Talking About Pets: Your pet knows you better than you think
Updated: Apr 21
A pet has been part of my life ever since I was 10 years old. Sixteen animals have enhanced my quality of life and, even though three of those pets also drove me crazy with their “unique” behavior, I wouldn’t have missed sharing my life with them for the world.
Of all my furry friends, I would say my current Golden Retriever, Bentley has the most personality. It’s as if he knows how far he can push and get away with being just slightly naughty before I cut off his treats. I believe most pets instinctively know how much they can get away with before a voice is raised or a privilege is withheld. Some might cross the line while testing their limitations, but never hit or physically abuse an animal as a correction. Treating and praising them when they do something good is the better method of behavior training.
According to psychologist and leading canine researcher Stanley Coren, PhD, of the University of British Columbia, a dog’s mental abilities are close to a human child age 2 to 2.5 years. As for language, the average dog can learn 165 words, including signals, and the “super dogs” (those in the top 20% of dog intelligence) can learn 250 words.
Now, just because they can learn 165 words, that doesn’t mean they will obey 165 words. Bentley has selective hearing when he wants to ignore me because he is having too much fun running around like a crazy dog and does not want to come back in the house. If I get the metal top of his glass treat jar and cling it on the jar, he will come running -- but it would be nice if he would just obey the word “come.” He is a work in progress.
Let’s face it, our pets train us as much as we train them. I once had a black Lab named Quincy who was the dickens until he was about 3. He would take my wife’s bras off the bedroom floor and chew them up. He trained her to not leave her bras on the floor; I thanked him for that. Pets train us that they have special needs as well. Some need their humans to protect them from thunder and loud noises, while others make it very clear that they need to be on a leash to protect them from getting overly excited and running into the path of an oncoming vehicle. Maybe unique behavior is their form of communication to make us understand their needs. Correcting their behavior may not be as important as understanding it. Your pet knows you better than you may know them. Instead of trying to make your pet stop doing something that is unacceptable, try to understand why they are doing it in the first place. In some cases, the pet may need medical attention for a condition that is the main reason for their behavior, such as urinating in the house. They might have UTI (urinary track infection) and that is why they are no longer using their litter box. Giving up on your pet is not the answer. Trying to understand your pet and their needs is the better course of action. As always, adopt, don’t shop.
Barry KuKes is the community outreach director at Halifax Humane Society. He recently published a collection of his columns titled "Why do People Have Pets?" which is available at amzn.to/2RWr2d4