check its identity,
as well as its diet, health and emotional state.
Once everyone's formally introduced, the play begins.
It may be boisterous,
but the wild rules they practised as pups
stop things getting out of hand.
Opting out is perfectly acceptable,
and for small dogs, not unreasonable!
Toy breeds must feel at a distinct disadvantage.
But this Boston terrier's up for the challenge,
no matter how great!
He knows the rules.
Exchange doggy bows, and he won't get hurt.
The "play bow" lets him have fun
with a Great Dane three times his size.
It's an invitation every dog understands.
It's quite OK to refuse, and anyway,
there are always others up for a game.
Leaping together establishes who's biggest.
It's another way to test each other.
But, size isn't everything -
it's about confidence and posturing too,
as this belligerent bulldog knows.
The young Labrador uses a trick she learnt in play -
rolling over and exposing her vulnerable belly.
The bulldog may be pumped up with aggression,
but the Lab's submissive posture takes the fight right out of him.
Playing together as puppies
allows dogs to understand the rules of the park.
Pets that are prey play different games.
For Russian hamsters, it's all about running.
In nature, they cover six miles a night,
and they often have to outrun predators.
they can cover the same distance by running on the spot.
And it seems they do it for fun!
When scientists placed a wheel in the wild,
mice took to it just as keenly as this enthusiastic hamster.
Like human athletes, exercise creates a rush of endorphins.
He experiences a runner's high.
At full pelt he reaches 600 strides a minute -
four times more than the fastest racehorse.
Moving X-ray shows that, unlike horses,
even when flat out he always keeps one foot on the ground.
He may be fast,
but nothing improves performance like a bit of competition.
Hamsters aren't the most sociable of creatures.
It seems they're bad losers too.
The loser settles for the consolation prize
while the winner goes for gold.
Like wild hamsters, he mostly runs at dawn and dusk.
But, when the time is right,
enthusiasm can get the better of him.
His racing instinct is so engrained, little puts him off.
The quest for speed, once vital for survival, has become a game.
One that also tests his acrobatic skills.
But, perfection is so hard to achieve!
Time flies when you're having fun!
And, while he's been enjoying himself, so has the other hamster!
Kittens also use play to practise their wild skills.
In nature, they are solitary hunters,
and their games prepare them for a life alone.
They have some impressive abilities to perfect.
Their eyes are already reacting to the slightest movement,
but their reflexes still need sharpening.
Leg muscles must be exercised too.
He'll soon jump seven times his height.
Claws and paws expand as he practices grasping prey.
His other qualities include a spine that can twist 180 degrees,
and a tail that acts as a counterbalance
so he famously lands on his feet.
He even has built-in shock absorbers!
It was these skills that made wild African cats useful pest controllers
when they moved in with the first farmers 10,000 years ago.
After all these years, little has changed.
These two-month old Bengal kittens are still practising
for a life as independent hunters.
In the wild, in another three months,
they would be killing their own food.
These kittens will soon be separated and begin life in their new homes.
But, whoever's pet they become,
they'll already be fully trained as a predator.
Prey animals, like these five-week-old lop-eared rabbits,
also practice their survival skills through play.
For a rabbit, it's all about hopping!
These leaps may be defensive, but learning is clearly great fun.
Their mother's natural instincts
compel her to dig a bolt hole in case of predators.
Some pet rabbits get the chance to test out these games in the wild.
To find them, we must go "down the rabbit hole" into another world.
This rabbit wonderland is on an island in Japan.
It even has a white rabbit,
a descendant of pet rabbits released here 40 years ago.
They still come in many colours,
though most have reverted to the brown wild form.
Because they breed like, well, like rabbits, there are hundreds of them.
They are free to express their wild instincts,
but they have stayed tame,
and are treated like pets by adoring visitors.
By adapting a pose they use to spot predators,
they've even learnt to beg.
But no self-respecting wild rabbit would contemplate standing so close.
While most rush to greet the visitors,
the white rabbit is always late.
White rabbits are legendary across Asia,
and its image is thought to be found on the face of the moon.
So he always gets special treatment.
The rabbits may act like pets,
but their natural instincts have resurfaced.
As well as living in a warren like wild rabbits,
some take up sentry duty.
Her ears turn independently to pinpoint any sounds.
And she has eyes that can scan nearly 360 degrees.
Grazing rabbits rely on sentries to warn them of danger.
The alarm, when it comes, is understood by all...
..or nearly all!
Here, bolt holes are used in earnest.
But this older and wiser rabbit knows to ignore false alarms.
Foxes or eagles aren't found here,
and a crow is hardly in their league.
