Barking, scratching, digging, inappropriate elimination—behavioral issues are one of the driving reasons pets are surrendered to animal shelters. Many of these pet behaviors are normal, but we humans don’t appreciate our dog alerting us to a squirrel’s every movement, or a cat practicing nail care on our new leather sofa. To peacefully live together, we need to train our pets to practice normal behaviors in acceptable ways. Training is the foundation for a solid human-animal bond and can help keep pets in their homes as happy, well-adjusted family members.
Common dog behavior problems
Training your pup helps you develop a close bond, but it’s frustrating when she doesn’t do what you think is appropriate. Teach her acceptable behaviors instead. Here’s a list of the most common problem behaviors seen in dogs:
1. Barking is your dog’s way of communicating, especially with you. Most dog-to-dog communication occurs through body language, with the addition of high-pitched yaps and frenzied barks as a way to talk to people. Dogs bark to alert us to the presence of squirrels, to let us know that the mailman is delivering mail seven houses down the street, or to remind us that it will be dinner time in three hours. Barking is a self-rewarding behavior, in that it usually elicits a desired response from the object of your dog’s vocal attention. Squirrels scamper off, the mailman drives away, and you eventually feed your dog, all of which are your dog’s desired outcomes. Manage your pet’s excessive barking with these steps:
- Block access to windows
- Walk in sparsely populated areas
- Ignore demands for treats or attention
- Play soft music to muffle outdoor noises
- Train conflicting behaviors
Teach your dog skills incompatible with barking, such as “quiet,” or train her to sit before going for a walk or getting a treat instead of barking.
2. Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs of any age, but more so for puppies. Encourage your pet to chew on appropriate toys and treats by removing any other items. If you catch your pup chewing on a shoe or pillow, swap out the item for an acceptable treat or toy. Never yank the item from your pet’s mouth—she will learn to play keep away when she sees you coming for her exciting toy.
3. Chasing can result in heartbreak. Although this predatory instinct to chase moving things is natural for dogs, you can avoid disaster. Never let your dog off-leash in a heavily trafficked area or one with other joggers or dog walkers. Even if you’re hiking a forest trail, your dog is likely to dart off after a squirrel. Training a reliable recall is a good guarantee to ensure your dog comes running back. It’s difficult to make yourself more exciting than whatever your pet is chasing, so stock up on high-value treats she gets only when she obeys a recall.
Common cat behavior problems
Our feline friends may believe they’re perfect, but they have their share of problem behaviors, as well. Cat owners routinely complain about the following issues:
1. Inappropriate elimination is one of the main reasons cats are rehomed. A cat who is urinating on the bed, rug, or clothing may be suffering from a medical issue, such as urinary tract infection, kidney disease, or diabetes. Stress can also be the culprit. Cats are sensitive to bullying, household changes, routine variations, or outdoor factors. Once a cat avoids the litter box, retraining her can be time-consuming, but the following tips can help you retrain your cat’s litter box skills and ensure continued success:
- Enclose your cat in a small room—the bathroom is ideal if towels and rugs are removed.
- Place a litter box that is at least one and a half times the length of your cat in the room.
- Fill the box with fine, unscented, clumping litter.
- Clean the box daily, and thoroughly disinfect it at least weekly, avoiding the use of harsh chemicals.
- Avoid placing litter boxes near the noisy washer and dryer.
- Ensure your cat has plenty of room to access the box, which should not be closed in.
- Ensure your other cats are not bullying the one with elimination issues.
- Purchase one litter box per cat, plus one extra, and place them in various locations around your home.
2. Scratching allows your cat to care for her nails, leave scent messages, and engage in exercise. Unfortunately, cats often scratch in inappropriate places. Entice your cat to extend her claws on scratching posts or climbing trees by dabbing on a little catnip or applying Feliscratch, an attractant developed by the makers of Feliway.
3. Nighttime activity can limit your sleep and your patience. Cats enjoy hunting, engaging in play, and seeking out a meal in the middle of the night. All too often, cat owners complain about their cat pouncing on them during the night, yowling for food. Discourage nighttime behaviors by playing with your cat before bed and ensuring she has several small meals throughout the day. Cats thrive on hunting for their food, so cats presented with a bowl of food each day can become bored. Invest in robotic feeding toys that mimic a mouse moving, or consider food puzzles to ensure she burns both mental and physical energy.
Can’t get a handle on your pet’s unacceptable behavior? She may have an underlying medical condition that needs treatment. Give us a call to schedule a behavior consult.
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