It’s Real for Them

It’s very common to see and read about pets being punished for trying to let their owners know they are uncomfortable. It’s as though we’re so fixed on what we’re trying to get done, or what we think our pets should be doing, that we forget to  look at the picture that’s right in front of us.

When your dog barks or growls at an approaching dog or person, your cat hides when visitors enter the room, or your parrot lunges or bites when you reach into their cage, stop what you are doing and review the situation. Don’t pop the leash, drag your cat out, or flick your parrot’s beak. They are telling you they’re worried. Listen.

I recently read a light hearted news article that got me thinking. A postman in Canada was unable to deliver a parcel. On the delivery notice he ticked “Other” as the reason for failing to deliver the parcel, and he elaborated with “Bear at door” as the reason. I wouldn’t have delivered that parcel either! But what if his boss told him to stop being silly and just do it? Or told him he was being unreasonable, the bear wasn’t going to hurt him? That wouldn’t seem fair would it?

Bear

When it comes to things humans are afraid of (or cautious of) we can often empathise easily, because chances are that we might be afraid of something similar. Our pets, on the other hand, are often scared of things that we perceive as being benign. This makes it harder for us to take their fears seriously and even harder when it might mean we have to put in actual time and effort to help them come around.

Next time your pet tells you they are worried about something in their environment, don’t punish them, and don’t try to move them closer. They are telling you they are not ok. Help them to increase their distance, help them to feel more comfortable, and set them up better next time so they can feel safe from the start. What they’re experiencing may seem silly to you, but it is real for them.

Not sure how to help your pet? Consult with a trainer! That’s what we’re here for.  Train smart, not tough!

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The importance of choice

Imagine for a moment that your whole life was completely controlled by someone else. No matter what you said or how you asked, they decided when you could eat, where you could sleep, what you could do to entertain yourself, even when you had access to the bathroom.

Humans have a lot of choice about what they do on a given day. Sure we have a basic schedule of things that we have to do (like go to work) but we are able to act on our environment and the people and animals in it to maximise our enjoyment in our day, and to avoid things that make us uncomfortable (or to solve these problems to resolve such issues).

dog choosing to play choice control

Our pets often aren’t afforded this control in their lives. We decide everything for them. Some of our decisions result in lots of fun for our pets, like going to the beach, playing a game, or settling down for some one-on-one affection, but other decisions can create a lot of stress for them.

We have high expectations of how our pets should behave, and we often don’t take the time to communicate clearly and teach them how to meet those expectations. Imagine back to your day with no control, and imagine having someone constantly scolding you for doing what seems logical to you (sitting somewhere comfy, greeting someone when they approach, etc). Given a few tries at finding the right thing to do, if you were still being told NO, you would probably start to feel frustrated, angry, confused, and stressed. This is life, at least some of the time, for many household pets.

So how can we give our pets choice in their day, to reduce stress and allow them to interact meaningfully with their environment? We can train them with positive reinforcement, teaching them through clear and gentle methods what they are allowed to do. We can learn about their body language, and step into the role of their advocate when we see that they are worried by something. We can condition them gradually to enjoy experiencing more things. And we can show them ways to let us know what they want and need. We can empower our pets.

Choice and control over our life is important to our mental well being, and the same is true of our pets. What are some ways you could increase your pets choices around your home?