Warren Eckstein, the author of Pet Aerobics and host of the syndicated radio show “The Pet Show,” knows how important adopting a pet can be in one's life. He has worked with animals since he got his first job at a veterinary hospital in high school. Eckstein was a regular on “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” and currently appears on “The Today Show.” He has trained more than 40,000 animals, including the adopted pets of celebrities like Al Pacino, Rodney Dangerfield, Cheryl Tiegs and David Letterman. Here, Eckstein shares his views on adopting a pet.
Your new animal is not just the family pet, but a member of the family. The first thing I do when I bring a new pet into our house is say, “Thank you for being a member of our family.”
A pet opens you up to the concept of living in the moment. When you’re hungry, you eat. When you’re tired, you sleep. And when you wake up, you play—that’s what life is all about.
The first 30 days establishes the relationship you’re going to have for many years. It gives the pet the opportunity to read the owner and the owner the opportunity to read the pet. Pets are better readers of us than we are of pets. They will learn when we don’t want to be bothered, when we can be teased and how to get us to feed them.
When a new pet comes into a home, people need to focus on letting the pet understand the boundaries of your lifestyle, but at the same time understand that give and take is important. It’s important to spend time at the pet’s level with the pet, giving them the time to do things wrong so you can teach them to do it right.
The first thing people ask about is training. But most important in the first 30 days is socialization. This applies to whatever type of pet you’re getting: a cockatoo, a calico, a dog or a pygmy goat. In the first 30 days, people are too focused on telling the pet “no,” so the pet starts to think “no” is his name. Socialization is key.
I suggest that when a new pet comes into a household, you have a party for him. Have friends come over and get down on the floor with the animal, so the pet has a chance to get to know people.
When people adopt from a shelter, they’re often not aware of the animal’s background, so sometimes they wonder if the pet will come with a lot of baggage. People worry that the pet has had bad experiences in the past, and it will affect their ability to adjust.
I tell them “There’s no such thing as a bad pet.” Some pets have had bad experiences, but any pet can be made livable. Watch the animal’s behavior and try to figure out what the previous experiences were. Focus on the positive. On my radio show, I talked to a family who went to a shelter in Los Angeles and adopted a Flemish Giant rabbit. Its previous owners had kept it in a pen outside. They never handled it or socialized it. I told the new owners the rabbit would need a lot of small feedings through the day, so something positive was always happening. I suggested they put a piece of their child’s unwashed clothing in the cage so he would get used to it, and have the child talk to the rabbit in the dark, even read to the rabbit. The rabbit is already on the way to recovery.
One of the biggest causes of bad behavior is lack of exercise. Animals have all this energy and it can get focused in a negative direction. Exercise is important from a psychological and physical perspective. It’s very rare that a well-exercised dog will have behavioral problems.
Pets are crucial for building a child’s confidence. Many parents don’t have time for dogs or cats, but know how important it is for kids to have someone non-judgmental in their life, someone to talk to who won’t talk back. I’m a big fan of guinea pigs and the new breeds of domestic rats. Some children like hermit crabs. You can buy nontoxic painted shells for them and make a collection as they grow. Tropical fish and birds are also good.
The most important thing is preparation and getting the child involved before the pet arrives in the house. Educate the child about what the pet will be like and what care it will need. Go to the aquarium or a local shelter. Read up about it in the library. Give a younger child a large stuffed animal to play with and prepare. Make sure the animal is exposed to children before the meeting. Take it to parks and other places with children, and give the pet a special toy or treat to create positive associations. Introduce the child and pet on neutral turf. Involve the child in the animal’s favorite activity, whether it be grooming, feeding or playing. Then try not to be overly involved. Let the two of them work it out.
I’ve had so many changes in my life that I’ve realized whatever changes are happening will pass. I may be depressed for the moment, but I always know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
It keeps us young. Too many people and animals in this world stagnate.
The best thing I did was leave the East Coast and come to the West Coast. I spent my whole life on Long Island and I decided I needed to make a big change.
For more information about Warren Eckstein, visit www.thepetshow.com.
World-renowned pet behaviorist Warren Eckstein shows you how to walk with your cat, make it come when called, play for hours without ruining your plants and furniture, and more, in this warm, readable guide for feline lovers everywhere. ...