Much of pet behavior is based in natural instincts: dogs chew, cats scratch, birds sing, ferrets steal, and potbelly pigs root. Unfortunately, while these and other common animal behaviors often start out as “cute” or tolerable, many pet owners erroneously expect them to be short-term or easily controlled, or even eliminated. Such misconceptions, predictably, end in frustration and heartbreak for the family and for the pet.
Each year, countless pets are shuffled to the outskirts of home life or are removed entirely in a variety of sad and cruel ways, because the pets had “unacceptable,” “bad,” or “un-trainable” behaviors. Many thousands of these pets are euthanized in shelters across America. Other pets are subjected to inhumane measures of behavior control such as cat declawing, dog debarking and potbelly pig nose-rings. Sadly, no matter their fate, animals rejected for their innate behaviors suffer needlessly.
As responsible and caring pet owners, we can prevent animal suffering and family heartbreak by educating ourselves about and accepting our pets’ natural behaviors. This certainly does not mean that pets should be allowed to “run wild” or be destructive. Rather, in accepting, we should anticipate our pets’ instinctual behaviors and provide the appropriate, long-term care to manage but not deny these instincts. Whether this is redirecting instinct through regular training (i.e.: dog chewing) or accommodating behavior through preparation (i.e.: ferret “proofing”), everyone will be much happier for it.
Ultimately, our pets’ instinctive behaviors do not have to be invasive and frustrating. We can welcome and celebrate them by making educated and honest decisions when choosing a new animal friend. Our pets will thank us for it—each in their own, unique way.
Thinking about adopting a new pet— companion animal? Some tips: • Read multiple books and/or websites about the animal. • Speak to credible pet owners, trainers, shelter staff, and veterinarians • Spend time with the type of animal you are considering! • Do not bring home an animal whose instinctual behaviors you are unwilling to spend time and work with.