Hey y’all! (I can say y’all genuinely because I’m from Alabama!) It’s my first post ever on Autostraddle; I thought I should introduce myself. So hi! Hey. I’m Mary and I train animals for a living!
Specifically, I currently do a lot of dog training in Los Angeles. One time, I was in the 2013 Autostraddle Calendar and I’ve also been a counselor at the last four A-Camps! I thought it was very appropriate and long-overdue to talk about pets — our pets, your pets, things related to having pets — because so many of you have pets. We have the infographic to prove it:
When I’m first dating someone, there are of course many little things that can make a big impact on my feelings about that person, like: how do they interact with their friends/family/coworkers? Do they read books? Can they cook food? Etc. But the interaction that I scrutinize the most — the one that if it doesn’t go well would stop the budding relationship dead in its tracks — is how the person I’m dating interacts with my 95 lb bear-dog, Kai.
Let me start by sharing with you all that Kai is a special dog, and by “special” I mean he’s an absolute pain in the ass. He’s very sensitive to basically everything. If you are excited at all, or touch him on the head, or walk, or move, or look at him, or express a feeling, or have a feeling, Kai will: jump or run around, or mouth your arm like a beef bone, or bring you every toy he owns and stare at you until you throw one/all of them, or he’ll just knock everything over. He’s big, he’s clumsy, he’s the center of my universe.
If you have an animal at home, like me, you probably know them better than you know yourself — you know their tics, if they’re easily amped up, if they have anxiety around new people, whatever their thing is. Watching new people interact with your “special” animal for the first time can be stressful, for both you and your dog/cat/lizard/whatever you have at home.
When my dog Kai met Alex (now my serious girlfriend) for the first time, like many people, she was a bit taken aback by his size. It was a shaky start, really. And yet just a few days later when we were watching an episode of Jersey Shore on my couch, Kai laid next to her, put his head in her lap, and fell asleep. And that’s the moment I knew that our relationship had serious potential.
The way to your crush’s heart is through the animal they keep in their house. You can increase your love points with your crush or girlfriend a billion times just simply by getting their pet to be completely and utterly obsessed with you.
Luckily it’s easy, and I happen to know a few secrets about getting critters to love me!
Meeting a new pet for the first time? Do. Nothing.
The first thing to do when meeting a new animal is nothing. DO. NOTHING. Please, fight every urge you have to chase them down and squeeze the dog/cat’s face with your own face or hands while very loudly exclaiming HOW MUCH YOU JUST FREAKIN’ LOVE CATS OR DOGS ZOMGSRSLY. Don’t be this guy. Don’t make eye contact, don’t reach out and touch, don’t get excited and lose your shit.
Channel what to do (or at least what everyone is supposed to do) when meeting a new human for the first time: maybe you say “hello” in a calm, relaxed voice, and there might be a hand shake, and a comfortable amount of space between you and this human you just met. There’s no aggressive head-rubbing of the new human or excessive shrieking at the new human. Imagine if a stranger approached you in the same way most people approach dogs they’ve never met before — you’d probably run in the opposite direction.
The rule is: if you wouldn’t do it when meeting a new person, then don’t do it with a new cat or dog. It’s rude and they don’t like it. Even if it looks like they like it, I promise they really don’t.
Get on their level
Since we’re not going up to the cat or dog and getting in their face, we’re going to give them space to come to us on their own terms, when they feel comfortable. The best way to invite this interaction is to sit somewhere in the house on the same level as the pet — usually this is the floor. I don’t sit close to or next to them; in fact, I will try to sit on the opposite side of the room.
Ask questions (in a calm, quiet voice) to whoever parents the animal and listen to what they say. Ask what the animal likes and what they don’t like. Ask where and how they like to be touched. Ask if there are any training goals they are working on. Do they like treats? Do they like to play with toys? Then you totally take this knowledge and use it against them! apply it!
I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve introduced to my dog who interacted with him in a way that drove me nuts! It’s a huge turn-off. Ask questions and listen to the answers.
PRO TIP: Most dogs and cats hate being touched on the top of the head by a stranger — try to instead touch them gently on the chest or under their chin. It’s a much more polite way to touch!
Don’t go to them, let them come to you
Once you’ve made it through the door and you’re on the animal’s level, let them come to you in their own way and at their own speed. If the animal approaches you, put your hand out and let them determine the type of interaction they want. Do they smell you and walk away? Let them leave. Do they rub up against you and elicit a scratch? Give them some love! Most animals will “yo-yo” at first — they’ll come in close, then leave, come back again, then leave. Give them the space to get to know you in a way that makes them feel comfortable. When you do finally reach out and touch them, do so gently, keep it short and sweet, don’t make direct eye contact, and keep your voice calm and quiet.
All of these little gestures are understood by animals as “calming signals.” Basically, you are communicating to the animal that you’re cool and calm and mean no harm. It isn’t unlike the non-verbal communication we would have with each other.
On the flip side, there are other non-verbal signals you can send to an animal that can send the wrong message. Animals can perceive things like making direct eye contact, hugging, going over their head, vigorous touch, getting in their face, kissing, quick movements, and speaking in a loud voice as confrontational and threatening. In most cases, this type of body language will prompt that animal to get as far away from you as possible. Sometimes, if the animal feels trapped or seriously threatened, it can even elicit an aggressive response. The exact opposite of what we want!
Don’t get cray
Don’t get too crazy too fast. No wrestling or rough play — not at first! (Or ever.) Contain your excitement and keep the meeting low energy. Getting someone’s pet all amped up is rude unless you plan on sticking around long enough to expel that energy. It will also encourage unwanted behavior that most pet owners want to discourage. Calm animals are happy animals.
Get involved, take an interest!
If all goes well, take an interest! Is your special person working late? Offer to take Fido on a walk! Teach them something new! Go with them to a training class! Come up with some fun enrichment ideas! The more you invest in the animal, the more you’re investing in your special person. There is nothing worse than dating someone who doesn’t like your pet. Don’t make your special person feel like they have to choose between hanging with you and spending time with their four-legged child.
The beginning of a new relationship can be so much fun and full of excitement, not only with getting to know a new human, but also with getting to know a with a new animal! We tend to expect animals to be obsessed with us simply because we are humans. The bottom line is: don’t be that guy. Spend some time! Give them experiences to show them they can trust you! Bring fun activities into their life! Get to know them and find out what they actually like. You won’t believe the difference!