SNIFF NOTES: Family pet or decor?

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I was driving down the street the other day – can’t even remember where I was heading (that’s the first sign of age isn’t it?) – and I noticed a guy walking with his dog. The dude was texting while walking and paying little to no attention to the dog.

I remember feeling a little bad for the pup, I have to say.

Then I started thinking about how many people consider animals almost more as decorations than actual family members. Have you ever witnessed this?

People who walk their dogs and text others – what happens if the dog goes after a squirrel or something and you’ve got your head buried in your cell phone? What happens if he darts out in traffic and because your focus is elsewhere, the leash and your pup get away from you?

Would you blame the dog? Because I hate to tell you, it’s really not his fault.

Or people who pay attention to everything around them except their dog and then wonder “how in the world he got into” something. Why is he eating that? Where did he get it? I mean, how would they know if they weren’t paying attention? It’s mind-boggling.

The same holds for potty training. My dad was guilty of this one with their dogs. He would get frustrated when the dogs would give him a hard time about going to the bathroom (if it was raining or they were in a snit or if they maybe ate something that didn’t agree with them). He’d get very aggravated with them and his demeanor would say exactly that.

Dogs are ridiculously intuitive. I mean, some canines are able to sense oncoming seizures in epileptic patients and warn them before a seizure even happens. Additionally, studies have found that dogs are also actually able to smell certain types of cancers. No joke. Because a dog’s sense of smell is so precise, he can detect the chemical odor of cancer in the breath of patients and help with early detection.

I think that’s utterly amazing.

My point, though, is that if our pets are capable of discerning seizures and cancer, can you imagine how easy it would be for them to be able to sense something as simple as our moods?

I guarantee that yelling at a dog who is already having some issue with going to the bathroom isn’t going to make the outcome any quicker or easier. Trainers have found that positive reinforcement works far better in potty training our pets than yelling and screaming or the age-old “rubbing their nose in it” ever will. A dog wants to please. If he knows he has, he’ll learn far faster.

In fact, let me go one step further with this. When potty training children, you wouldn’t yell at them to get the desired results. Why in the world do you think it would work for a dog?

Here’s the thing. Animals are a responsibility. Not unlike the aforementioned children. They require care and attention in order to thrive. If you would prefer a pet that is more decorative and doesn’t make you stand in the rain waiting for him to urinate, go to the nearest toy store and get a stuffed one.

Seriously.

For those of us who truly know the joy an animal can bring to our lives, we’re happy to put down the cell phone on a daily walk, or allow our dog the time he needs to go to the bathroom, because those moments together are about the bond we share, as human and canine (or for you lucky folks with loving cats, human and feline).

Our pets aren’t just decoration. They should be part of our lives and we should treasure every second we have with them.

Trust me, the texting can wait.

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Jennifer Vanderau is the Publications and Promotions Consultant for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter and can be reached at cvascomm@cvas-pets.org. The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at 263-5791 or visit the website www.cvas-pets.org. CVAS also operates a thrift store in Chambersburg. Help support the animals at the shelter by donating to or shopping at the store.