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It’s the Intention of Expectations That Counts the Most

After seeing an ad promoting yet another device promising to get your dog to immediately do what you want (in this case to stop barking), I started thinking about the unrealistic expectations many of us humans have of animals.

I was also reminded of the prevailing and often unconscious attitude that animals are merely property and inferior to humans. In other words, they are here to do what we think they should do and act the way we think they should act – including entertaining us or filling some other human need – until the animal is labelled a burden due to illness or old age and therefore no longer of any value. Of course and most fortunately not everyone feels this way, but in my observation, many still do.

My work with BrightHaven Center for Animal Rescue, Hospice and Holistic Education has greatly deepened my acceptance of animals as equals and as great, wise and wonderful teachers. They are worthy of honor, respect and kindness as co-inhabitants of this planet. We are meant to live together in harmony.

Grady communing with St. Francis of Assisi

Here are some of BrightHaven’s guiding intentions, which are infused into our animal hospice and holistic healthcare education and rescue programs, about the proper treatment of animals:

  • Animals are sentient beings, capable of awareness, feeling and suffering. They deserve an environment and conditions (including diet, enrichment etc.) that allow them to achieve a state of wellbeing throughout their entire lives.
  • Animals are always true to themselves and we lovingly accept them just as they are.
  • Love is an essential, transformative and powerful healing force! The indisputable importance of love to living a full life is but one example of the deep wisdom shared with us by our beloved animal teachers over the years.
  • Healing is an internal process, all about restoring balance to body, mind and spirit. It can be achieved without a cure (absence of dis-ease).
  • Animals who have achieved the best quality of health during living are the ones who experience the gentlest dying process.

Based on these intentions, our expectations for animals to live well at every life stage are definitely reasonable!

Let’s Talk About Barking

Barking is a perfect example of where unrealistic expectations about animal behavior abound.

After having canine family members for several years, I’ve learned a lot about dog barking, and I’m still learning. What are my main conclusions?

  • As I learned from well-known English dog trainer Victoria Stilwell in her book titled Train Your Dog Positively, dogs communicate and share information about their surroundings and their emotional status at any given moment through barking. I try to tune in more closely to see if I can understand what my dog Sebastian (Bastie) is trying to tell me through his barking and body languages so I can help him and better manage the situation.
  • People often tell a dog to be quiet the moment a sound is uttered, even if the dog is outside interacting with people and dogs which of course encourages communication. How would you like to be told to shut up each time you tried to say something?
  • People can be so judgmental if your dog is barking, with the unspoken expectation that the dog should be silent regardless of the circumstances. They might flash a steely glare or tell the dog to hush. The unsaid message is that your dog is unruly and disobedient, which means you’re a failure as a dog trainer.
  • To the previous point, humans are often afraid of what others think, and that factors into how animal situations are handled. Who cares!!!

Don’t get me wrong. I think setting “house rules” with the intention to create a loving, healthy and harmonious family unit where all members thrive – and taught in a caring,  kind and patient way – can strengthen the important animal-human bond. These guidelines may include where the animal is to go potty, what constitutes excessive barking, what if any furniture is off-limits, etc.– the specifics vary depending on the people, animals and circumstances involved.

And what are the guidelines for the human part of this team? Here are a few vital ones that come to mind:

  • Provide a safe and healthy environment and diet for your animal loved one.
  • Choose to practice kindness, compassion and patience – I think these qualities come naturally to animals.
  • Let animals be more of who they are and honor their needs as being equally as important as human needs.
  • Learn more about what helps a particular species or breed to flourish so you can tailor enrichment activities accordingly.
  • Remember that animals are innocent and respond true to their nature – they’re not intentionally trying to irritate people. No filters. No ego.
Bastie (Sebastian) & Carol on adoption day

Based on these intentions, I feel I can reasonably expect our trust and bond will continue to strengthen over time, neither party will do things perfectly (nor do they need to) and we will share a loving, joyful and mutually beneficial journey.

When working with a dog trainer a few years ago, I definitely learned more about my intentions for my relationship with Bastie and any dog or other animal I bring into my home: my intention was to create a loving partnership between two beings, based on trust. So the priorities for training for me were to deepen our bond, to keep Bastie safe and to enable us to coexist in a mutually beneficial way.

I realized that’s why things like spraying dogs with water or thumping them on the face to modify their behavior don’t work for me. These approaches feel harsh and unnecessary, and I think that they can damage a trusting bond.

We seem surprised if an animal snaps at us, such as when we’re trying to clip their nails, clean around their eyes, etc. We don’t always consider that the animal may be in pain, either physically and/or emotionally. Snapping is self-protection. As BrightHaven’s animal medical intuitive July Berrin of The Temple Cat once reminded me, animals have only two ways to defend themselves: teeth or claws. Just think of the lengths we humans go to avoid pain!

Realistic Expectations Feel Much Better!

I love this definition of expectation I found in the Cambridge English Dictionary: ”Different from what is.” in my experience, that difference is what often causes the most suffering and disappointment for people!   

It fascinates me how animals play such a big role in many people’s lives in today’s world, they’re often an important part of the family or someone’s sole life companion. I think it’s essential to find a reasonable, respectable way to peacefully coexist. Conscious intentions and realistic expectations are essential to a deep and mutually fulfilling and often healing human/animal bond.

I learned firsthand about the healing power of animals after a beautiful dog named Silver magically came into my life three weeks before my beloved husband Martin died from gastric cancer. The comfort and companionship that Silver brought to me and the gratitude I felt for her inspired me to want to give back to animals and help them to live their best lives, and this focus is what led me to BrightHaven. I also wrote a book about Silver’s end-of-life journey through her terminal diagnosis, animal hospice and a peaceful, gentle natural death that we shared and how BrightHaven principles helped guide us, called Walking With My Dog Through (End of) Life, available on Amazon.

Whether I’m dealing with animals or people and I’m starting to feel frustrated or unsure how to react, I often return to my childhood lesson of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. My way quickly becomes clear. Bottom line: It’s all about love.

In their innocence and wisdom, in their connection to the earth and its most ancient rhythms, animals show us a way back to a home they have never left. –Susan Chernak McElroy

BrightHaven Resources to Help Your Animal Live Well Each and Every Day!

Gail & Joey
(Photo by in joy photography)
Carol Howe Hulse – Education Program Specialist
Carol & Silver
(Photo by Beth Shields)
  • Walking with My Dog Through (End of) Lifean intimate look at a profound life passage, from terminal diagnosis through hospice care and natural death. (Author: Carol Howe Hulse, BrightHaven Education Program Specialist)
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