Saturday, November 12, 2011

Learning Your Pet's Language For A Healthier Happier Pet

Have you ever wondered why your puppy looks so guilty when you come home? And why does kitty try to scratch me when I stare into her eyes?

When I was looking for information on pet behavior, I discovered that most articles focus on what our pets are doing wrong and how to make them stop.  I believe that understanding my pets good and bad behavior can give me insight into how I should respond to my pet.  Understanding how my pets communicate could only improve my relationship with my furry friends.  Dog trainer, Elisabeth Rosen of P.E.T. Your Dog admitted to me that most of the dog behavior that we consider bad is simply our dog doing what dogs do.  "It is humans who need to clearly explain the rules of the house to our pets in a way they can understand,"  Elisabeth said.

Often we misunderstand our pets when we imagine they communicate and behave like humans.  A common misunderstanding is thinking our pet looks guilty for some wrongdoing that was done while we were away at work.  The truth is dogs and cats won't have any idea why you're angry if their offending behavior was hours ago.  In fact, if we are angry every time we come home, our pets will link only our coming home with our being angry.  That may be the very reason they have a fearful look on their face when we arrive home.

It seems natural to show our affection for our pets the way we communicate to our human loved ones.  When we bring our face up close to our dog or cat and stare into their eyes, we are only expressing our love, but that does not translate love to our pet.  In both cat and dog behavior, a face to face stare means a threatening declaration of war.  Unfortunately, when a pet fights to get away or lashes out at us, we are apt to label our pet as cold or aggressive. 

As a pet photographer, it is important that I create a relaxed portrait that shows a pet's personality.  The most important factor I must control is my body language.  Pets easily pick up a human's excitement, stress, anger and other emotions. Speaking to a dog in a high pitch excited voice will get a low-energy dog moving, but it will also cause an energetic dog to become over-stimulated and difficult to calm down.  Showing a nervous or excited state around a cat will scare him right under the bed, while staying calm and aloof draws out the curiosity in most cats.  In order to get the perfect pose, I must create the right atmosphere for the pet.

Eisabeth says that our pet's main goal is to get what it wants from us whether that be food, a toy, or our attention. "Our pets are trying to tell us what they need," she said. "By accurately reading our pet's actions and showing leadership through our body language, we can build a relationship of trust and respect with our pets."   You will have a happier healthier pet and a peaceful home.

To learn more about pet behavior, check out your local library or bookstore.  There are many helpful books written on understanding animal behavior such as, "The  Other End Of The Leash," by Patricia McConnel and "Bone Would Rain From The Sky: Deepening Our Relationships With Dogs," by Suzanne Clothier.  The Sacramento and Placer SPCAs have wonderful dog and cat behavior classes for their volunteers.  Contact pet trainers in your area for more specific questions.  Lastly, observe your pets as they interact with one another.  What better way to learn about your pet than from your pet itself?

Deborah Ann Klenzman is owner and artist of Progressive Portraits. You can see her artwork and photography on For more information about dog training and behavior, check out Elisabeth's website,

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