Bad Behavior in your Pets

It’s true.  Bad behavior in pets is everywhere.  They’re also a large cause of frustration for pet owners. A lot of pets are abandoned or abused because of bad behavior.  As a veterinarian, I hear about all sorts of worrisome problems my clients face and some common myths they believe cause them. I would like to address some of these myths in order for more solutions to be found and my patients to live a happier life and my clients as well.
“My pet is mad at me! That’s why they peed on my bed/clothes/shoes…”
Urinating and defecating are normal body processes and are not used to “get even” with pet owners.  No matter what happens, no pet urinates on your bed, your clothes, or your floor out of revenge.  Animals have no concept of revenge.  Often a pet will make a poor potty choice due to either an underlying medical or behavioral problem. If a pet jumps up on the bed and urinates, instead of thinking that was an act of spiteful revenge, think what could be wrong with the pet. Some pets will have medical concerns such as urinary tract infections that may them have sudden urges to go, kidney disease that creates increase urine volume, or urinary incontinence and they are unable to hold it. Some pets may have arthritis and it hurts to get into a litter box or use stairs to go outside. Some pets experience a moment of anxiety such as a loud noise outside, other pets in the area, children running after them, or missing their message that they really needed to go outside just a moment ago.
My dog is fearful, shy or even aggressive because she was abused as a puppy.
The truth is that an animals behavior is a complex interaction of genes, socialization, and environment. The exact histories of re-homed dogs are not known so abuse may be the case in a few.  Much more often the undesirable behavior is a result of poor socialization as a young puppy that has created a more fearful adult. Either way, these pets can often be helped with a combination of positive reinforcement training and potential medications. A trainer can often help work with the pet through positive rewards for doing the desired behavior.
Finding the right trainer is very important, as this profession is not licensed or regulated. Research trainers and chose the ones that do not use punishment or forceful correction techniques as this can make the problems worse. Select trainers that have been gone though the process of becoming a Certified Pet Dog Trainer or have other extensive pet behavior training. Research their websites and look for words that express positive training such as reward-based, force free training. For more information about finding a trainer or veterinary behaviorist, call your vet.
Puppies should not go to puppy class until they have all their shots because they will get sick.
The opposite is true.  Get that puppy to training at week four.   Puppies have a window of social development between four to fourteen weeks of age that can influence their behavior for the rest of their lives. Puppies have a limited window of fast learning about how to interact with other animals and people. Starting to train a puppy to the touch and sounds of their lives and expectations is good.  Decreasing biting/nipping, jumping up on kids, barking excessively can prevent abandonment or punishment.
Make sure the puppy kindergarten class is with similar aged puppies, held inside with cleanable surfaces, and pups are required to have started their puppy shot series.
My cat freaks out at the vet’s office and we can’t get him in the carrier.
Admittedly, this can be a frustrating situation for pet owners and veterinarians but the fact is cats need to see a veterinarian regularly.  It’s natural behavior for a cat to try to hide diseases and injuries. However, the stress of getting them to the office can be deemed too overwhelming and owners just don’t bring them in. The fact is cats can be trained to accept the carrier with some positive training, changing carrier types, and using some pheromone therapy. Several progressive vets are using “fear free” techniques in the exam room to minimize stress or even safe sedation exams to get your cat the care it needs.
My dog acts guilty so he knows what he did was wrong.
Just like revenge, guilt is a bit too complicated for dogs.  Revenge is about the past.  Guilt is too. Dogs have no past or future.  They only have now.  Dogs that have a tucked tail, head down, ears down, eye contact avoidance and submissive posture are afraid and fearful in response to your body language or tone of voice.  If you have arrived home to find garbage on the floor, chewed up toys/shoes, or soiled carpets  and yelled or punished you pet, that pet has no idea why you’re yelling at it. Your pet does not associate the poor behavior with the punishment. No matter how many times you yell or punish the pet, they will never make the connection to the behavior.  The fear will escalate in the pet and potential aggression may be created.  All you’re doing is ruining the relationship.

For more information on your pets behavior problems, please always consult your veterinarian first. We are a safe place to voice your concerns and help you find the right solutions.

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