What type of pet owner are you and how do you cope with loss of a pet?

An interesting comment on PetsAustralia’s facebook site during the week 

“Recent research shows that people often grieve as much for their pet as they do for people, but they get less support and often feel embarrassed about admitting it….”

reminded me about an article that I studied a couple of years ago whilst completing my Certificate IV Companion Animals Services with Delta Australia. As part of an assignment we were asked to discuss the various categories of dog owner that Michael Fox 1 outlined in his paper. Fox defined 4 categories of pet/owner relationships:
  1. Object – orientated
This family has one or more dogs or cats just because that is what always happened, when they grew up. One dog or cat or even more was a natural part of the family. A puppy or kitten is nothing more than another plaything for the kids. Adults may keep pets for purely ornamental reasons. The novelty may wear off as the pet ages and they get sick of them to replace them with a newer or younger model. This type of owner will not be motivated to solve any problems. They will more than likely get rid of that animal and just get another one. They will not be invested in the time and effort to train or to save for the correct grooming or health needs of these type of pets. Needless to say when this pet dies they say “it was just a dog or just a cat” and go out and replace it with just another dog or cat. Normally picked up for nothing or as free as possible.
2.     Exploitative, Utilitarian

This animal is used, trained, manipulated or exploited to varying degrees for the exclusive benefit of the human. This can be at times only part of the relationship the owner has with its pet e.g. a dog owned by breeder that is wining in the show ring and producing valuable off-spring but also fulfilling a need –dependency and object orientating relationship. If this is the sole reason they have a pet then a trainer will need to find out what behavior from that animal will provide the most benefit to the owner but not necessarily to the pet. They need to find out what the owner sees as important or beneficial. The groomer will appeal to the needs of the owner to have a nice looking, winning pet rather than making the pet comfortable during the grooming process. As for the first category this pet is easily replaced with another that might win or perform better. If the animal is not winning or performing it is re-homed. How many conformation show breeders keep older titled dogs in their yards?


3..      Need –Dependency

The pet is regarded as a source of satisfaction for various needs and dependencies. This is perhaps the major reason why people have pets. They are companion, pet, child substitute, confidant, cure for loneliness. These owners are fairly needy and would tend to apply human characteristics and feelings to their pets. (Anthropomorphism). The dog is not in fact a dog so you would need to talk in human language terms and address the fact that this dog will probably be allowed to do more human things within the home e.g. sleep on the bed and be fed as a human. This dog might be more susceptible to getting separation anxiety and owners will possibly have difficulty with leadership concepts.Fluffy or muffin is hard to groom as a normal dog, the owners hover around insisting that the dog can not be away from them. These owners grieve considerably and never think in terms of replacing an animal, but may eventually get a new animal after the grief process finalizes.

4.      Actualizing

The pet is related to essentially as a respected “significant other” in what is a mature relationship between owner and pet. This pet is intrinsically worthy for itself not due to its value as property or what is means to the owners mental health or as something that just has to be there because a dog or cat always is. This owner/pet relationship would be the easiest to deal with as the owner is invested in real benefits to both the animal and themselves. These owners would be showing signs of leadership already and be willing to expand this role and respect what training can do for their pet. As grooming clients they are also good to deal with, responding well to discussions about the benefits of various grooming techniques such as different clip lengths, stripping vs clipping and frequency of grooming appointments. They will be sad when a pet dies but understand that they do not have the same lifespan as humans. They grieve naturally and make a rational and educated decision about getting another pet. 
Where the difficulty arises of course with the comments made on facebook and the various type of pet owners is when different types of pet owners are discussing the death of a pet. As you can see from the types of pet owners there will be very different views as to the “value” of the pet. For some it is just a dog or just a cat but for others it is an integral part of their life that means they will never feel the same way about their life again. The comments made on the PetsAustralia facebook site seemed to indicate that most of the pet owners commenting were in fact from the last two categories. Their is no inherent problem with being in each of the categories as people own pets for a number of reasons. The skill as a groomer, trainer, boarding kennel operator or breeder comes in recognizing which group your customer is in and adopting the appropriate communication strategies. 
Which type of pet owner are you and how had this affected your feelings when you loose a pet?
 Until next week………….
Stay safe and remember to Kiss the dog, hug the cat and tell your goldfish you love them.
Louise Kerr 
The Pet Care MagicianLouise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care  magic subscription program  deals with common pet behaviour, training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors

    1. Reference:
                 1 Fogle Bruce. Interrelations between People and Pets  1981.
                           Chapter 2: Fox Michael, Relationships between the human and       non human animals.

Posted on October 3, 2011, in Pet Guardians, Training and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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