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Frustrated? Try pretending your dog is a cat.

Seriously. It's a great way to give you both a break.

If you're reading this, you're probably partial to dogs. Me too. There's no other animal with whom we share such a long, intimate history, and there's no question in my mind that "love" is the right name for what many of us discover across the species divide. The irony, though, is that we sometimes ask more from dogs than we'd ever dream of asking from other humans, let alone from cats or parrots or snakes. We saddle dogs with an enormous burden of expectation when we imagine them all as Dalai Lamas in waiting. Sainthood is a lousy bargain - there's nowhere to go but down. Every time I hear how selfless dogs are supposed to be, my heart aches for all the selfish failures out there, all the pups whose halos have gotten seriously dented or smashed. (You can find many of them at your local shelter.)

Cats don't wear halos. Very few of them will deign even to wear hats. When I taught a workshop in marker training to a group of "cattery" volunteers at the Oregon Humane Society, I told them honestly that I thought they had a terrific advantage over dog trainers: their vision isn't obscured by mythologies of altruism and dominance. The idea that a cat should do something "because I said so" or "because she loves me" is clearly ludicrous. To worry whether my cat "truly respects me" is a recipe for disappointment and possibly for farce. If I want to train a cat (or a chicken, or a rhinoceros), I need to narrow my focus to "simple" questions about behavior and consequences. And if I want to cultivate the warmth of regard that a cat is certainly capable of (I can't speak as confidently of chickens or rhinos), I'd be wise to rely on the power of positive consequences to shape her behavior in a direction I find pleasing.

When a cat chooses to enthrone herself on the back of a couch, no one panics at the thought that her Machiavellian impulses have suddenly been unleashed. We know that they were never leashed to begin with. She likes what she likes: a soft perch and an open view of her queendom. In turn, we can like it, lump it, or offer her a choice alternative.

The fact that most dogs do care more than most cats about what humans feel and think should be celebrated but never taken for granted. They, too, like what they like, and it's often very easy to supply.

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