There is nothing more detrimental to the human-animal relationship than misconception. Too many owners interpret a pet’s behavior in human terms and never stop to think about what the pet is really doing and why . The most important lesson you can learn as a pet therapist is the value of stopping and thinking. Before you yell at or punish a pet for what you see as an infraction, examine every possible reason for your dog’s or cat’s behavior. If I had a nickel for every client and listener who began a session by saying, “My dog is just plain stupid!” or “ He’s spiteful and simply won’t listen,” I would be a very wealthy man.
It is neither stupidity or spite—it’s the owner’s inflexibility and his persistence in seeing a problem from only one angle. One woman I worked with complained that her “nasty Pekingese” frequently urinated on her pillow. The truth was that the dog was rarely hugged and kissed and decided that negative attention was better than no attention. Since her scent was strongest on her pillow, the dog kept urinating on it. Another couple told me their Wheaten Terrier constantly pulled at the lead and refused to heel when walking in the city. When I observed the dog, I noticed that he only manifested this behavior when a loud truck or speeding car passed by. His ears flattened against his head, his tail ducked between his legs, and he forged ahead to get away from the noise—he was scared! In such a state, the dog simply wasn’t capable of heeling.
Why do owners blame everything on their pets? Part of the reason is the desire for perfection, of course, but part of it is just lack of awareness. I cannot suggest strongly enough that in order to develop a good, therapeutic relationship with your dog or cat, you must perceive things through his eyes and question his actions within the framework of normal pet behavior in a particular situation. Never fall into the trap of expecting your pet to act the way you would—or the way you think he should. He’s not human, after all .