Patchwork Puppies, Quilted Kitties - June 11
by Pat Hennessey
It is important to recognize every stage of your pet’s development — learn from it, grow with it, and move on to the next stage. Savor every moment because these precious companions are only with us for a short while. Understanding the development process makes it easier for us to help our pets progress, and starting a scrapbook is a great way to document their journey.
When I moved out on my own I got two cats, a brother and sister duo; they were my pride and joy. We lived in a small studio apartment. One day I came home to find that a family heirloom had been knocked over. My first concern was whether the cats had been hurt from broken glass. I looked around the room and there were my two darlings lying together in a chair like nothing happened. I was relieved about them, while at the same time I felt a huge rush of sadness and disappointment about the vase. It was something of my grandmother’s that I had admired since I was a little girl. I was able to find a craftsman who salvaged the vase. That was over twenty years ago and to this day when I look at the vase, I think of where it used to sit in my grandmother’s house. I also see the little flaw in it and it doesn’t bring back anger or sadness; it brings back memories of the precious cats who were by my side during some pretty tough times.
Start a Scrapbook
If you start a scrapbook or photo album of your companion animal, whether you have a puppy or kitten, or a newly adopted furry family member, you will be creating a journal of you companion’s life with you. It could provide comfort when it comes time to make that gut-wrenching decision to let her cross over the Rainbow Bridge or it could bring you inspiration when you come home and discover she has chewed on the coffee table. You can grab your scrapbook and look at those photos when she was just a tiny pup, when you went camping, when you were snuggled up on the couch, when she was wearing a funny hat — it will warm your heart and make you smile. Those wonderful memories will melt your frustration and help you refocus on the task at hand — teaching Murphy what is appropriate to chew.
Dog or cat behavior is based on their early developmental period. Their life from birth to death is made up of a series of events, some of which you may have been a part of and been able to influence, others not. The early development period refers to the biological and psychological changes that occur from prenatal to about twelve weeks. Developmental changes are strongly influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. You have no influence on genetics (and mixed breeds can be a mystery), but you have a lot of influence over the environment (everything from disease prevention and nutrition which can alter cellular growth, to sights, sounds and socialization.) What your puppy or kitten is exposed to plays a role in determining whether he or she will be confident or fearful of their surroundings. If you do get a puppy or kitten before twelve weeks of age, take advantage of that by providing them with many positive experiences — including gentle handling by several people, gentle touching all over the body especially the paws, socialization around calm mature animals of their own (and possibly other) species, safe exposure to busy/noisy activity (but nothing overbearing or frightening), and a few rides in the car (including a trip or two to the veterinarian’s office where they can be handled and rewarded without any examination or procedures.)
Most people don’t have their dogs or cats from actual birth. If you acquire a puppy or kitten, you will probably bring them home at six to eight weeks of age at the earliest, with only half of the early puppyhood or kittenhood developmental period remaining. If you adopt your dog or cat, the majority of shelter animals being at least one year of age, then you have missed the early development but it doesn’t mean that you can’t modify a behavior. Even those that are challenging can usually be overcome with time, patience and a consistent positive training approach.
Enjoy Every Stage
When training your dog, and especially when working on modifying an unwanted behavior, keep in the forefront of your mind, that your dog was born of purity – the cutest, tiniest, squiggly thing – a little furry ball of absolute perfection. No matter when you obtained your dearest companion, understanding her development and being there to share her life’s journey is the greatest gift. Enjoy every period and know that it is only a stepping stone to her next stage. Document every step of her journey. Become your companion’s photojournalist. When you are frustrated with the toddler stage or the teenage years, go back and look at your scrapbook and remember how precious she was when you first brought her home. If you come home and find your favorite pair of shoes chewed up, know that she didn’t meant to anger you, it was you who didn’t put the shoes in the closet or shut the door. Bite your tongue and greet her with love. Step outside and let out a yell if you must. Sure you are angry. You are angry that you forgot to put your shoes away, but don’t take that anger out on her because that will not teach her anything except to be confused and fearful of you, and it will certainly harm your relationship.
Understand that you can guide her out of this stage, or any stage, and into the next phase of her development. You are her coach and mentor (and if you are really stumped by a behavior, there are coaches and mentors available to help you). Be sure to use a positive trainer, someone who does not use fear or force. We all learn more in the absence of fear or pain, including our animal companions, because our physical, mental and emotional states are all tied together. Painful methods (which induce fear) often backfire on people, causing an animal to shut down or become aggressive. You want a happy, motivated companion and a relationship built on trust. For years dogs have been called man’s best friend. We need to honor that and hold up our end of that bargain to be their best friends.
Intelligent and Emotional Beings
Our pets are intelligent and emotional animals. They have been partnering with us for thousands of years. There are many stories of heroic deeds performed by companion animals. For humans to be benevolent leaders is a tougher job than it is for our animals to be loyal to humans (even in the face of our ignorance or incompetence). We could learn a thing or two from our canine (and feline) friends. There is a phrase that says, “I want to be the person that my dog thinks I am.” It is our duty to guide and protect our animal companions, and be ambassadors for their well-being. Keeping that in mind will put you on the road to being that person your dog admires.
It has also been said, “Dogs have masters and cats have staff”. Well, the cat may not relish your every move, come when you call, or lick your hand, but I’ll bet you serve tastier vittles than he could find outside the window. If you are really good, he may bestow you with his presence, and if you are wonderful he may even curl up beside you.
A scrapbook is easy to start. You might want a lock of hair, a piece off of a toy, a collar tag, a square off of an old worn out blanket. Most of us have our cell phones handy and most cell phones are equipped with cameras. Next time you see your comical cat or happy hound doing something cute or funny; snap a picture with your phone. When you are showing off the new trick that you taught Murphy, ask your friend to snap a photo. That photo may be just the one to make you smile, when looking through your scrapbook.
Murphy is your little angel and your very best friend. She is truly your BFF, but we all know that we only have a short time to share our love with these beautiful furry souls, so cherish that time. You will be glad you shared the pieces of her life’s journey and those memories will be the fabric of your bond……until you meet again at the Rainbow Bridge.