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 ARTICLES > Clicker Training > Clicker Tips
  Clicker Training  Article:
Article By: Karen Pryor       

Does your Dog/cat really want a sibling?

 Animal friends

So what about animal preferences? Iíve put a chapter in my new book about the question of preferences and long-standing, individual attachments between animals, discussing cats and dogs, horses, cattle (surprising, that news), and my own research on wild dolphins. Hereís the opening of that chapter, as my valentine to you:

We are a little presumptuous about individual friendships and preferences among our domestic animals. We assume that because we like each and every animal, they must like each other. A very common complaint of pet owners is that they added a new cat or dog to the household, and friction ensued. These two dogs hate each other. This young cat is pouncing on the old, tired cat with ever-increasing glee. What can the behaviorist or trainer do to stop that? While I sympathize with the issue, I sometimes sympathize more with the pets. Who asked them if they liked this new individual? Perhaps they were never meant to be friends.

Of course our domestic animals can indeed form intense attachments, not just with us (as we perennially hope and assume) but with other animals, both within and across species. Animals, like people, have preferences for other individuals that can only partly be explained by reinforcement, and for which we have no particular evolutionary explanation either.

In about 1985, I acquired my first Border terrier, named Skookum (a Northwest Indian word meaning sturdy and useful, but not beautiful). When Skookum was just a puppy, he spent an afternoon playing with a half-grown German shepherd named Orca. A few months later, Orca and her owner visited my house and Skookum and Orca played again. That was it: two encounters. About three years later, I took Skookum to a lecture by a visiting dog trainer. The room was jammed with people and dogs. Skookum, normally respectably-behaved in public, suddenly went berserk, pulling on his leash, whining, jumping up and down, trying desperately to get me to take him to something across the room.

"Look, itís Orca, Orcaís here!" Indeed it was Orca. Orca was now a big grown-up search and rescue shepherd, looking very different from her younger self. Alas, she had zero time for him now, but Skookum, in spite of their minimal contact, would never forget her."

Reaching the Animal Mind, New York: Scribner, 2009. Chapter 6 "Attachments."

Reserve a signed copy of Reaching the Animal Mind.

You can insist on good manners; you canít insist on love. I think we can reinforce friendly behavior among our pets, and thus reduce bickering. I also think we can give them the right to their own preferences. The tired old cat should have an elevated box to retreat to when she doesnít want to be pestered; the busy young cat should have strenuous targeting games to use up her energy. Dogs may be a pack, but they should all have their own separate places to sleep, and all are entitled to some individual attention and individual downtime as well. Where attachment exists, though, we can at least respect it, and give those friends time together, whenever itís possible.

Happy clicking,

Karen Pryor

Excerpt from Karen Pryorís Newsletter - With kind permission from Karen Pryor. Most interesting articles can be found at http://www.clickertraining.com/

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