Have you ever been mad at your pet? Truly angry? Think: chewed shoes, ruined furniture, a close medical encounter from dietary indiscretion with huge bills, utter destruction of rental property? Maybe you don’t want to think back on it, because, as I’m sure we’ve all experienced, it makes us feel so guilty. Maybe we yelled or threw what we were holding across the room (obviously not our pet or at our pet), or made a loud noise when we found out what our pet had done. Maybe our pet didn’t do anything wrong and we had a bad day and got worked up. Maybe we yanked on the leash a little too hard to keep our dog out of the street. Maybe we said something we regretted, thinking surely they don’t really understand what I’m saying.
Any of this sound familiar? I know I’ve had my share of times I’ve felt I failed my pets by letting my anger or stress get the better of me. The beautiful thing about our pets is just how forgiving they can be. I know my dogs love me more than anything (well, maybe not more than food), and to cause them fear or stress is never my intention. However, sometimes, I’ve watched my old mutt grin her little incisors at me and know I shouldn’t have been so harsh. Sometimes I’ve seen my eight-month-old puppy’s ears droop backward and his eyes give me that sad puppy dog look that I know I could have avoided if I tried. It’s important for us to remember not to always associate that look (you know the one like they know they’ve done something) with what we think of as guilt, because, a lot of times, it can be a sign of fear. We should obviously never abuse our pets, but sometimes the behavioral signs that they are stressed can be more subtle than we realize. I think we could all stand to gain more patience and understanding because our pets’ behavior can be a key to keeping them happy and healthy.
Obviously, none of us have meant to scare our pets, and certainly not fail them. If I have learned anything about my own pets since being in vet school, it’s that I should pay attention to their behavior a little bit better. I shouldn’t scold them so harshly for tearing something up that I know I shouldn’t have left on the floor. I should hug them and pet them a little more when they do the right things, so they know the difference and don’t get so scared when they don’t understand that what they did was wrong. Ultimately, I’ve learned to be a more patient and loving pet owner. I’ve also learned to admit when I was wrong, because I certainly can’t withstand the puppy dog eyes for long, and I feel guilty if I don’t tell them I love them all the time. I have made mistakes, but my pets and I are growing and getting better together, and I hope to only go up from here.