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The biggest gift you can give your pet.

Choices… something I have been thinking allot about lately.

In my previous life - Around 2005 - before I started my journey into the world of behaviour and training. I worked in an Advertising Agency. Situated on a big property and with pet-friendly office environment, I arrived there to find an office cat named Clyde. Clyde was a fantastic little guy with a huge personality; living on a big property, he had had the freedom to roam his territory, which was not without its threats. A busy road on the one side (which claimed the life of his brother Bobby) and a few feral cat colonies around the neighbourhood. Clyde was street smart but often came home after being in a scrap defending his territory. Luckily being a "company cat", he had access to the best food and vet care.

He also had the freedom of choosing where and who he wanted to spend his time with, often roaming from office to office checking up on all the employees. Clyde had a fantastic temperament growing up in the environment he was used to just about everything from people to other pets, as employees often brought their pets to the office.

Despite my best efforts not to fall in love with the big lump, he insisted on spending mornings in my inbox... a real lap cat that didn't take no for an answer. I eventually invested in a cat basket that sat on the corner of my desk that was more appropriate than my inbox, and this soon became the place he chose to spend most of his days. After 6 years at the company, Clyde and I were like two peas in a pod. Over public holiday weekends and holidays, I couldn't bare to leave him alone, so I would either check in on him daily or take him home with me for the weekend. Clyde indeed chose me, and when my time came to move on from the agency, I also chose to not leave him behind. He was getting older, and I decided to offer him a good retirement home with our five other cats. He lived out the end of his years with us, and he will always be the cat who chose me... What an honour it is to be chosen by a pet. How many of us have that honour, and how many pets ever get to make that choice?

Imagine life without any choices, a life where someone tells you what to eat, when to eat, when to sit, when to go to the bathroom, when you are allowed to go out for a walk and then to only explore under supervision for a short time. How would that impact your emotional state? What if you love, exploring and finding new and interesting things but you are always interrupted and dragged back home while you are still busy exploring.

This is ,essentially what we expect from our pets. Yes we supply them with comfort and a full tummy but is that enough? How often do take everyday choices away from your pet? In some cases, the environment is so controlled that pets never get to make choices.

In modern training, we give our pets choices, but only the "correct" choice, according to us, will earn a reward. For a dog that will do anything to please its guardian. Is that a natural choice? Now I don't say throw out the training handbook, no I am saying be more mindful in the interactions we have with our pets.

How many times do you take the dog FOR a walk hurrying them along telling them to stop sniffing… shouldn’t you rather than go for a walk WITH your dog. Giving them time and choice of how and where to explore while we accompany them and keep them safe. Giving them enough space and time to decide if something they might find scary or intimidating is a real threat. Giving them the choice to react or to walk away. Yes, we can still reinforce the choice, but more often than not, that choice will come with an internal reward, and that is the feeling of relief.

How long have humans fought for the freedom of choice throughout history. We all deserve to make some choices for ourselves.

Now as a pet guardian I don't suggest leaving the front door open an giving your pet the choice to roam the streets. Unfortunately, our modern society does not allow our pets to have that freedom safely.

I suggest giving your pet the choice in whether they want to interact with a particular person, a choice in what treat to have, a choice of bed, and when they need to go to the bathroom.

Give your dog a choice as to which way to walk and how long they want to sniff and explore. A choice in when to play or when to train.

In my opinion, this is one the most precious gift you can ever give your pet!

This blog is dedicated to the best office kitty with the biggest personality - Clyde RIP

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