Opinion || Set your pets up for a summer of success

People do strange things over summer.

They visit people and places they wouldn’t normally visit, have parties, enjoy loud explosions that light up the night sky.

Some leave home for days or weeks, either taking pets to strange places or leaving them with strangers.

These things can be scary for animals, who might respond in ways that are embarrassing.

Take Lucy, a mild-mannered moggy who normally enjoys sitting quietly in the sunshine.

Come summer festivities, she might be found launching herself, claws extended, at small children, or demanding to sit in the lap of Aunt Moira - the visitor who likes cats least. Worse, imagine finding Lucy on the kitchen table, her head in the pavlova.  

Samson the dog might be generally sensible, but that doesn’t mean he will cope with fireworks or parties where he’s expected to tolerate over-friendly people and unfamiliar dogs.

He may express his anxiety by peeing on the esky, many more times than once, or snapping at your grandpa’s cranky Chihuahua. Worse, upon being banished to the garage, Samson may howl non-stop, resulting in tears, embarrassment and an early exit from the party.

Why do some of our pets not cope with festivities and what can we do to ensure they do?

First, recognise that all pets come with inbuilt personality traits. Some are unfriendly, some are anxious, some are quick to react when they feel threatened.

The best way to avoid these traits is to choose pets carefully but, unfortunately, even experts find it impossible to accurately predict adult behaviours in puppies or kittens.

To improve your chances of having a well-matched pet, acquire an adult animal or carefully evaluate the parents of any intended puppy or kitten.  

Second, if you want your pet to cope with kids, other animals, fireworks or parties, make sure they are repeatedly exposed to these things when they are young, and make sure these early experiences are positive ones.

Your pet needs to know that new environments and experiences are not something to be afraid of.

Finally, if you already own a pet that is anxious, unfriendly or otherwise badly behaved, plan how you’ll help your pet cope with the festive season, set them up for success, and keep your expectations realistic.

Dogs and cats don’t understand that there are certain times when they need to be on their best behaviour. Does Samson have to attend the rowdy family party? Would Lucy mind being confined to the bedroom during Aunt Moira’s visit?

Thinking about what your pet would actually enjoy, rather than what you would like her or him to enjoy, will not only save you from embarrassment, but should ensure your pet has a happy and safe festive season.  

Dr Pauleen Bennett, Head of Department Psychology and Counselling, La Trobe University