Jemma is a 14-week old puppy. She arrived for permanent residence four weeks ago. Many puppies have come and gone over the years. This time I am determined to be fully present to the nuances of her raising-up, instead of marching through my days, hoping we figure out house training sooner rather than later.

Also in the mix are one adult dog, Quinn and two adult cats, Dillan and Inez. Their interactions, the way they communicate with one another, has been interesting. They all seem to recognize Jemma as a youngster. Quinn and Inez handle her with a combination of tolerance, teaching and boundary setting. Dillan mostly stays just out of reach, occasionally lifting an eyelid to check her whereabouts.

Inez has taken a lead roll in teaching good manners, flawlessly executing a lesson I always attempt to convey to my students: behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated. Even annoying behavior. The problem is that humans excel at turning themselves into life-size squeaky toys, rewarding the dog at all the wrong times. This is not a criticism. It is the communication divide between two different species!

What is Rewarding to Dogs?

Keep these things in mind:

  • Attention
  • Looking at them
  • Talking to them
  • Touch
  • Food and toys, of course.

Humans like to talk to dogs in complete human sentences. We also often engage the dog by making eye-contact and giving commands or using our paws hands to touch, block or move the dog. Inez handles things differently.

Kitty Teaches Puppy To Be Polite

During the first few weeks, when puppy approached Inez, she remained calm and moved slowly, to avoid stimulating puppy into action. Jemma’s approaches gained energy and momentum as her confidence increased, hoping to entice kitty to play. What did Inez do? She flopped on the ground and nearly played dead while puppy pounced and barked around her. Jemma wanted kitty to play. Inez chose to not reward this pestering behavior.

I will admit, as Jemma grew bolder, louder and more insistent I intervened and helped Inez with the lesson by sitting with them both while calming Jemma’s impulses. (Note: I did not sit back and yell, “No! Stop It! Leave the cat alone!” I demonstrated the calm behavior we wanted to see in the puppy.)

So, I helped. But mostly the lesson came from Inez. “Pushy behavior will get you nowhere.” One interaction was particularly interesting:

  1. Jemma bounded toward Inez
  2. Inez did a kitty flop
  3. Jemma pounced on top of Inez!
  4. Inez continued to lay there, although her ears went flat and her face showed disgust.
  5. I, of course, stepped in at this point.

Inez never deviated from the lesson she was teaching. Oh, if humans would only do the same! We are so distracted and impatient! But, I digress.

One day, Inez took a swipe at  Jemma. Puppy backed off for a moment, but the paw swipe seemed to get her more excited. There were no more paw swipes for the following weeks. None! Inez learned quickly; paw swipes enticed Jemma to play. Not the message she was intending to convey.

Let’s detour for a moment to an example of the human-animal dynamic. Dog jumps up. Human uses their paw hand to push dog down. Dog thinks, “Oh boy, game on!” What would happen if the human simply folded his/her arms and ignored the behavior? I don’t recommend flopping on the ground, but I do recommend channeling your inner Inez while remaining upright.

Back to Jemma and Inez. Three and one-half weeks in, Inez was laying on a chair and when Jemma walked by she swiped at her! Multiple times. It was play! Inez invited it! “Okay, Pipsqueak, you may play with me now!”  This is how animals establish boundaries and pecking order. It would serve humans well to take heed of the lesson taught by Inez, the kitty.

Below are a few pointers to help you translate the kitty lesson into human terms:
  • When your dog barks at you for attention, for play, for teats; fold your arms, look upward, remain quiet and still. Until the dog stops. If your dog is older with a long history of pushing your buttons, he may persist for a very long time. DO NOT DEVIATE from your plan! Cover your ears, if necessary.
  • When your dog is not pestering you for attention or play, this is the time to invite play or lavish on the praise and attention.
  • If your dog is barking at you while you are preparing his meal, set the bowl down on the counter and stop until the barking ends. Alternatively, you can teach down/stay and instruct him to do so, while you dish up his food.
  • When your dog is barking at something out the window, do not yell at him to stop! Model the behavior you want to see. Get up, go to the window, position yourself between your dog and the window and calmly say, “Enough.” while you move him away.

I am sure you can think of many more ways to channel some Kitty Wisdom in life with your own pooch. Hopefully, this will inspire you to do so.