As life returns to normal, the rabbits do what they do best.
But this is serious leaping.
Their back legs are their greatest asset,
and a target for aggressive rivals.
As they jump away, their kick packs a defensive punch.
Females leap to ward off over-amorous males.
And bucks compete in the high jump to prove who's best.
On Rabbit Island, the lessons learnt as playful youngsters
show their true value.
For all our pets, the time spent with their mother
is the most important of their lives.
It's an opportunity to nurture their wilder side before humans intervene.
Kittens learn to use a designated nipple
that they mark with their own distinct scent.
In this way, they keep squabbling to a minimum
and themselves to themselves.
They may be showing the first signs of independence,
but at this age, they depend on their mother for everything.
Thermal imagery shows that even her body warmth
is vital for their survival.
10-day old kittens can't regulate their temperature,
so she keeps them nestled in her fur.
Unseen, a kitten starts to stray.
Although his eyes have only just opened, he still can't see clearly.
And away from his mother, he's already losing heat.
His instinct is to cry.
And it's a call no mother can ignore.
Being carried by the scruff
triggers an instinct that stops him struggling,
or making a sound that could attract predators.
A mother with young kittens
instinctively uses this technique whenever she changes dens.
Moving home is one thing, getting enough to eat is quite another.
She lives on Cat Island in Japan, a moggie paradise full of feral cats.
They were imported to catch vermin
when the island was a centre for the silkworm industry.
They now survive by scavenging from fishermen.
Their kittens are brought up in the perfect playground.
But their busy mums have to juggle childcare
with the important job of getting a meal,
and their chance comes just once a day.
The boats are returning, laden with fish.
Kittens more than a few weeks old can happily be left alone.
They are old enough to stay warm and keep out of trouble
as their mother searches for a meal.
But the mother with the new kitten faces a problem.
At 10 days old, he's too young to be left on his own.
So, mum's left holding the baby
while the other cats enjoy their fish supper.
Squabbles over food are inevitable.
But soon, everyone gets a slice of the action,
except for the new, and now very hungry, mother.
She looks for a possible solution.
She squeezes her eyes - a greeting that most cat owners will recognise.
The new arrival grooms the baby...
..then turns her attention to the mother.
It's her way of offering to babysit.
The mother doesn't wait to see if she'll change her mind!
Baby-sitting is natural among cats, especially between related females.
She's probably her sister.
Meanwhile, mum searches for scraps left by the other cats.
It's a chance for her childminder to enjoy time with the baby,
but she's clearly not sure what to do.
The young kitten has reawakened her urge to play,
even though he's far too young for games.
Then every baby-sitter's nightmare!
She checks she hasn't been seen,
but the mother's focused on gaining a meal.
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
The mother senses something's wrong.
But then, in the nick of time, success!
Mum might try a less playful baby-sitter next time!
It's the cat's playful nature,
as well as their independence of mind, that helps make them
the world's most popular pet,
beating dogs, paws down.
Our third most cherished pet is equally playful.
The common parakeet, better known as the budgerigar,
is found naturally in the outback of Australia.
They are social birds,
occurring in huge flocks as they search for both food and water.
They are highly intelligent and, even in the heart of the flock,
families stick together.
It's this friendly nature that, for the last 150 years,
has made them such perfect human companions.
In homes, these intensely social birds
are hard-wired to seek out company.
BIRD TWEETS AND CHATTERS
Who's a pretty bird? Disco, who's a pretty bird? Baby.
A mirror provides a temporary companion -
he doesn't see it as a reflection of himself,
more a buddy who comes and goes.
But, when he wants some real quality time,
he's learnt some playful tricks to get noticed.
BALL CRASHES TO THE FLOOR
I see you over there! Baby bird, baby bird.
Come on, baby bird!
What are you doing, Disco? What did mama say?
Are you dancing? What is it, Disco?
Yah? Come on over.
Come on out.
Having captured his owner's attention,
he can practice another skill.
It's not easy being green.
BIRD: It's not easy being green. It's not easy being green.
Mimicry isn't as unnatural as it seems.
Wild parakeets mimic each other,
and each family learns their own distinct calls.
Never shake a baby bird.
That would surely be absurd.
Never shake a baby bird.
That would surely be absurd.
This budgie is just doing what he would do in the flock.
Is that a parakeet. What is it?
A green and yellow bird that talks?
That's not important right now.
Even having a name may not be as unnatural as it seems.
I'm Disco and I know it.
I'm Disco and I know it.
I am not a crook. My name is Disco.
Wild parrots have been shown to assign special calls
to name their offspring, just as we name our own pet budgies.
