How To Become The Great Pet Parents Our Pets Deserve

I’m sure all pet parents have heard the adage that "to err is human, to forgive canine". All pet parents make mistakes, and our pets usually love us anyway. If you’re like me, there is always room for improvement. Here are some tips on how to become great pet parents.

Focus on rewards

Pets live in the now. They don't make the connection between pooping on the floor five minutes ago and your angry tone now. They don't associate tearing up your stash of toilet paper and your not wanting to pet them the next day. Punishments don't change pet behavior. Pets don't make the connection between their misdeeds and the judgments you mete out, with one possible exception. When great pet parents use exactly the same punishment for exactly the same behavior, demonstrated immediately when it occurs, it helps teach your pet to avoid the undesired behavior in the future.

woman with golden retriever dog -a good pet parent
Photographer: Mohammed Hassan

Don’t punish the behavior you don’t want. Reward the one you do want. If you don't want your dog to chase your cat, reward him with praise and petting. Consider giving a treat for staying beside you calmly — even at those times when your cat isn’t there. If you don't want your cat to claw your velour slipcovers, give her cat a scratching post. Reward her with praise and petting when she uses her claws on the scratching post or other appropriate objects.

Great pet parents don’t overdo rewards

Being great pet parents means taking the time to teach desired behaviors to your pet.

When you are first training your pets to perform any desired behavior, the goal is to make sure they understand the connection between the desired behavior and getting a reward. The reward can be praise, petting or a treat.

Make sure that your pet makes the connection between "being good" and getting treats.

As your pet makes good behavior a learned habit, it is not necessary to give the same reward the same way every time.

Give your pet an incentive to make sure they are doing what they should do.

This is the classical principle of intermittent reinforcement. Rewarding good behavior unpredictably gets better compliance than rewarding good behavior every time. That way, your pet is less likely to become bored with your effort of being great pet parents and the reward you offer for the obedience you desire.

Great pet parents stay on top

Being a great pet parent means standing your ground. Don’t be the beta to your dog's alpha. To a certain extent, we are all betas to our cats. However, even with cats, it is necessary to establish dominance to be able to protect them from actions that would injure them.

  • When a car is coming and your dog is about to run out into the street, you want your dog to obey the "Stay!" command.
  • If your cat is about to slurp up some antifreeze that leaked from your car, it's important to get compliance with "Kitty! No!"
  • Great pet parents inadvertently cause their own problems with control issues. If you are playing tug of war with your dog and stop to answer your phone, your dog thinks "Hey! I won! I'm the boss!"

Just as you need to reward the behavior you want, it is essential for great pet parents not to reward the behavior you don't. And never leave "Who's the boss?" an open question. For the safety of your pet and for the happiness of your home, you are.

Be “scents-itive”

Human children go through a phase when they enjoy a game called "Got your nose." An adult makes a gesture that seems to catch the child's nose and tells the child they have their nose. Then the adult touches the child's face and says, "You can have it back." This game is fun about the time children are developing a sense of object permanence, the ability to know that things are there even if they can’t see them.

Similarly, pets have a different way of maintaining object permanence. They remember scents. If the scent is present to them, the source of the scent is present to them.

This is both desirable and undesirable from a human's point of view. Any time a cat smells some reminder of an angry dog, the cat will be afraid. If your cat loses its companion, they are comforted by toys and blankets that retain the companion’s scent. Don't wash them!

Anytime a dog sniffs the scent of an intruder or a predator animal, it will bark. But dogs can be introduced by scent before they are introduced in-person to keep peace in the family when bringing a new pet member.

Great pet parents allow their pets to maintain their libraries of olfactory memories.

Great pet parents introduce them to the world

We all have encountered cats that hide all the time. And we all know dogs that are excessively territorial.

Dogs and cats can become relaxed, friendly, and adaptable pets if they are given the right experiences as puppies and kittens. Puppies usually can be trained to interact with different kinds of people between the ages of seven and sixteen weeks, and kittens can be socialized to become friendly between the ages of four and seven weeks.

White and black cat sniffing an outstretched hand
Photographer: niklas_hamann

During this early stage of canine and feline brain development, it's important to introduce them to as many people as possible. People of all genders and races; tall people; short people; people with disabilities. It also helps to introduce young pets to household appliances so they don’t develop fears when they hear a new noise. The Roomba, the television set, and the kitchen with appliances running are all things your pet needs to learn about early. The greater range of experiences a great pet parent can provide their pets when they are young, the friendlier and better adjusted they will be later in life.

Don’t hesitate to take the time to socialize your rescued or adopted pet. Though they may be older when welcomed into your home, they’ll learn. It’s usually a longer process, but very rewarding for both the pet and pet parents.

Allow your pets to be themselves

The author of this article was owned by a cat named Clementine that loved to watch television, even the news. Whenever a certain political figure was featured, the cat would hold her paws over her eyes until the story was over.

The author of this article also owned a bloodhound, Rufus. The only trick this dog ever learned was jumping into his lap. It didn’t matter if the dog was called or not. If the dog was in the same room, he jumped into the lap. The author's grandma described Rufus by stating, "That dog was dumber than dirt." But both Rufus and Clementine were wonderful pet companions.

Just as people have different gifts, pets have different gifts. Your pet may not ever be best of show or win any races. They may never learn a trick. Great pet parents can trust that your pet will love you in proportion to your care for them.

Great pet parents feed a nutritious diet

Finally, as great pet parents, you want to focus on their nutritional needs. Pets aren't little people with four paws and fur, nutritionally speaking. They need a species-appropriate diet, with proteins in raw form. The food you give your pets should be of the same quality as you would serve your human family.

Quality pet foods are available fresh, dried, and fresh-frozen, free of additives and unspeakable ingredients. Prepared meals for your pets guarantee full nutrition with food safety. Retailers who truly care about pet health offer quality food at affordable prices. Your pet depends on you for everything they eat. You can always show your love for your pet through their food.