When we bring a pet into our home, it marks a new beginning. It is an opportunity to create something beautiful – friendship with another sentient being.
Friendship with another person often begins when we discover similar interests and values. We can share those interests because we easily communicate with one another. We speak the same language, but we also take ample time to listen and watch one another. Friends don’t always agree, but we have learned to communicate and compromise because we trust one another. We treat each other kindly and with empathy and compassion. Eventually, that turns into a lifetime friendship. I encourage you to commit yourself to achieving that same relationship with your pets.
Pets are not humans. They have their own species-specific needs, interests, values, and ways of learning, often very different from ours. Therefore, if we want a friendship with a pet, we need to take the time to learn about them and patiently give them time to learn about us. Only then will we develop the trust that will be the foundation of our friendship.
My Tips on Building and Maintaining a Friendship with Your Pet
- Please do some research before you pick a pet to ensure a compatible companion. – Pet species can be very different, as are the various breeds within a species. Within a breed, there can also be significant variation among individual pets. Not every species or breed may be the best fit for you. Seek advice from pet care professionals who understand these characteristics and differences and have nothing to gain by your choice. Those same pet care professionals can help you develop and nurture the relationship between you and your pet.
- Understand what behaviors are normal for your species of pet. – Every species expresses a wide range of normal behavior and must be able to do so to thrive. It is unrealistic and unfair to expect a companion to suppress essential behaviors you find unacceptable.
- Learn how to communicate with your pet and how they express their emotions. Friends become friends because they can share, including empathizing with one another. We’re human, and pets are talented communicators, but they are not humans. Due to cultural differences between our species, much of what we usually do as humans (make direct eye contact, shake hands, and hug) may be viewed as confrontational by our pets, hardly a recipe for a relationship built on trust.
- Be prepared to teach your pet how to live with you. – No pet is preprogrammed to exist with humans harmoniously. Therefore, you will need to kindly and patiently teach your pet what they need to know. You may even need to compromise on your expectations, but that’s what friends do.
- Understand how your pet learns – A pet learns via the same basic principles we do; rewarded behavior will be repeated and ignored behavior will disappear. Unfortunately, people often overlook the behavior they like, such as their dog being calm and react to the behavior they do not like, such as jumping up and begging. This rewards the unwanted behavior. It would be wise to do the exact opposite. That is why I encourage my students to frequently reward their dogs for behaviors they like, such as lying calmly by their side, even when they did not ask for the behavior.
- Allow your pet to make choices. – Also, like humans, pets like to have options. Like us, they will probably not like every member of their species or every person they meet. It’s perfectly normal if your pet chooses not to interact with another living thing. It is up to you as their guardian to prevent others from forcing themselves on your pet.
- Have FUN doing something both you and your pet enjoy every single day! – Often, the strongest relationships involve two parties doing something together that they both enjoy. Find that with your pet and commit to doing it daily as you will both benefit.
- Enjoy the journey – Stop asking yourself why my pet is not perfect. Living with a pet is a wonderful experience full of ups and downs. So instead of striving for perfection, focus on the joy you feel when together. Commit to making every moment count so that when the journey ends, you can both say, “Thank you for this wonderful time together! I’ll miss you until we are reunited on the other side!“
Don Hanson is the owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) and ForceFreePets.com in Bangor, Maine, where he has been helping people with their pets since 1995. He is a member of the Pet Professional Guild (PPG). He serves on the Board of Directors and Steering Committee and chairs the Advocacy Committee. Don also produces and co-hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show (woofmeowshow.com).
©12-Jan-22, Donald J. Hanson, All Rights Reserved