A dear friend of mine got her dog from a shelter once. I don’t know the whole story, but I gather he was taken there because he wasn’t wanted, and this might have been because he was deaf. It wasn’t a big problem actually, and the dog adapted really well since hearing isn’t a dog’s major sense. When she wanted its attention at home, my friend would stomp her feet and the dog would turn to her, and she’d do simple sign language with it. When she took him for walks, she would take a few wieners along in a baggie. She’d go to the edge of town, where there was a huge field, and let him off the leash. When it was time to go back home, or if she wanted his attention for any reason, she’d just take a wiener out of the baggie and waggle it — the dog would come running! Wieners have such a strong smell, he smelled them instantly, even from a distance. It worked better than yelling works for people with normal dogs, and it did so because a dog’s primary sense is smell.
In contrast, a cat’s primary sense is hearing. If you want to get a cat’s attention — although you may never get its obedience! — make an unusual sound. Words don’t work very well, as cats don’t have a verbal center in their brains, but a scratching or swooshing noise is quite effective. Any sound that also tickles their innate curiosity is a good one! Their eyesight is also keen, and that’s why laser pointers and other erratic light sources will capture their attention.
You can tell quite well what sense is dominant for an animal just by looking at its anatomy. Cats have large ears and eyes, while dogs and bears have big noses and small eyes. Hawks have big eyes and owls have big ear sockets (although they aren’t immediately visible) but not much sense of smell. Vultures have good noses, as you might expect for a scavenger.
This makes me wonder about people — what is our primary sense? We don’t have very big noses — our noses don’t dominate our faces like dogs or bears. Our ears are not bad, but not particularly large either; these big brains of ours are great at interpreting tone of voice, but nothing very subtle that requires supersonic hearing. A few of us, musicians and sound techs, have better developed ears, but that’s more to do with the brain, I think. Our eyes are fairly big, but we don’t have very good night vision, and tend to lose our vision with age, so I don’t think it’s that. If I take clues from our anatomy, I think it’s touch. We are the only land animal with such a large percentage of our bodies covered with skin (I’m not going to talk about whales). Doesn’t it make sense that our dominant sense is touch — we greet by touching, we get an immediate impression about people by their handshake, and we loooooooove massages (not to mention, ahem, you know). We also communicate a lot by body language, which is facilitated by our (mostly) hairless bodies, decent eyesight, and expressive faces. But it’s touch all the way, with taste perhaps coming in second!
So touch me, baby, it’s my primary sense!