Having a human-animal bond with a pet is a special experience. Just seeing your pet’s reaction when you come home is enough to make you fall in love with your pet all over again. How do these bonds form, and if you’re not there yet with your pet, how do you get there?
There are two types of new pet owners: those about to embark on pet ownership for the first time and those with previous experience. The bond that forms between a new owner and a pet may develop rapidly or take months or years to mature.
A couple of weeks after the acquisition of a new pet, most families would choose to keep their new charge despite veterinary predictions of trouble and expense down the road. As time goes by, the bond usually strengthens between the growing pet and its human family members as the youngster assumes a significant role in its human family. Affections develop for the pet’s cuteness both because of the way he or she looks and the way he or she behaves. Nature has designed us to fall for this old trick. But later, experiences shared, both happy and heart rending, anneal the budding bond to shatterproof strength.
This is the human-animal bond between an owner and their pet. It starts at the beginning with the acquisition of a new pet and, unless it falls foul of some unforeseen circumstances, will flourish and blossom into old age, till death. Sometimes strong bonds of this nature develop between one person and one pet. Other times they involve a whole family.
Have you ever noticed the love affair that some dogs and their owners have? Not a clingy, neurotic, unhealthy dependency, but rather a bond in which dogs are oblivious to everyone and everything but their owners. They’re the dogs and owners who only have eyes for each other, the pooches who think their owners hang the moon. Do you wish your dog swooned over you instead of dashing off to chase bugs or eat poop?
What separates the swooners from their unruly counterparts is a strong human-animal bond built on a foundation of mutual love and respect. Everything about dog training and human-canine interactions comes down to the relationship you have with your dog. Bonding takes time and work. A strong bond doesn’t necessarily develop overnight. Falling in love with your dog at first sight is pretty common, but loving a dog isn’t the same thing as sharing a connection. Think of it this way: you may love your in-laws or siblings, but you’re bonded with your best friend. You spend time together laughing, goofing off, sharing your deepest feelings, and a million other things. You relish and look forward to being together because you enjoy your relationship.
Can a Human-Animal Bond Happen With Cats?
People tend to misunderstand cats. Perceived as the polar opposite to the warmth and affection exuded by dogs, they’re often pegged as aloof and unloving. Cats are labeled solitary and selfish, only desiring to seek their human owners’ presence when they need something.
While it’s true that our feline friends tend to possess an independent streak — and that their personalities can vary considerably — many cats, in fact, demonstrate a remarkable propensity to bond and be affectionate with people. They’ll climb into your lap when you least expect it, purring lovingly along the way.
That the human-cat bonding experience can be complex is hard to refute. Bonding with feral cats with limited previous human contact proves difficult, as these felines struggle to award trust. And even human-raised cats don’t necessarily bond equally with every person within their home. But with a balanced approach of effort and patience, you can establish a bond with your cat that’s based on mutual respect and, possibly, even love.
Imprinting, an elemental form of bonding, occurs most readily during a sensitive period of development. If the time and circumstances of an initial introduction of animals is appropriately staged, it is quite literally possible to have a lion lie down with a lamb. With this in mind, it’s almost child’s play to have a cat bond with a cat — subsequently learning to be accepting of cats in general. All you have to do is arrange for benign introductions to occur during the sensitive period of development. The sensitive period for such learning to occur in cats is between 2–7 weeks of age. During this time period, owners can engineer all kinds of useful friendships between animals of the same or different species.
As many owners already know, cats don’t just bond to their moms or to their human owners. They may also bond to other cats. So powerful can such bonds be between individuals that they may show separation anxiety if separated. This is not a bad arrangement until longterm separation through illness or death becomes inevitable. In such cases, cats must be trained to develop new bonds with either other cats (a new kitten, perhaps) or new human acquaintances. In severe cases, antidepressants may be needed to help such formerly bonded cats around this sharp corner of life.
Resources for Understanding a Human-Animal Bond
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