“Problem” Pets

Sometimes natural animal behaviors such as barking, digging, scratching, chewing, spraying, soiling and biting can become problems for the owner. Most of these behaviors can be changed or modified to make the situation bearable for all involved. Unfortunately, many pet owners just muddle through. Some would ask for help if they knew where to find it, and others simply surrender the animals to a shelter or pound and hope that they’ll find a new home.

Many pet’s lives end simply because behavior problems lead the owners to “put the animal to sleep”. This is a tragedy of huge proportions. Nationwide, 70% of these pets surrendered to animal shelters are euthanized, making this problem the leading cause of pet mortality, ahead of trauma and disease.

The bottom line is that most behavior “problems” are simply something that is an inconvenience to us humans, like cats scratching the furniture or dogs marking in the home. We must realize that these are natural behaviors for the animals. And we must learn how to react to these behaviors in the correct way. A veterinarian or shelter worker can help you with the situations you are experiencing with you pet. Most “problems” can be overcome with patience and the accurate knowledge of animal behavior and how to react to it.

Many behavior problems are caused by boredom, fear of abandonment (especially if your pet has come from a shelter after being left by it’s original owners), lack of attention, stress and loneliness, medical problems and over-abundance of energy.

Dogs are pack animal and suffer separation anxiety when apart from their owners and/or other pets. Some breeds of dogs are “diggers” (Siberian Huskies are notorious for wanting to change the “landscape” of their yards…) and providing them with a place to dig (sandbox for example) and encouraging the use of it can be very effective.

Many problems can be solved through understanding, patience and praise using proven behavior techniques:

  • Give your pet a lot of love and attention to establish a bond between you.
  • Give your pet plenty of exercise.
  • Have you pet’s health checked annually and be sure vaccinations are current.
  • Have your pet SPAYED or NEUTERED!!
  • Train your pet with patience and kindness to encourage good behavior. Praise when your pet exhibits the behavior you desire instead of scolding when they don’t.
  • Teach your dog the basic “come, sit, stay, down” commands. Attend an obedience class if possible.
  • Do not punish your pet after misbehaving has occurred; she/he won’t understand why you’re upset.
  • Remember that your pet cannot tell the difference between “their” old shoe and “your” new shoe. Never give a pet a shoe, piece of clothing, rag, sock or any other item such as a child’s toy. Give them toys clearly designed for pets and encourage them to use them.
  • Do not use physical punishment; it creates fearful pets and is unnecessary in almost all cases.
  • Consider crate-training your puppy or dog.
  • Provide your cat with a scratching post and encourage the use of it .If your cat is causing problems with scratching, there are inexpensive nail caps (plastic tips that fit over the nails) available at vets and pet stores that dramatically reduce damage to your furniture, etc
  • Trim your cat’s claws on a regular basis. If you start young, the cat learns to accept this as part of grooming. If your cat is older, you can still do this successfully. Ask your veterinarian for tips on trimming your cat’s nails.

Your pet will know he/she is doing the right thing if a reward is given at the time the desired behavior takes place. Treats and/or praise given when good behavior occurs will reinforce it. Use a low, calm voice to quiet a animal. Shrill sounds excite the animals and sometimes confuse them.

Some problems may be health-related:

Many cats refuse to use the litter box when they have a urinary tract infection. Treat the infection and the problem usually disappears. An otherwise housetrained pet who starts soiling in the house may be a sign of gastric distress or urinary tract infection. Diarrhea may be caused by untreated worms. A simple stool or urine sample will reveal if this is the case and treatment usually solves the problem.

Many times, neutering of male dogs will completely eliminate indoor urination and neutering of male cats will help dramatically with “spraying”.

There are many solutions to “problems” your pets, and you as their owners, encounter. Before you give up your pet to a shelter, please, work with them and see if you can’t resolve the issues. It does take time and patience and understanding, but in the end, you will both be a lot happier.

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