Boo! What unexpected things give your pet a fright?

Scary Halloween Cat.jpg

Happy Halloween!

This time of year there are ghosts, goblins, and giant moving cats sprinkled around the yards and business in my neighborhood! My dog has to stop and stare down the big cat every time we walk past, so it's definitely doing it's job of being creepy.  But did you know that many of our normal day to day activities and interactions with our pets can really scare them? Let's take a look at two common trouble spots for dogs and cats.

Photo Credit: Cattle Dog Publishing and Sophia Yin

Photo Credit: Cattle Dog Publishing and Sophia Yin

Being reached towards or over

When we humans greet each other what do we do? We square up, make direct eye contact, and lean in for a hug, kiss, or a handshake. So when we greet the animals in our life, we tend to use the same strategy. We walk into a friend's house and their 15 pound Yorkie comes running up to say hello, so we reach down and pick them up or rub their face. This is totally normal for us, but not at all what most pets are expecting. Dogs and cats naturally take a longer view of introductions, approaching in steps and not making much eye contact.

A better way to make your acquaintance with a furry friend (especially a new or shy furry friend) would be follow this progression:

  • Ignoring them initially until they come up to you on their own
  • Turning your body so you're looking the same way as them (side to side, not face to face)
  • Crouching down to a similar level so you're not coming over top of them
  • Extending a hand only 49% of the way to the pet (or less if they are at all anxious) and wait for them to initiate contact
  • Pet them for a few seconds and then stop and wait for a moment. If they rub up against you or shove their face under your hand again, keep going. Keep checking every 30-60 seconds until they become neutral to the interaction, then get up and let them walk away. This is called a "consent check"

Being scolded

I'm sure you've seen the Dog Shaming images or videos of pet parents coming home to chewed up trash or furniture, and one dog looks embarrassed and runs off to hide. The dogs in these videos and photos aren't really embarrassed or ashamed of themselves. They are scared and anxious about their human's reaction (past or present) to a mess. Dogs have VERY short attention spans, so if they destroy a couch and you come home hours later and scold them, they don't learn that their chewing on furniture upsets mom, they learn that mom is upset whenever there is chewed furniture around. It's a subtle but important distinction. They don't see their role in the issue the way we do. In a dog's mind, the chewing was ages ago and unrelated to any present situation. They just hate it when we're upset and switch over to appeasing body language to try to calm down down. So when your dog greets you at the door with big puppy eyes, hunched down, and tail tucked and you know that means the bathroom trash is covering the living room again, he isn't saying "I got in to the trash and you're going to be so mad", he's saying "when the living room looks like this you yell and throw me outside and I hate that. I'm so upset that you're about to be upset".

What's the take away? Any scolding must occur nearly immediately (within seconds) after a bad behavior for pets to make the connect between their actions and your reaction. If you miss it, just quietly clean up whatever mess was created and move on without reaction. (And give me a call if you're coming home to destruction or accidents regularly!!)

As much as we love them, and as much as they are a real and important part of our family, dogs and cats are not tiny humans. They have their own social cues, preferences, and capabilities. With a little knowledge, we can make the lives of our pets so much more comfortable and increase their feelings of safety and security so they don't feel like it's Halloween year round. 

Have a safe and fun Halloween tonight! And make sure only your two legged family members get in to the chocolate!

Clare Rathjens