Seven habits of highly effective pets

Seven habits of highly effective pets

While things that are “habit-forming” can most assuredly be detrimental to one’s health (eg. prescription painkillers, sleep aids, social media, or for me, peanut m&m’s) forming habits is an adaptive mechanism we living things employ to keep our lives orderly, predictable, healthy and safe.

Brushing one’s teeth twice a day helps avoid tooth decay and gum disease. Applying underarm deodorant daily generally keeps other people from wanting to avoid or hurt us. Drinking a caffeinated beverage before sliding in behind the wheel keeps us alert enough to make it to the coffee maker at work, provided we can find our way there via the network of strange and interesting detours through the construction zone rubble that once was our city. Doing the same routines in the same order each day helps us to remember to complete mundane, but important tasks, and tends to make life a bit more efficient in the process. When something stops the routine in the middle, it can derail the whole operation, sending us into a tailspin, disarray in our wake.

One morning, we had two extra dogs staying with us, necessitating adjustments to the normal feeding procedure. Our dog, Marty, took one look at his provisions and balked, refused to eat, and instead, rushed across the room and shoved his unwelcome snout into one of our visiting dogs’s bowls — Niles was gracious, but unimpressed. I offered Marty his food, away from the other dogs, but he still turned up his nose. It took some minutes of frustrated cajoling for me to realize the problem: It wasn’t the food or the other dogs. It was the BOWL. I had offered Marty his normal food in a DIFFERENT bowl, which, clearly, was unacceptable. I broke his habitual routine and he was not having it. Once I moved the food into the correct bowl, he happily gobbled it all up. “Survival of the Fittest,” indeed.

Since its first publication in 1989, Steven Covey’s famous “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” remains one of the best selling non-fiction business books in history. I have asked our cat, Wyatt (14) and our dachshund, Walter (13) to weigh in on their interpretations of the Seven Habits principles as they pertain to pets. We will call them the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pets.

1. Be Proactive

Wyatt: This is the fabric from which all cats and dachshunds are woven: if you want it, go get it.

Walter: Well said, friend. Now move, you’re in my seat.

2. Begin with the end in mind

Walter: Slice of pizza on that plate high on the table — you will be mine.

Wyatt: Must vomit … find the nicest chair.

3. Put first things first (all tasks fit into one of the following categories)

• Urgent and important = do

Walter: If the bladder or bowels are full, empty them; if the stomach is empty, fill it. That is all.

Wyatt: Amen.

• Not urgent but important = plan

Wyatt: 1. Find a good spot; 2. Sleep for 9 hours.

Walter: 1. Hop onto chair, then table. 2. Score pizza.

• Urgent but not important = delegate

Both: Huh?

• Not urgent and not important = eliminate

Walter: Is that a thing?

Wyatt: Zzzzzzzz.

4. Think “win-win”

Wyatt: There is no “us” in “me.” If I win, everybody can suck lemons, because I win. Also, “window” starts with “win” which I also win because it’s the best spot for sunning and squirrel watching.

Walter: Not if I win first. There can be only one.

Wyatt: Whatever, dude, I’m gonna go take another nap.

Walter: I win.

Wyatt: Me, too, ’cause I don’t care.

Walter: We can’t both win. By definition, somebody wins, the others lose.

Wyatt: Ever heard of a tie?

Walter: What’s getting all dressed up have to do with it?

Wyatt: (face slap)

5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Wyatt: Bwa-hahahahaha! Yeah, right. Cat mantra: if they don’t understand, STAND on their faces. Guaranteed attention-getter.

Walter: Dachshund mantra: bark louder.

6. Synergize

Wyatt: Blah, blah, … something about “teamwork,” yadda, yadda. Or is it a mechanical pink bunny banging a base drum and toddling around in circles? Whatever. Bored.

Walter: Ooo isn’t that when they beam you up on the Enterprise? I want that! I could run through the neighborhood chasing REAL bunnies, then be home for dinner and a nap without having to do the stairs.

7. Sharpen the saw

Wyatt: Oh! I got this! This is about ongoing learning and personal betterment. And it should read, “Sharpen the CLAWS.” Duh.

Walter: No, it should read, “Sharpen the MAW.” While I’m missing some of my choppers, my maw is still awesome and worthy of respect, just like me.

Wyatt: Humble much?

Walter: Move, you’re in my seat.

Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital. Her column is published every other Sunday in the Lifestyle section. She can be reached at life@sungazette.com.