Muddy Paw Prints, Couch Covers, and Vacuum Cleaners: Real Life in a Multi-Species Home
Have you ever considered the complexity of living in a multi-species home? Think about it for a moment. How many different species live within your home? What does that mean in everyday life? How do we negotiate the needs of each species and make life enjoyable for all?
How we and our companion pets move through life is unique to each of us as individuals and, more broadly, as individual species. Mix in our individual life experiences and abilities, then drop us into a confined space (house, apartment, or condo), and what do we have? Hopes, dreams, assumptions, conflict, and questions.
“Why do they do the things they do,” wonders the dog about the cat and the humans.
“Why do they do the things they do,” wonders the cat about the dog and the humans.
“Why do they do the things they do,” wonders the humans about the dog and the cat.
We can spend years living together and miss joy and humor because we may not ask why. We may not know how to consider the other species in our homes from their point of view. We may not realize that our lives with our non-human companions can be improved when we consider the “why.”
Why do they do that?
Living with others creates conflict, whether you live in a single-species home or a multi-species home. I want to paint the walls gray, but my partner wants to paint them tan. Solution? We negotiate. Or not. Maybe when he goes out of town, I’ll paint the walls. Skip the negotiation and seize the opportunity. There may be some grumbling when he returns, but it’s minor, and I love the new color of the walls. It was all worth it. Right?
In a multi-species home, even a seemingly minor conflict is complex. My partner brings bagels home on Saturday morning. I’m thrilled. Nothing like a fresh bagel from the local bagel shop on a lazy Saturday morning. My partner puts the bag of bagels on the counter, forgetting that the drooling dog sitting in the kitchen is also thrilled that the bagels have arrived and is waiting for her opportunity. And then, as predicted by the dog, it happens. The bagels are left unattended right there on the counter. Opportunity knocked, and the dog answered happily. The thing is, as a majestic Great Dane, she can help herself to the bagels, leaving the bag right where it was. I pass the dog on my way to the kitchen, not realizing that she just had a snack. I find an empty bag and the tell-tale sign of unauthorized dog activity (drool on the bag and an empty bagle bag). I’m now mad at my partner (“You know better than to leave food on the counter!”). My partner gets defensive (“You should train your dog!”). The dog goes into hiding, trying to get far away from the squabbling humans. This is life. This is what we are helping our clients maneuver. It’s more than training the dog. It’s about negotiating day-to-day life, being fully human, and living with other species who are fully what they are (canine in this example). Teaching a down/stay will never remove the dog’s opportunistic hard wiring. Maybe teaching the human to secure food and remove an opportunity from the dog is unrealistic. What's the solution? There are many options. What works in my home may not work in your home. So, we find a solution that fits your needs.
L.E.G.S.: Answering the “why”
How people perceive a companion animal "should be" is based on their previous experiences and what they view on TV or social media. We attach our human perspective of what is “normal” or “acceptable” to our companion pets. Companion pets bring their own sense of what is “normal” or “acceptable” with them when they join the family. Where can we find common ground so the needs of each species can be met? There are skills to learn and management to implement for everyone involved.
The environment affects humans and companion pets in significant ways, sometimes with such subtlety that people aren’t aware of its positive or negative effect on themselves or their companion pets. While humans have more power to manipulate the environment to meet their needs than their companion pets, there are limits to what most people can do. It's possible to find practical ways we can adjust our environment so that the needs of both person and pet are met.
That’s a dog. That’s a cat. That’s a human. We all know what box we sit in. But when we share the same home, it can get complicated. While genetically, I’m human, the other humans in my house are different, even though we’re genetically related. The power of genetics influences our every behavior. Some behaviors are so fundamental that they cannot be altered, but we might be able to channel those behaviors in a more desirable direction. To complicate things further, sometimes, we as humans forget that our companion pets are in a different genetic box than we are. We set expectations based on our human sensibilities. For example, the dog has no idea that the shoe he just took a chunk out of was your most expensive pair. In his mind, it was an available option to meet his genetically driven need to chew. By creating opportunities to practice those hard-wired behaviors, we can live life together with minimal conflict.
My children all share the same genetic heritage. They share similarities, but they are unique individuals. I’ve shared my home with many dogs, most of whom have been the same breed. I can say unequivocally that they’ve all been unique. So, when I brought home that last puppy, and she did things that “none of my other dogs did,” why on earth was I shocked? But there it is. She surprised me. She is the only one like her. She is her SELF. When we bring a new being into our homes, we can make general assumptions about behavior based on species. The baby will need frequent feedings and diaper changes for the first few months. The dog must be walked and given things to chew. But, when we discover the individual, that’s when we need to set aside our assumptions and see the individual in front of us. What does that look like? That might mean learning to accept that your Labrador retriever can’t swim and doesn’t like to fetch. She is, after all, being herSELF.
Living in a Multi-Species Home
Creating a home where every species feels safe and welcome is important to me. But it can be messy. There are things I overlook, like paw prints on the floor. Since dogs don't generally wear shoes, I should expect paw prints on the floor. When it's muddy, then the paw prints are more visible. I can do things to minimize the mud, which is why I have a 5' long rug runner at the door. Other times, I make compromises, like putting blankets on the furniture. I like snuggling with my dogs and cats on the couch. That doesn't mean that I like dirty or furry furniture. Rather than depriving myself, and my companion animals, couch snuggles, blankets were a simple solution. Living a tidy home is my preference, but really, the dogs and cats don't care. When I get the vacuum out, that's for my benefit. I enjoy the clean house for a moment. But that moment is fleeting. As soon as I open the back door, the paw prints are back. In the end, sharing my home with the other species in my life is worth a little fur here and there.
What's life like in your multi-species home? We'd love to hear about it!