Where’s My Puppy?

by Deborah Gilboa, Family Physician
Originally Published: 

Coming home to your child is so much fun, isn’t it? If your child is under 10, they are usually so happy to have you show up at the door, they often come to you! “Hi! Where were you? What are we going to do? Can you feed me? Wanna play? Come see the bone I dug up!” Having an elementary schooler or preschooler is like coming home to a healthy golden retriever puppy. They nearly knock you down in their exuberance to be with you.

Coming home to a tween or teenager is another experience entirely! An hour or so later they may wander into the kitchen and say, “When did you get home? Is there anything to eat?” Or, they may not have noticed that you weren’t home in the first place. If they do notice, they’re most likely to express their impatience “Where have you been?!” and follow it up with a complaint or demand. Having a tween or teen can very much mimic owning an opinionated, cranky (but hungry) Siamese cat.

This transition from exuberant puppy to cranky feline causes a lot of parent distress. After all, it’s not like we get any warning. Oh sure, our friends with older kids tried to tell us. But, seriously, their kids? Ours are never going to be like THAT.

A stark difference between owning a cat and puppy is that cats are harder to train. But train them we must, since we can’t return them to Animal Friends and try a nicer one. Although, on that note I’ve heard you can get an exchange student from another country in high school and then try to ship yours off to an unsuspecting family in Sweden or Mexico who will probably have pretty low expectations of an American teenager… Anyway, since we are likely to live with them for the better part of six years of cat-ness, we can’t give up on them or they will at once flounder AND terrorize the household.

It’s not possible to train a cat the way one would train a puppy. Puppies respond well to rewards and punishments (in theory). Cats respond to negotiation and some diplomacy, when they can be bothered to respond at all. Cats sense respect. Even when we don’t appreciate their behavior, if we have real love and respect for them they are far more likely to comply with our terribly unreasonable and annoying requests. Yell at a cat and it will stare at you like you have three heads, before putting in its headphones.

The trick to coming home to a tween or teen is to embrace your cat-owning existence. And to hold in mind the strange truth that a well-cared-for and disciplined cat will eventually change into an adult human you can admire and respect. Even better, one that appreciates you and comes to the door to meet you.

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