The Human Side of Animal Behavior


The past couple of weeks I’ve been talking about warning signs, like growling. I’ve been talking about warning signs from the perspective of our pets and why we should be respectful– not punishing– of those body language signals. But one thing that I’ve left out of the previous posts is all of the human emotions that happen as a result of those particular behaviors. That’s what today’s post is for. 

When I meet a new client and they start telling me about their pet’s behavior, I often hear things like:


They’re really quite sweet. I just want everyone to see that, too.

They’re sweet 95% of the time. 

They’re a good pet, just scared.

I’ve been telling you all of the bad things about them. Let me tell you some good things, too. 


I chuckle internally when people tell me these things. I know that they’re trying to convince me to not judge their pet, or them, too harshly. That they don’t have a “bad” pet. But here’s the secret: I know that! We as humans are the ones who attach morals (I.E. good or bad) to certain behaviors. Our pets aren’t thinking about if something is right or wrong. They’re thinking about if a behavior works for them or not: what the outcome of that behavior is.

It’s a false dichotomy to say that someone is all good or all bad. Individuals, including our pets, live in a grey area. That’s why good pets can sometimes do bad things and why bad people can sometimes do good things. I don’t need to be convinced that a pet who’s biting is also sweet. My job is working with good pets who sometimes do bad things. 


The less-lighthearted part 

I try to keep our blog posts relatively lighthearted and optimistic. That style is what I enjoy writing and what I enjoy reading. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the less-lighthearted parts of human emotions in relation to pet behavior. 

The animal behavior consulting field is incredibly emotional. On a daily basis folks reach out to our team, often on the verge of tears, because they’re scared of their pet’s behavior. It’s easy for me to say in a post that all behavior just is and that we’re the ones who attach morals to them. The water muddies when those behaviors are at the expense of mental health (for both the pet and the human) and/or safety of others. There very much are “bad” behaviors– as deemed by our society– that result in the euthanasia of animals. 

Now, this post is not about the many sides of behavioral euthanasia. That’s an enormous discussion and one that I don’t currently have the bandwidth to write in a way that does the topic justice. One day I’ll tackle it, but not today. This post is specifically about human emotions, like:


I’m scared they’re going to hurt someone. 

I feel like a prisoner in my own house because of their behavior. 

It’s really difficult to live with this. I don’t know how much longer I can do this. 

It’s embarrassing when they’re reactive on walks. 


Embarrassment. Frustration. Helplessness. Shame. Defeat. Regret. Remorse. Fear. A whole lot of fear. There are a lot of really big emotions that come into play when you have a pet with maladaptive behaviors. And, yes, it’s our duty to help the animal we chose to bring into our home and we should be doing our best to meet their needs but that doesn’t negate the human element, either. 

Your feelings are also valid. 

I think the human side of animal behavior consulting is often swept to the side. We put such a large emphasis on animal emotional states and making sure they’re comfortable, but can sometimes forget to tell people that it’s okay to be feeling however they’re feeling about their pet’s behavior. Sometimes good pets do bad things and that’s scary. We’re allowed to be scared by that. But the good thing is that you don’t have to be alone. That’s what behavior consultants are for. 


Now what?

  • Have you stopped to truly take stock about how you’re feeling in relation to your pet’s behavior? Take a moment to do so. 
  • Are there certain aspects of your pet’s behavior that are taking a larger toll on you? Focus on tweaking your management plan for those behaviors so they’re less likely to happen (like putting up a baby gate around the front door to lessen the chances of door dashing.)
  • Not sure where to start? Check out our Setting Yourself Up for Success: Behavior Modification Basics course to take the first steps in your pet’s behavior modification plan.
  • Get help from a professional. You don’t need to do this alone. Our team works with people all over the world. Email us at [email protected] to schedule your first appointment.

Happy training!


2 thoughts on “The Human Side of Animal Behavior

  1. Allie, once again, you’ve touched on what Jim & I were feeling some months ago. Then, we contacted you/Pet Harmony. We still have these human feelings on occasion, but we continue to work on ourselves, too. Our work is on-going but we can say, we thank you and are grateful to you for teaching and guiding us. We look forward to our next “lessons”.

    1. Thank you for this! It’s been wonderful working with you and the girls are lucky to have you and Jim!

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