If you’ve been a life-time pet owner, you’re probably familiar with the family dynamic that can surround a pet. Often, certain family members emerge as the primary caretakers of the pet. Sometimes, the pet starts to be viewed as “so and so’s” pet rather than the whole family’s pet. This is only natural if there is one person who is investing more time and effort into caring for and interacting with the pet.
In my family growing up, I was always the pet caretaker. Hence, everyone viewed the pet as being “mine.” After I left for college, my mom stepped in as the primary caretaker. It wasn’t long before the pets became “hers,” meaning they preferred her company and sought her out because she was the main provider of food and care.
This model worked well for our family because I was the natural animal lover. The rest of my family members, while happy to have pets around, didn’t have so much of a strong affinity to them. There was never any conflict over pet favoritism.
Consider, however, a household where numerous animal lovers are vying for the attention and affection of the family pet. This can create a more stressful atmosphere for the pet where boundaries and rules aren’t as clear and the pet’s place in the “pack” is less certain. This kind of atmosphere arises when there’s no clear leader. For example, both spouses may take it upon themselves to train the pet, but if that training is not consistent, the pet is left confused by mixed signals.
If you are a pet-loving couple, odds are you already have a pet or you are planning on getting one soon. Even before you bring a pet into your home, there will be some decisions that you’ll have to make together. First, there’s deciding which pet to get. If you’re both beagle lovers, you’re well on your way. However, some couples may find that he prefers dogs and she prefers cats. Whichever pet you settle on may begin to polarize the pet’s ownership from the start. If she gets the cat, he may view it more as “hers” rather than “ours,” which is fine as long as its clearly understood by cat and owners alike. If, however, you’re looking to share a pet between yourselves, gear up for more decisions to make together in the future.
The next step in jointly raising and training a pet is to discuss your personal approaches to pet ownership and training. Be as thorough as possible in listing your training preferences, rules, and guidelines. To list just a few, here are some questions to get you started:
Will the pet go to obedience school, receive professional training, or be trained in the home?
Will you use clicker or reward training?
What will the pet’s boundaries be?
What areas will be off-limits in the house?
Who will be responsible for walking/exercising the pet?
Who will feed the pet?
Who will groom the pet?
What verbal commands will be used?
What form of discipline will be employed?
After agreeing on the answers to these questions, and any others that you think up, it might be helpful to write your plan down. You should also both commit to sticking to it, for the sake of your pet. When the rules start to slide, things can feel very uncertain for your pet. Note that the rules can be up for revision; just be sure that you agree on what those revisions should be.
After you’ve made your plan and chosen your pet, its time to bring him home and begin to acquaint him with his new parents. At this stage the best thing that you can do is be very sensitive to your pet’s feelings and reactions as he adjusts to his new home. Establish a schedule and structure as soon as possible, including plenty of time with both parents. If you can keep your interactions on a schedule, your pet will learn to look forward to time spent with you, individually and as a couple.
Be patient in training and socializing your pet. Be consistent with rewards and discipline, allowing both parents to give both so that your pet doesn’t start to associate treats only with one of you and discipline only with the other.
And remember that, in the end, your pet has a unique personality and the ability to choose his favorites. Do your part and remember that even if your pet becomes a “mama’s puppy” or his “father’s dog,” you’re all still one big family.