I completely agree with this sentiment from French novelist Anatole France. But we also have to live with these crazy family members who may or may not do what we want them to do when we want them to do it.
When we bring home that loveable puppy or fluffy kitten or feisty colt, we imagine the walks we’ll take, the cuddles we’ll share, the adventures we’ll undertake together.
We’ll be like Ayla and her Horse in Jean Auel’s “Clan of the Cave Bear” books: we’ll have an unspoken understanding, a nearly miraculous connection, and we’ll just ‘get’ each other and everything will be copasetic all the time. Our animals will instinctively understand what we want them to do and they will do it. Happily. Because they love us.
Reality turns out to be much different than our initial fantasies!
The cat poops on our bed when we’re out of town, the dog always pulls on the leash during morning walks, and the horse won’t even let us put a fly mask on so we can help her be more comfortable! It’s like they don’t understand a thing we say!
So what can we do to get as close as we possibly can to that human-pet nirvana of unspoken communication, dedication and understanding?
There are three keys to building that dream relationship you are longing for.
Key 1: Accentuate the Positive
Always, always, always focus on what you want. If you want your dog to walk calmly on the leash right next to you, focus on that. Every time that happens, reward your dog with treats or praise. Want your cat to use the litter box? Expect it to happen. Picture it happening. Reward your cat when it happens.
Key 2: Eliminate the Negative
Ignore what you don’t want or correct it quickly and get back into focusing on what you do want. The currency between pets and people is attention. It doesn’t matter if it’s good attention (praise, petting, playing together) or bad attention (yelling, correcting, bemoaning current events). Animals don’t judge good and bad, they just notice what gets them attention. The more you can ignore what you don’t want (not give any attention to it) and reinforce what you do want (with attention and focus and energy), the more things will shift and the more often your pets will do what you want them to do.
Key 3: Latch on to the Consequences
Let me be super clear: consequences aren’t punishment. Consequences are the result of an action. You step into water, you get wet. Stepping into the water is an action. Getting wet is the consequence. It’s just what happens. In the same way, you can create consequences for your pet that are more desirable (food treats, toys, games, attention) to reinforce behaviors that you want your pet to keep doing. And you can create consequences that are less desirable (turning away from the pet, removing a toy, giving a time out) when your pet does something you don’t want him or her to keep doing.
When I look into the eyes of an animal, I do not see an animal. I see a living being. I see a friend. I feel a soul. – Anonymous
Seeing our pets as kindred spirits is fundamental to creating positive relationships with them. Building that positive relationship into your dream relationship of communication, understanding and love can be done with practical, real-world tools like following these three keys.
As you shift your focus, you will start to see shifts occurring in your relationship with your pet and his or her behavior. You will probably start to feel like you are more on the same wavelength or that your pet is somehow miraculously doing what you want him to do. The changes can be subtle or dramatic – so be ready for either!
These keys will set the stage for even more connection between you and your favorite animal. Intuitive communication can blossom when these keys are in place and being practiced (and it is super fun!).
That perfect human-animal relationship from Clan of the Cave Bears is possible – you just need to learn how to make it happen for you!