Our pets spend years working on being in relationships with us. They are (mostly) patient, (often) loving and (generally) enthusiastic as they try to be our friends.
And most humans want that too. We want to be close to our animals.
This is a good time for us to stop being lost in translation, and for us to relate to our pets as the dear members of our family that they are.
So how do we go about developing relationships with our pets?
I have a few ideas for us.
And I really mean US. My beloved dog, Olive- she’s suffering the effects of a too-busy human: one who doesn’t find the time for nearly enough walks, and then makes up for it with too many treats. Currently, she resembles a swollen tick more than the cute little staffie that she usually is. The holidays did not help with this!
1. Stop and listen
90% of us carry on conversations with our pets.
Is this what it sounds like when you come home?
We just rattle on with whatever it occurs to us to talk about.
If you did this in conversation with a human, what would they think?
Try this out instead:
Hey Buddy, I’m home. (Stop, take a deep breath, relax, make gentle happy eye contact with your pet. Pet your pet).
How are you? (Stop, wait and listen for an answer. Take another deep breath. See if you can make your slow breathing and their breathing match up).
Good? (Stop. Open yourself up for this conversation. Your pet is loving this attention).
Did you have a good day? ( Stop. Picture in your mind your pet doing fun things while you are at work).
I had a good day, except traffic was pretty bad, and I didn’t get to eat lunch until 2. (Stop, You can make a mind picture about traffic and lunch if you’d like. Listen. Get a little empathy.)
What should we have for dinner? (Stop, listen. You’re telling your pet what’s coming next, which gives them a routine, which helps them feel more at peace).
I know you’re having kibble, but what should I have for dinner? (Stop, listen. Pet).
Just a 3 second break between each question causes two things to happen. First- you’re slowing down and actually connecting with your pet. And Second- you might just hear or see an answer from them!
2. When your pet does something you’d rather they didn’t, take a moment to think about their logical reasons for doing so, and then change the environment to make this less likely to occur.
On New Year’s Eve, my cat Leo walked into my bedroom, meowed at me, and then proceeded to take a very liquid dump in my new Suede Sperry Topsider Wedges!
I mean, why? WHY?!?!? WHY WOULD THAT BE A GOOD IDEA?
Well, from his point of view, he had a few issues that I was not addressing, and he needed to get my attention.
Foster dogs are annoying (we had just received a new one that day).
Cats should get to go outside on New Year’s Eve, regardless of the drunk drivers and hooligan teenagers with firecrackers.
The door to the laundry room is closed, and Leo does not have access to his kitty box.
Leo had eaten a lot of chunk light tuna as part of the day’s celebration, and was now feeling the effects of it.
This is not a free pass on bad behavior. Leo still got a first-class ticket to a night in the laundry room.
But if we can understand the logic for why our pets do what they do, we can often change it so they stop.
Once I figured out what Leo was upset about, I got why he chose such an urgent display of frustration. Why he victimized my new suede wedges? He’s not saying.
Pets are not people. They rarely act in a vindictive way. Their logic is different, based on their species.
Every pet has a logical reason for why they do things that we’d rather they didn’t. Pets pee inside to protect the house. Cats pee on the guest’s luggage, as a welcoming gesture (pee makes the guest smell like the rest of us). Dogs chew our favorite shoes because they miss us and they smell like us (also they were bored).
67% of owners believe that they understand what their pets are saying and that their pets understand them. I think this is true. And if you need help figuring out why an animal does a certain thing, consider investing in an animal communication session.
3. Put that smart phone down-
Smart phones are a nice short-term way to quell anxiety. Our time would be better spent, (and our anxiety would go away) if we took more time to rest and do nothing, and/or hiked or played with our pets.
4. Notice the win-win possibilities.
Olive needs walks. Bridget needs to take a break every 90 minutes or so. Bridget could use the fresh air and moving too. Win-Win.
Maybe you’re lonely and your dog is bored- take an obedience class or join a flyball league.
Are you and your cat stressed out? Re-arrange your furniture to create a lovely spot where the two of you can sit together (preferably by the window where the sun can shine in and where your cat can watch the birds).
5. Create a routine and then pepper that routine with moments of interaction.
Pets love routine.
Routines tell your pets what’s coming next. They become something to rely on. This is especially true for animals that have experienced trauma. Olive knows that dinner is at six o’clock. She starts reminding me about 5 minutes beforehand. She lived for awhile on the streets not knowing when she’d eat again. Having a specific time for dinner makes her happy!
One of my clients tucked her dog in every night, putting a blanket over him and his dog bed, and kissing him and telling him that she hoped he had good dreams. He loved this part of his day.
6. Pay attention to how your emotions impact your pet.
If your pet is a “feeler” (think retrievers, pitbulls, maltese dogs, and orange or calico cats), they pick up and resonate whatever you’re feeling. They literally feel how you do.
Some animals love this. It’s their purpose. If I’m having a sad day, my orange cat Bo will insist that he sit on my lap and make things better.
Other animals are unduly burdened by our emotions. They exhibit stress behaviors, licking and chewing, shaking, being less social, not handling new situations as well, etc.
My cat is not my therapist. Susan is my therapist. My cat is my cat. It’s up to us to keep ourselves mentally well, and to know what our pets can handle emotionally.
No-one wants to burden their pets. And yet we want to have real relationships with them. This is where listening and paying attention can do us the most good!
(That being said, don’t try to “fake” an emotion. Pets are like kids. They figure this stuff out!).
7. Learn to talk with your pets
What I do, you can do. Very soon, I’ll be offering online and in-person animal communication classes. I hope you’ll consider joining us.
New Year, New Relationship!
I hope that this list sparks some ideas for you, and that you and your pets have a happy 2013!