Your pet is the cutest, sweetest, most perfect little entity of love and joy wrapped in a fuzzy body….until it’s not. Although undoubtedly lovable, your fur child comes with a lot of demands and doesn’t mind testing your patience daily. You’re not alone – this can be an inevitable fact of having a pet. Accepting this fact is the first step while managing it is the next.
I have had many animals throughout my lifespan, including dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, chickens, and even squirrels. Each animal has had their own distinct and unique personality traits. But without a doubt, the Whiniest Pet Award goes to my current cat, Liam. I don’t mean to sound harsh. He has some unbelievably cute and sweet qualities, and life is way better with him in it. But in between those precious moments are some not-so-favorable traits that I deal with daily, including a whole lot of whining. This is new to me so I am still learning how to keep my sanity as it progresses. The worst part is that more often than not, these invasive whine sessions typically take place at inconvenient times, such as when I’m trying to accomplish an important task….or right at bed time when I’m attempting to shut down my brain….or at the crack of dawn while trying to get that last half hour of sacred sleep before pealing myself out of bed. What all of these examples have in common is that it happens when I have my full attention on something other than my cat. It has become clear to me that I ended up with a very needy animal. Some of this, however, I can only blame on myself since I have had him since he was a kitten. In other words, I raised the little beast.
The majority of pet owners with hearts will agree that pets offer one of the most rewarding life experiences possible, but let’s not pretend there aren’t occasional fleeting moments when we ask ourselves, “Why did I sign up for this?” Don’t get me wrong – It’s miraculous having a pet that will verbally communicate in its own unique way and even understand certain phrases out of your mouth. It still fascinates me that I can say a few words, like “Come here, Liam,” and he completely understands and comes to me on queue, every single time. Yet surprisingly, when I just say, “Liam,” it does not have this same effect whatsoever and he just stares at me. If I ask, “Are you hungry?” he begins a series of high-pitched, soft, kitten-like meows while basically dancing around in circles. Those with dogs tend to experience this type of phenomenon daily with a larger quantity of phrases, which is one of the most rewarding facts about having a dog. They seem to just get you in a sense. Man’s best friend, right?
While the ability to somewhat vocally communicate back and forth with our animals is a gift, even I admit it can be a little much at times. Nothing brings me back to reality in my everyday life faster than dealing with my overly vocal pet. Or multiple. I can assure you that a singular whiny animal is much easier to manage than plural whiny animals, all at once. At one point every morning I would awaken to the sound of not only my cat Liam’s anxious wails, but also the relentless squawks of our hungry chickens outside, along with the hiss-clucking of multiple squirrels taunting my cat from directly outside my window. Yes, these are the “pet” squirrels that were rescued as nest babies and bottle-fed, resulting in them making a home out of our backyard – which I wouldn’t want any other way. As adorable as they are, being hand-fed nuts everyday appears to have turned them into gutsy and entitled squirrels who are not afraid of a cat five times their size stalking them through a thin sheet of glass. And it’s amazing how much noise these tiny creatures can make. Combine this with my wailing cat that is ready for his breakfast repeatedly dive-bombing my bed from the high window sill above my head, and we have an incredibly irritating start to a day. Okay, it’s a little funny, as was the time I received a “wake-up bite” on my arm from Liam. Apparently sleeping with ear plugs in is entirely unacceptable to a narcissistic cat. I’m not sure what’s more startling – being nipped awake or awakening to a twelve-pound, hairy little monster dive-bombing my pillow from four feet above. I’m beginning to get used to it.
So, what to do?
If none of this even remotely applies to you, congratulations. You have been gifted with a non-whiny animal – this time. I have had those too. But if any of this is familiar, know that there are a few options for dealing with the unappealing behavior. Before doing so, it is extremely important to first rule out any serious reason why your pet may be overly vocal or acting out. You know your pet best, so you should be able to determine if something may actually be wrong based on the sound of the whine or whether the behavior seems typical or unusual for your pet. If you’re not sure, see your vet just in case.
Once you know your pet is not sick or in pain, there is only so much you can do to manage the whiny morning behavior. It’s a tough one.
~You could feed your pet in the moment, but then you’re unintentionally applying operant conditioning and training it to whine for food. Instead, make sure the pet is well fed at night before bed, and if possible, leave some food out overnight for it to munch on. This should soften the morning madness…a little.
~You can try to ignore your pet, then suffer through the shenanigans it puts you through in an attempt to prove it a point which it probably will not get. Unless it’s a baby animal with a currently developing brain, it tends to be too late to instill the concept of patience, delayed gratification, or any form of reasoning. Save that one for your actual children. However, it is important not to reward the whiny behavior. When all else fails, use ear plugs. Just make sure to keep them out of reach from your pet when not in use to avoid them ingesting them, especially cats.
~You can give your pet something to fixate on as an attempt to distract it, usually being in the form of a toy. This seems to be the most effective technique in my experience. This often works but unfortunately it tends to be short-lived. Most animals have a fairly short attention span.
~On another note, if it is practical and you haven’t already, consider getting your pet a companion pet. This way they will have someone to play with, bond with, and pester other than you late at night or first thing in the morning.
Something else to consider the next time your pet seems stressed or anxious, ask yourself, “Am I?” Animals often pick up on our energy, especially when we spend a lot of time with them. This is not always the case, as they do have their own stressors. But I have observed that pets often mirror their owners, both in obvious and unobvious ways. It’s actually pretty remarkable. How observant and perceptive we are determines whether or not we notice.
Next time your fur creature has your last nerve, briefly direct your thoughts to how much its whines would be missed if they were suddenly absent. This will take your irritation away almost immediately, I promise! Remind yourself that when they eventually pass away, you will miss their presence and ALL their quirks. You will probably give about anything to hear the whine that so often annoyed you once you know you will never hear it again. No, our pets are not perfect, but we should never take them for granted. As with all aspects of life, it’s important to stay focused on the positive. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to us or to them. It can be easy to forget this. It seems that this is one of the countless lessons our pets are here to teach us.
A final take away is simply that we sometimes must accept the bad with the good, as there is not always a solid solution for every problem. Animals can’t always be perfect. They are living beings with their own brains and emotions, so some of what they do will always be out of our control. If there is something yours is doing that you haven’t been able to resolve yet, perhaps it’s a good time to revisit or take up meditation, yoga, nature walking, art therapy, music therapy, or any other forms of self-regulation and relaxation techniques. Not only will this help you stay grounded, but it’s even possible that your pet will pick up on your positive vibes and the situation will somewhat resolve on its own.
If all else fails, next time your pet is bored and whiny just dress it up in a unicorn, lamb, or bee costume if they’ll tolerate it. This way you are turning an irritating situation into a humorous one, and laughing is incredibly therapeutic! And don’t forget to share your photos in the comments of course. 😉
(Featured photo by Marko Blazevic)