Baby bird. Disco baby bird.
Keep it bird.
In turn, young parrots learn these names
and use them to introduce themselves.
I am not a crook. My name is Disco.
This extraordinary ability may mean that Disco
has a sense of his own identity.
It certainly seems so at times.
Talking is now a game,
a way to express wild behaviour in the confines of his home.
A cat. Meow, meow.
Give me a kiss.
I can has cheeseburger.
Aren't you a little short for a stormtrooper?
I used to be a spy, then a parakeet.
Phew, I'm a doctor, not a parakeet!
I'm a doctor.
Disco, has memorised over 130 phrases in all.
My cage is bigger on the inside.
My cage is bigger on the inside.
Like learning any new language, practice makes perfect,
even if it means talking in your sleep.
Give me free ride. Keep up.
Give me for free.
Good night Disco.
The intimacy between Disco and his owner may be unusual,
but the desire to play can bring the oddest of couples together.
The puppy uses play bows to start a game,
something a cat wouldn't normally understand.
But, the cat has known the puppy since she was born,
and he's learnt her playful signals.
Having agreed to a game, he keeps his claws firmly sheathed.
Cats and dogs are our most popular pets,
but we treat them both very differently.
Cats are the only pets with the freedom
to come and go as they please.
With plenty of time to play with,
this ginger tom has created his own game.
He free climbs for fun.
He could have used the cat flap!
Impressive, but great feats require careful preparation.
He scratches to make sure his claws are sharp.
This removes old claw coverings, which break off and fall.
These sheaths protect the new sharp claw growing underneath.
They are lost naturally every few weeks.
But it's better to be safe.
Climbing demands equipment that can be relied on.
A loose sheath now could spell disaster.
When the climb gets challenging, he has a hidden tool.
It flicks out like a knife.
This is the dewclaw -
a claw wild cats use to climb trees while chasing prey.
This tom needs all the help he can get.
This is what's commonly called a cliff-hanger.
Another sheath falls - a close shave.
With all his proverbial lives intact, he survives another day.
The black cat was simply expressing his irrepressible urge to play.
In contrast, playtime for dogs
is usually at the hands of their owners.
But in her doggy world, being taken for a walk is seen very differently.
For her, it's an imaginary hunt.
She searches for scent trails,
zigzagging her nose to stay on track.
She's aware of who passed and when,
even getting information from trails left several weeks ago.
She's hypersensitive to every sound and movement,
hoping for something to chase.
Throw a ball and she's mentally back pursuing prey.
And she catches it with instinctive precision.
With the determination of a wild animal,
she's always ready to run again.
In play, fit dogs will run and run.
Their wild relatives are champion marathon runners,
exhausting their prey by chasing them down.
Like a wolf, this German shepherd can reach 35mph,
and can happily cover 50 miles in a day.
Blanketed with fur from head to paws,
he's perfectly insulated against the cold,
but, when things really hot up,
he can only sweat through his foot pads.
Instead, he uses his tongue to lose heat by evaporation -
as its blood vessels dilate,
the tongue extends and swells.
Panting cools the hot blood even faster.
Thermal imagery shows where all the heat escapes,
and how no heat is lost through his thick coat of fur.
With a pet so geared for a life chasing prey,
it's hardly surprising they're sometimes so difficult to control.
Let a dog off the leash
and her natural instincts kick in.
She's always on the edge of doing something wild and unexpected.
This playful dog takes the plunge again and again.
She may enjoy her mischievous game,
but once it had real survival value.
Wolves still often use doggy paddle to cross rivers in pursuit of prey.
When a dog swims, he simply trots as he would on land,
but makes longer and faster strides.
This bearded collie
shows how surprisingly effective this stroke is.
For maximum efficiency, she spreads her paws on the downstroke.
Dogs see surprisingly well under water, too.
As they doggy paddle, they practise skills
that helped their ancestors become the most widespread
of all predators.
Dogs are unusual in having such freedom.
Most pets have to fulfil their natural urges
within the confines of their cage.
All pet golden hamsters
are descended from just one family
found in the deserts of Syria
in the middle of the last century.
Give them a tunnel system,
and they are transported
back to the wild.
In the desert, they would shelter from the heat and predators
by hiding in burrows during the day.
Moving X-rays reveal just how manoeuvrable he is.
His flexible spine allows him to take sharp turns easily.
In fact, his spine is so bendy, he can completely turn back on himself.
Few other animals can perform this complete U-turn.
Presented with food,
he acts as if it's his last meal,
stuffing the surplus into cheek pouches to be eaten later.
To keep his food fresh and dry,
he secretes no saliva.
