This is especially true when they are in new or potentially stressful situations with their owners. The key to understanding their reality and then, subsequently, their behavior is animals live and experience life in the present moment. They react to whatever is happening now. Their perceptions are not cluttered with distracting thoughts; although they may experience distracting illness or pain, their thoughts are in the present moment, every moment. Our pets notice and respond to subtle, as well as, dramatic cues in their surroundings.
They use all of their senses and perceive many sounds, smells and visual signals we either overlook or are incapable of sensing. Our domesticated pets, especially dogs, have evolved alongside man for thousands of years and their survival has depended on this connection to us. It has shaped their traits and characteristics, but most importantly, it has shaped their ability to “read” people, our nonverbal cues in particular. As an example, have you ever noticed that when you get excited, or upset, about a sports game or a show on TV, that they get excited too, or nuzzle you with concern if you are upset?
On the other hand, have you noticed when you want your pet to do something that you think will be unpleasant to them, like go in the car to the vet vs. the park, or take medication vs. a treat, that they seem to catch on, to somehow read your mind, your intension? They are reading you, and reflecting back to you what they are understanding, observing and experiencing. Mirrors.
Keep this in mind over the holidays when there can be a lot of activity, as well as guests, in your home. Relax and be yourself. Enjoy the hub-bub, and your company, and trust that your pets will enjoy the experience as well. Peace, love and joy are the traditional themes, for the holidays and are powerful emotions to focus on and embrace. By being conscious of your emotions, and actively connecting to the more positive ones — like peace, love and joy — not only will you feel good, but everyone around you will feel the effect of it too…especially your pets.
If you have timid pets, another thing to keep in mind, particularly with dogs, is that they can often become overwhelmed and self conscious if they become the center of attention from strangers. Having your guests ignore them will help. Dogs typically just wants to be a part of the group and will take your behavior as their cue on how to behave. If you are anxious, they will be too. The more upset you become about their behavior, the more it will feed their anxiety. You will actually be reinforcing their interpretation that there is a reason to be upset. Your pet may even interpret the situation as a threat to you and escalate their behavior by becoming aggressive in their attempt to protect you or themselves.
The take home message here is: Be the way you would like your pets to be, enjoy the moments as they come, and have fun.
Please submit questions for future columns to Corinna Murray, veterinarian and professional life coach with Veterinary Care Navigation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org