Responsible Pet Ownership is in part the ability to be a responsible “pack leader”. Here are some very general hints on how to do this:
- Understand your pack: This is the most important. Learn the body language of your pets. Since they can’t really speak, it’s only through body language that we can identify the reasons behind behavior. No animal attacks without a warning sign. They always tell you when enough is enough, and each animal has their own method of communicating this.
- Be Fair: Treat all members of the pack fairly. If one is disciplined for stealing a treat off the counter, ensure that all are disciplined in the exact same way if or when they engage in the same act. Being predictable will help your pack trust you.
- Be Consistent: Animals, like people, need to understand that there are rules. They also understand that there are consequences if those rules are broken. Biting, growling, or negative behavior should never be encouraged.
- Be Organized: Organization is key to maintaining a healthy pack and being an effective pack leader. The less chaos, the better the performance. Stay on a schedule for feeding, walks, and playtime. Sure, go ahead and introduce your pup to new things. It’s important for their development, but do it in an organized, calm manner.
- Training: Much like people, certain people have certain abilities and temperaments. Pushing an animal or pet into a specific task or role can almost guarantee disaster. Find out what they like, what motivates them (a ball, a treat, affection) and use that for training. The best trainers in the world use positive reinforcement and offer animals roles doing what they are already good at and enjoy.
- Trust No One: Don’t turn your dog into a babysitter or guardian. Certain animals are predisposed to certain roles and not all of them fit what you may view as the “perfect pet.” They may not have the tolerance level for children and if that’s the case, don’t try to force them into the role.
A Note on Trust: Domesticated does not mean “trustworthy”. I love my pets – all of them – and I’m more guilty than most in anthropomorphizing my pets. But, there are limits. Understand that a dog’s reaction to a crying baby can easily be to pick it up by the neck just as they would a pup. Their responses are not the same as ours. Realize that changing the order in which pets are fed can result in a battle for dominance. Why? Because they see things differently than you or I.
What I’m trying to say is that years of conditioning do not make an animal trustworthy. Animals are unique, each hold different roles in a pack, and we empower them to make decisions. Be a responsible pack leader and never provide an opportunity for them to take advantage.
You’ll find that these skills also translate into being a good family member and a great member of society. Like us, most animals are prey-driven and pack-oriented. They are social creatures. Respect your pets and they will return that respect.