Top Ten Behavioural Blunders Solved!

Behavioural problems in our pets are very common and can be extremely frustrating. Sometimes there is a simple solution, but other times, solving a behavioural blunder takes quite a bit of work. For all behaviour issues, a thorough vet check should be conducted, to make sure there are no contributing medical issues. Below are a few tips for dealing with some of the most common behavioural problems we see.

Problem #1: Inappropriate urination in cats

If your cat has suddenly started to urinate outside its litter tray, the first thing to do is visit the vet who will rule out any medical issues such as a urinary tract infection. Cats will often urinate inappropriately as a stress response to changes in their environment. If you have changed the position of the litter tray or changed the type of litter you use, change it back again. The litter tray should be in a quiet, private area (not next to the washing machine) and as a general rule, you should have one litter tray per cat, and a spare. Clean any "accidents" thoroughly with a proper enzymatic cleaner (this breaks down the proteins in the urine so the cat can no longer smell it, whereas ammonia or chlorine based cleaners smell like another cats urine, to a cat!). Limit access to "problem" areas in the house. Cats will usually not urinate where they eat, so you could try super-gluing some dry food to an old bowl, and putting it on top of any areas the cat frequently urinates.

Problem #2: Jumping up on visitors

Ill-mannered rambunctious pooches can be a major turn off for visitors. This is usually solved with some simple training of the "sit" and "stay" command and practice at staying calm. Once you are confident with your dogs ability to obey the "stay" command, you can try introducing some distractions (such as a family member knocking at the door) while you stay with the dog, rewarding it for staying and remaining calm. This will take practice and regular reminding. Reinforce this behaviour by making sure the dog sits and stays before you greet it when you arrive home and have all family members and friends do the same thing.

Problem #3: Pulling on the lead

If your dog constantly pulls on its lead, this can usually be addressed by giving a short, firm tug back on the lead, together with a command signal (such as "no!"). Check chains are not recommended, but halti collars are quite humane and very effective at stopping the lead pulling problem-Halti's go around the dogs muzzle, so it can only use the muscles of its jaw and neck to pull, rather than it's entire body weight.

Problem #4: Not coming when called

To sort this issue out, you will need to make it attractive for the dog to come back! So have an ample supply of your dog's tasty treats on hand, and use them only as a reward for the "come" command. Start by having the dog on a long lead and let it roam to the full extent of the lead. Then give the "come!" command, and pull the lead in. Lavish praise and give treats as a reward for coming back. Once you have perfected this, you can start to do it without the lead. Make sure you start the training in an environment where there are no distractions. Some golden rules here are: issue the command once only-don't give the dog the impression that you will try again if it ignores you the first time. Always have treats with you, never put your dog straight on the lead when it has returned-even if it is time to go home. Take some time for rewarding and play a few other training games first.

Problem #5: Vertical scratching in cats

Believe it or not, this can be a form of aggression in cats. For this problem you will need to supply the cat with a good scratching post. There are many types to chose from-the popular ones include varieties that hang off the door and are laced with catnip, or carpet scratching posts. Most cats prefer the cut loop pile because their claws don't get stuck. If the cat persists on the side of the couch or the door, you may need to temporarily cover the area in thick plastic to make it unattractive for the cat. 

Problem #6: Digging

Digging is sometimes a cue that your dog is bored and needs for exercise and interaction. There are some dogs that simply just love to dig, For them consider giving them an area in the garden where they are allowed to dig-even their own sandpit. To stop the dog digging in problem areas, try digging a ditch in that spot, filling the area with stones (not gravel) or chicken wire, and covering it back up again with soil. The dog will soon start to avoid this area.

Problem #7: Fear of loud noises

Noise phobias tend to be more common in certain breeds of dogs, including Labradors and retrievers. Dogs can be afraid of almost any type of loud noise, from thunderstorms and fireworks to the lawnmower and even the hairdryer. This can be a tricky problem to solve and many dogs will require medication for anxiety as part of the process. These medications, along with Clomicalm-an analogue of the "feel good" pheromones produced by the lactating bitch which can be used in a diffuser inside the house to help calm the dog, may be prescribed by your vet. The generally accepted technique is "desensitization and counter-conditioning" . You need to expose the dog to the noise, very softly at first, rewarding him for staying calm and not reacting. Gradually increase the sound over a number of sessions. If the dog reacts, you will need to turn the volume down and start again.

Problem #8: Begging and pestering for food and attention

Since food and attention are two things dogs enjoy most in life, it's no surprise they will go to any lengths to get it.

Most dogs will try whining, begging at the dinner table, whinging and barking for attention. To stop this you must make a hard and fast rule that the dog is NEVER to be rewarded by the begging and pestering-no exceptions. If the dog becomes so unruly that it is impossible to ignore, then either get up and leave the room abruptly. Expect the dog to get worse when you first start to ignore this behaviour, but if you stick with the program, you WILL win! Be consistent and make sure the rest of the family does the same.

Problem #9: Aggression

There are many different types of aggression in dogs , from fear aggression to defensive aggression and dominance aggression. It may come as a surprise that much of the behaviour we see as aggressive is actually quite normal behaviour in dogs. In the wild, wolves and feral dogs run in packs that hunt for food, protect their territory and generally have an antagonistic relationship with neighbouring packs. This fact certainly doesn't make the behaviour acceptable in companion animals. The key to a well mannered dog is early socialization with both humans and other dogs, and good training. If you have a dog that is displaying aggression, it is vital you discuss the problem with your vet. There is no blanket cure but there are many medications and training programs that can be tailored to the individual situation.

Problem #10: Separation anxiety

Some dogs display all sorts of unruly behaviour in the absence of their owners. This can be anything from barking to urinating and defecating in the house or destroying the furniture. Again, the key here is to have the dog well socialized and trained early on. All dogs should spend at least 2 hours alone each day from puppyhood. Dependant behaviour such as sleeping on the owners bed should be discouraged. Dogs should be provided with behavioural enrichment toys to play with during the owners absence, and all dogs should receive enough exercise and mental stimulation so that they are not so easily bored when left alone. If left for too long, some dogs can be difficult to treat, requiring medication and cognitive therapy with a Veterinary behaviour specialist.

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