What we see when we look at our pets

2013-10-03 00:00

THEY dig holes, poo on newly cut lawns, urinate against vehicles wheels, ambush birds, kill lizards and chase monkeys. After a rain shower or drinking water, they leave muddy paw prints on floors and carpets, or drool on our feet or favourite shoes.

Food bowls are tipped, spilling biscuits. Washing, pulled off the line, is shredded in a tug-of-war, and vehicles are jumped on or scratched. They rush up and down fences, barking and growling in chorus with the neighbour’s dogs. The person who delivers the post is perceived as a massive threat and thus becomes the target of much growling, barking and chasing.

Walking is a test of strength and leaves us exhausted. Refuse bags are ripped open and contents shredded, while wiring is pulled off trailers and caravans. Wooden doors and window frames and items of furniture are gnawed at, or chewed beyond repair. They seem to bark especially loud when we are talking on the phone. Yet after all this, they will sit and look at us as if butter could not melt in their mouths.

Sometimes when I ask pet owners why they put up with this, their answers are pretty much the same.

“You see, Steve, it’s like this. When I arrive from work they are always there to greet me. Just the sight of my dog, or puppy, creates wonderful emotions in me and I feel welcome. They have a calming effect when I am stressed and provide comfort in times of sickness or injury. They are my faithful companions during times of heartache and loneliness. I am provided with countless hours of entertainment and enjoyment. Their antics and noises create smiles and laughter. When looking at my dogs, I don’t see just eyes, ears, paws and tails attached to body parts that can bark, howl and growl, I see a dear friend that I start missing soon after leaving home. I see a constant companion and protector that never complains, sulks, holds grudges or becomes angry towards me. When there is danger, or a possible threat to the property, the dogs will bark to warn me and send out a message that would-be intruders will be dealt with. Overall, I see a creature that basically just needs food, water and shelter, and in return I receive endless satisfaction in a non-judgmental relationship.”

People say to me: “You know Steve, I’m not perfect myself and not always the best role model. I am not constantly dependable, consistent or reliable. Irritation, frustration, rubbing people up the wrong way and so on, are things that I unfortunately do sometimes. Where possible though, I try to make amends and apologise. However, I realise that the consequences of my actions are mostly based on choices I have made. However, when considering my pets’ behaviour, I know that they cannot choose their destinies like I can. I also realise that their behaviour is a product of the environment they grew up in and which I controlled. The quality of life they have is determined by decisions made by me every day. How much food, water, shelter, health care and exercise are not determined by them. That is my call.

“So you see, Steve, if my dogs need to change, then it is actually me who must do the changing. I will never hold my dogs accountable, but will rather find out what tools are required for the purposes of bettering our relationship.”

• Please contact me or your vet’s practice should you have any behavioural concerns.

• Steve van Staden is a canine behaviour specialist and can be contacted at www.dogtorsteve.co.za Advice is only dispensed in face-to-face meetings with owners and their pets.

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