Developing a strong partnership with your pet can lead to a more fulfilling and enjoyable experience for both you and your animal companion. While each pet is unique, some key strategies can help create a successful partnership regardless of species or breed.
Pets have been an important part of human lives for thousands of years. Studies show that pet ownership provides many benefits, such as reduced stress and companionship. However, these rewards require effort on the part of the owner to build a positive relationship.
Types of Pet Partnerships
Humans can form many types of working relationships with their pets. Some common examples include:
Companion pet partnerships
The most popular form of pet ownership is having an animal purely for companionship and enjoyment. From dogs and cats to birds and reptiles, companion pets live closely with their human families. Building a bond through daily caretaking, training, exercise and play is key.
Working pet partnerships
Many working roles exist for pets today. Service animals help people with disabilities live more independent lives. Police, military and search and rescue dogs serve important roles alongside human handlers. Developing an intuitive, responsive, working partnership requires extensive specialized training.
Sporting pet partnerships
Owners involved in activities like agility, obedience trials, hunting and horseback riding depend on their pets as sporting partners. For example, owners of American Quarter Horses work closely with their horses for events like barrel racing, roping and ranch work. These partnerships require mutual understanding and communication.
Strategies for Success
1. Select the Right Pet
Choosing the right pet is one of the most important decisions when bringing an animal into your life. Take time to reflect on your daily routine, housing situation, experience level with different species and expectations for activities you want to enjoy with your pet. For example, if you live in a small apartment, have a busy work schedule and have never owned a dog before, a high-energy breed that requires lots of exercise and training may not be the best fit. On the other hand, if you have a securely-fenced backyard and you grew up with dogs, an active herding or sporting breed that needs mental and physical stimulation may thrive with you.
Research breeds and their typical traits and needs to find ones well-suited to your lifestyle. If you’re adopting from a shelter or rescue, ask questions about the animal’s known history and temperament to ensure they will adjust well to your home. Seek out responsible, reputable breeders or adoption sources—never pet stores or irresponsible breeders just looking to make a profit. Ensure any pet you bring home has been checked by a veterinarian and given a clean bill of health first. Taking the time to select the right pet will start your partnership off on the right paw.
2. Prepare Your Home
Before your new pet arrives, you must properly prepare your home for their arrival. This involves pet-proofing each room they will access by removing any potential hazards or toxins. Keep household cleaners, medications and poisonous plants out of reach. Secure loose wires, hide electrical cords and stabilize unstable furniture or objects. Young pets especially like to chew, so remove any items you don’t want damaged. Designate a safe confinement area like a crate or small room to use when you can’t actively supervise.
Acquire all essential supplies your pet will need—food and water bowls, a comfy bed, collar or harness, leash, litter box for cats, chew toys, brush for grooming, etc. Have their food picked out and set up a designated feeding station. The more your home is set up ahead of time, the smoother the initial transition will be for your new arrival. Proper preparation helps your pet feel comfortable and secure.
3. Establish a Routine
Structure and routine are very important for pets, especially when first adjusting to a new home. Try to establish regular daily schedules for feeding times, potty breaks, walks or playtime, training sessions, grooming and for giving any medications or supplements. Pets thrive when they know what to expect each day. Feed at the same times rather than leaving food out all day; take young pets outside on a consistent schedule to reinforce housetraining; schedule exercise for around the same time every day.
Activities like brushing, nail trims or training exercises can be incorporated into a routine. Try to keep weekends close to your weekday schedule as well. Consistency, repetition and predictability help pets understand what is expected of them and feel more secure. Starting these routines early when adopting a new pet gets the partnership off to a smooth start.
4. Learn Your Pet’s Body Language
Every species and breed communicates differently, using their unique vocalizations, facial expressions and body language. Owners need to educate themselves on their pet’s nonverbal cues to understand what their animal is trying to communicate. For example, a dog wagging their tail low and stiff while staring is very different than a high, loose tail wag paired with a play bow. Subtle ear position changes in cats and horses also convey important information. A horse pinning their ears back is expressing annoyance or aggression, while putting their ears forward shows attentiveness.
Learn what various barks or meows mean from your pet. Study their body postures; for example, learn the difference between a low crouch versus standing tall. A dog yawning or licking their lips when not tired or eating can signify stress. Understanding pet-specific and breed-specific communication styles will allow you to respond appropriately to your pet’s needs and signals, strengthening your bond.
Developing a successful partnership with your pet requires learning their unique needs and communicating effectively. While it takes effort, the rewards of companionship make it worthwhile. Approach your pet with patience and empathy; this will allow your relationship to flourish. Every animal has their own personality, so be flexible and find what works best for you and your pet. With the right strategies, you can build a partnership that benefits you and your pet for years to come.