X-ray shows just how he packs it all in.
His pouches extend all the way to his hips.
And when he can't fit in another morsel,
he carries his favourite treat with him.
Easier said than done!
Disgorging his stash is his next challenge.
The nuts stick to his dry cheek pouches.
But he has a way to tackle the problem -
his surprisingly dexterous paws.
Hamsters make these stores, because in the desert
they never know where their next meal may come from.
Here it's a form of play - a way to enjoy wild behaviour
that in captivity has no real purpose.
Even a pet that has all the freedom in the world,
like this Birman cat,
still spends most of her waking hours hunting
for no useful reason at all.
The urge to hunt may be irresistible
but as she's never hungry
there's no point killing the vole.
It's far more fun to release it
in the confines of her home.
Hunting is no longer a necessity -
it too has become a game.
The point isn't to kill her prey -
it's all about the chase.
Even at the risk of losing it completely.
Such cat and mouse games
are the whole focus of her free time.
She spent over 20 hours hunting
just to get this vole.
Having invested so much time catching it,
she's not about to let it go easily.
But then again,
it's so easy to lose concentration.
It may be frustrating,
but at least she's fulfilled her
natural urge to hunt.
Domestic cats rarely eat their kills,
they have everything they need presented on a plate.
Cats are unusual among our pets
as they are free to come and go from our homes as they please.
But in Cusco in Peru,
pet dogs traditionally do the same.
Each day they're let out from their house to do whatever they wish.
To reveal their secret lives, some are carrying mini-cameras.
Each dog seems to be on its own individual mission.
But as they travel, numbers build.
Fortunately, they're streetwise and traffic savvy.
Although some of these dogs are strays, most have owners,
and all know the streets of Cusco as well as any local cab driver.
They not only have a surprising grasp of road safety,
but they understand human etiquette, too.
They're never aggressive to people
and just step into line as they pass.
They seem to be converging on the same spot.
This is their city, and they know every secret gathering place.
The camera-dog soon finds the gang - a huge pack of 20.
DOGS BARK UP AHEAD
This is far bigger than the average wolf pack,
and, unlike wolves, these dogs are unrelated -
they are just mutts from all over town.
The camera-dog takes a closer look.
The centre of attention is this female on heat.
The scent enticed the males from three miles away, or more.
But the camera-dog is pushing his luck -
she already has a partner.
She's chosen a dog with proven tough credentials.
This canine bruiser holds everyone else at bay.
It's only the people who are playing games, now -
for the dogs, things have just got serious.
In frustration, fights break out.
SNARLING AND BARKING
And this is no dog park,
this is real street-fighting.
BARKING AND SNARLING
But, despite the ferocity,
the rules they learned as playful puppies govern the encounter -
the bites rarely make contact,
and no-one gets seriously hurt.
Through these fights, everyone gets to know who is top dog.
He might not be the best-looking mutt in town,
but he is the one who finally gets the girl.
Despite the aggression that got these new romantics together,
there is surprising affection between them.
And there's something else very special about these dogs -
at the end of the day, it's their choice
whether to go home.
As soon as it's dinner time, they start to peel away.
Some travel in groups...
..and others travel alone.
But they've just one place in mind.
In a choice between the wild and home comforts -
they know where their loyalties lie.
It's their close companionship with us,
that keeps the wild wolf at bay.
Cusco dogs may openly lead a double life,
but all our pets find ways to get in touch with their wild side
even if it's just through play.
They may live among us
and be cared for and adored,
but their true wild nature
is just a whisker away.
Next time, we'll see how the hidden senses
and secret communications of our pets
also keeps them wild at heart.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
The team behind Penguins - Spy in the Huddle reveal the incredible secrets of your pets' behaviour in ways never seen before.
As astonishing photography explores the wild side of our playful pets, find out why hamsters love to run in a wheel, how dogs pick up the rules of the pack and how kittens learn to be solitary hunters. Featuring incredible views of plunge-diving dogs, babysitting cats, acrobatic hamsters and a playful cat outwitted by his prey - you'll never look at your favourite companions in quite the same way again. The latest science also reveals why budgies talk, how a cat scales a vertical wall with the help of a special claw, why hamsters stuff their faces with more food than they can eat and the real meaning behind a rabbit's hop.
Our pets are also given a chance to explore their wild side as we join the free-roaming pet dogs of Cusco, Peru, pet rabbits living in a natural warren and the wild-living inhabitants of Cat Island, Japan. A range of innovative techniques such as moving X-rays, thermal imagery, minicam-carrying dogs and revelatory slow-motion photography shows why our pets play and how their true wild nature is just a whisker away.