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Sad Eyes: An Admission Of Guilt?

Anthropomorphize: To attribute human characteristics or behavior to a non-human

So often do we hear from clients that their animal knew what they were doing wrong because they looked guilty or sad afterwards. This thought process can be very damaging to the relationship between humans and their furry/feathered family members because they are anthropomorphizing the behavior. If the client truly believes that Fluffy chewed on their shoes because they were "mad" that they were left alone, over time this can build frustration and/or resentment towards that animal, which can negatively affect their relationship. This misunderstanding has led to many animals being re-homed and/or euthanized.

A large part of our job is to take a thorough history in order to help clients understand the motivation behind their companion's behavior. With understanding comes empathy, which helps set everyone up for success in creating long-lasting behavior change. When we see those sad or guilty facial expressions or reactions, they are reacting to their human's vocalizations and body language. The more anxious/upset we are, the more likely the animal is going to build a negative association with the situation. For example, when an animal inappropriately urinates/defecates in the house and their human gets upset, a common conclusion that the animal comes to is that their people get upset whenever they urinate/defecate, and to not do that in front of them anymore (which makes resolving the house soiling problem exponentially more difficult).

While it is unreasonable to never get frustrated/upset, we find that the likelihood or severity of this emotional reaction on the part of the humans is greatly reduced when understanding and empathy is built. With this foundation set, we can move forward with effectively addressing problem behaviors and creating long-lasting behavior change!

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