Do you think your pets know what is expected of them?
Let me ask you – Have you ever been fired from a job for not doing something you didn’t even know you were supposed to do? Or, maybe your manager said, “You’re great at helping people that come in the door, but you never answer the phone and that’s half your job, so we can’t give you a raise,” and you think, “I didn’t know I was supposed to answer the phone; no one ever showed me how to use the complicated thing.” Answering the phone was not a clear expectation of you, so you failed to meet it and failed to get a raise.
The same idea is true for the animals in your house. You need to set clear expectations with them, or they can’t possibly meet them. Most animals living with us truly do want to be good and want you to be happy with them, so help set them up for success. If the bedroom is off-limits, be sure to tell them that, and also tell them where they can go! Because if they get in trouble by following you into the bedroom and they have no idea why, it will make them question when else they may get in trouble for “no reason.”
It seems simple enough, but I connect with so many animals and families that don’t have clear expectations set. If you want the dog to sit with you on the couch, let them know! Obviously animals will sometimes still make choices that are against your expectations, but that’s a completely different situation than not knowing what is allowed.
You, the person, needs to set the rules and boundaries for your house, and then you also need to expect them to be followed. This is important every time you bring a new animal in the house. Sometimes you get lucky and the resident dog will train the puppy for you, but not always. Or if you get an older animal that had a different set of rules in their last house, it’s especially important to let them know the rules of their new home.
If there is a behavior that you are not happy with, ask yourself – Have you ever let them know what you expect? And setting expectations is different from scolding or discipline. Discipline may express the expectation depending on how you do it, but it’s better to set it ahead of time.
To convey expectations, say out loud exactly what you do want, never what you don’t, (more on that here) and picture in your head what you want. Feel free to repeat it as often as you want, especially if they don’t seem to get it right away.
When I babysit my grand-kittens, the expectation is that resident cat Roxy is treated with respect as the house host, and conversely she treats the house guests Chloe and Lily with respect as well. It is not expected that they like each other, but it is expected that they either get along or ignore each other. I never mention fighting, sparring, growling or hissing as this would send confusing messages.
I recently had a cat client that had just become a strictly indoor cat after years of going in and out at will. She didn’t understand the litter box, so I had to help her understand that the new expectation is that is where she had to potty, and only there. I sent her many images of using the litter box so she understood, and then followed up with having her person do the same along with any other rules that are new since moving strictly indoors. She’s used it ever since; she just needed to understand it.
Remember to set clear expectations about behavior and rules from the very beginning and it may save headaches for everyone! You can start now as it’s never too late, and you can always change the expectations when other things change; just always be clear and consistent. Repeat as needed.
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