Behaviour concerns can be one of the most challenging problems for pet owners to solve. Dangerous, destructive, or disruptive habits strain the bond between a pet and person. Many of these issues create tension with neighbours, landlords, and family members.
Tackling behaviour problems starts with understanding the true cause of the habit. Many pet behaviours that we call "bad habits" originate from an animal's instincts. Sometimes they're responses to fear, anxiety, or boredom. Busting myths about behaviour and training can help you find a compassionate solution.
Top Cat Behaviour Myths
Fiction: "My cat urinates on my floor/bed/laundry to punish me or express anger."
Fact: Inappropriate urination often has a medical cause. Urinary crystals, bacteria, and even stress can trigger painful inflammation in a cat's bladder. Cats can associate painful urination with being in the litter box. This drives them to relieve themselves elsewhere. Punishing a cat for inappropriate urination almost always makes the problem worse. If your cat pees outside of the litter box, visit your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Fiction: "Spraying or scolding my cat will prevent them from jumping up on the counter."
Fact: Climbing, exploring, and resting up high are natural activities for cats. Scolding or spraying will only teach cats to stay off the counter when you're around. These punishments hurt your bond with your cat. Instead, provide appropriate outlets for this behavior. Cat trees, window perches, and climbers are all attractive options for cats to explore. Make your counters less appealing in comparison. Keep food, crumbs, and exciting objects off the surface when you're not in the kitchen. If necessary, use gentle deterrents like sticky mats or tinfoil.
Fiction: "Cats scratch the furniture to be destructive or spiteful."
Fact: Scratching is a necessary and normal behaviour for cats. It helps to sharpen claws and prevent overgrowth of nails. Scratching also allows cats to stretch and leave their unique pheromones behind. Cats target furniture when the texture, location and height of the piece are attractive. The key to protecting your stuff is to offer a variety of appropriate alternatives. Retailers sell scratching posts with many different shapes and materials. You can even make your own at home! Pheromone sprays like Feliway or Feliscratch can help attract cats to the right target.
Top Dog Behaviour Myths
Fiction: "My dog is aggressive around food and toys because he has been abused or neglected."
Fact: Resource-guarding is a natural behaviour for dogs. This trait evolved in your pet's ancient ancestors. It allowed them to thrive when food, shelter and other resources were scarce. Some individuals are more likely to resource-guard than others. Guarding can be dangerous, but it does not always mean that your dog has a history of deprivation. Never attempt to curb guarding by scolding a dog or taking food or toys away. This technician's summary is an excellent resource for preventing and modifying guarding behaviour.
Fiction: "My dog jumps up on people to exert dominance."
Fact: Dogs jump up for a variety of reasons. They may jump up because they're excited or seeking attention. Owners may have even unintentionally trained their pets to greet humans face-to-face. Sometimes, jumping up is a submissive gesture. Reinforcing your dominance or punishing jumping can make the behaviour worse. Training a dog to greet people calmly takes time and repetition. But this effort will make your companion a welcome visitor in many settings. Renowned veterinary behaviourist Dr. Ian Dunbar offers excellent advice for addressing this behaviour.
Fiction: "All barking is a nuisance."
Fact: Barking is communication. It is a dog's way of expressing fear, alarm, warning, excitement, playfulness, or boredom. Geriatric dogs may bark because they are suffering from the canine form of dementia. Although barking may be disruptive, all barking has a reason. Understanding your dog's triggers for barking is the key to reducing the noise. Fearful or anxious dogs bark less when they feel safe. Bored or excitable dogs bark less when they get more exercise and mental stimulation. Elderly dogs can improve with a stable routine and prescription medications. If you're not sure why your dog is barking, consult a veterinarian or animal behaviourist.
Our pets have adapted well to fit into our way of life. It's easy to forget that many of their ancient instincts remain and need an outlet. Behaviour myths and bad training advice can sometimes do more harm than good. A behaviourist can help you understand the motivations behind the "bad habits" of your pets. Many solutions exist that reduce undesirable behaviours and strengthen the human-animal bond.
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