Thursday, February 16, 2006

How to Train a Cat

Made you look! You KNOW there isn't any way to train a cat, right? They train YOU. To feed them at a certain time, in a certain place, with a particular food. They train you to regularly empty their litter pans, and they *punish* you if you don't. They train you to scratch all the itchy places when they bump your hands or ankles and purr. They command the best seat in the house, the widest windowsill, the basket of fresh warm laundry. Paper bags must be placed on the floor to be explored, feathers must be dangled, crinkly bits of paper tossed to chase. Ah yes, it's a cat's world we live in.

Dogs on the other hand are easily trained. So why are there so many badly behaved ones? Because we are creatures of impulse, getting things without thinking through the responsibilities that come with ownership. So we see dogs that jump up and put their muddy paws on your clean clothes, ones that bark until the neighbors are ready to punch out their eardrums, dogs that lunge ahead when they're on a leash because no one ever taught them to walk on a lead, dogs that won't sit, stay, lie down or even come when called. It takes very little time on a daily basis to teach a dog to behave like a civilized companion, but it does take consistent effort over a period of weeks or months to get them to be reliable about what they should and should not do. It is well worth the effort. You'll be able to take your dog out in public, or have guests at your home, knowing that your dog will be a welcome member of any group, and you will have much less to worry about liability-wise if your dog is trained and well socialized. There's something really pitiful about a dog bouncing off the furniture, overturning glasses, and evading every attempt of his ineffective owner to corral him, because no one ever taught him the simple command "come!" Dogs have an inate desire to please their people, they only need to know what's expected of them.

Maybe I shoud give advice on child rearing too, while I am at it? The truth is, kids come pretty much hardwired in the behavior department, maybe because they're grown for 9 months before being hatched, as opposed to 60 days for dogs and cats. You can only modify their basic 'hardware' with 'software'. Your job as a parent is to teach them to be empathetic to the hurts of others, to share, to control their impulses in physical confrontations, to feel proud of themselves, to feel loved, to feel valued for who they are at every stage of their development and education. They need to have a sense of community, of knowing that they belong to a larger group than their own family, and that there are duties that are done for the family, and duties that one does as a member of the human race. This would include setting a good example by doing volunteer work yourself, things that you do for the simple joy of helping others, and not for money or status. It could be as simple as picking up trash along the roadway in front of your house, or picking out a toy to donate at Christmas. They need to learn to be satisfied with what they have in material possessions, not always lusting after what one doesn't have, because that way lies madness, and 'things' aren't a substitute for love. And they need to learn that you don't treat your family worse than you treat your friends; not by backtalk, rude remarks, name calling, stomping off in a huff, refusing to do your share, or anything else disrespectful to the family members. After all, friends come and they go; your family is in for the long haul, and long after you're just a dim memory to that friend, your "birth" family will still be in your life, and important even after you start a family of your own. Most of all, hug your kids...they're never too big or too grown up to hug, and hugs are one-size-fits-all, too. And finally, if you do your dead level best to be the best parent you can be, and your kid grows up to be selfish and violent and greedy and sad, don't beat yourself up with it. Everyone, in the end, is responsible for who they are, because everyone, young and old, makes choices, good or bad, and then lives with the results. That's life.

1 comment :

WriteWingNut said...

"And finally, if you do your dead level best to be the best parent you can be, and your kid grows up to be selfish and violent and greedy and sad, don't beat yourself up with it."

Good advice for Clinton's parents, lol. (just teasing you!)