Cozy cuddles, wagging tails, and unconditional love are only a few of the numerous benefits of caring for a four-legged companion. However, pets commonly develop bad habits—many pet owners have found their puppy using a favorite pair of shoes as a chew toy, or their frisky feline transforming a chair into a scratching post. Pet behavior problems can weaken the vital human-animal bond—according to the ASPCA’s National Rehoming Survey, pet behavior problems accounted for 47% of rehomed dogs and 42% of rehomed cats. Our team at Angels Camp Veterinary Group wants pet owners to understand why their pet misbehaves, so we discuss five common pet behavior problems, and tools to help fix them.
#1: Aggressive dog behavior
Aggressive behavior is the most serious canine behavior problem, and the most common reason pet owners seek veterinary help. However, some aggressive behaviors are normal, including defending territory and protecting offspring. More than 60% of dogs will bark threateningly at strangers, but their aggressive behavior becomes a serious problem only when they act on their threat and grab or bite a person or animal. In some cases, aggressive behavior may be caused by a medical problem, such as arthritic pain, cognitive dysfunction in senior pets, hormonal imbalances, diet, and medication side effects, so we strongly recommend that you bring your dog to Mother Lode Veterinary Hospital or Angels Camp Veterinary Hospital to determine if they have any medical issues.
Most dogs will exhibit subtle warning signs of an impending attack, including:
- Sitting still and rigid
- Changing facial expressions
- Lunging forward
- Growling with a deep sound, or showing teeth
- Mouthing without applying pressure
- Biting and shaking objects, such as a leash
Depending on the underlying cause and severity, a dog’s aggressive behavior may never be completely cured, although proper socialization and training when they are young, with positive reinforcement for desired behaviors, will help ensure they become well-behaved adults. Consider hiring a certified veterinary behaviorist or experienced dog trainer to learn tips and tricks for preventing and addressing your dog’s aggressive behavior.
#2: Dogs who chew household items
Chewing is a form of investigation, especially in teething puppies. Pets, like young children, use their mouth to taste, feel, and learn their surroundings. However, pet owners do not like to discover their favorite pair of shoes covered in tooth-sized holes. Adult dogs also often enjoy chewing objects, such as toys or bones, which can help keep their teeth clean. However, chewing other household items, such as furniture or clothes, may be a clue that they are suffering from boredom or separation anxiety. Never punish your dog for chewing household objects—rather, use the following tools to help prevent this undesirable behavior:
- Take your dog for several walk breaks throughout the day to ensure they are staying active.
- Provide them a variety of dog-appropriate chew toys.
- Dog-proof your home, and prevent access to hampers, or small objects, such as children’s toys, that may be tempting.
- Provide them with brain games, such as puzzle toys filled with treats, to prevent mental boredom.
- Ensure you are feeding them enough calories to satisfy their hunger. Our veterinary team can help you determine how much to feed your dog.
- Consider hiring a professional dog trainer to learn additional tools to distract your dog from destructive activities.
#3: Dogs who bark excessively
Barking is a common form of communication, and can help pet owners know when their dog needs a bathroom break, or a stranger is approaching. However, excessive barking can be problematic for pet owners, and sometimes their neighbors. In some cases, excessive barking can indicate underlying problems such as illness, anxiety, or boredom, or a painful injury, or a medical problem like arthritis. Do not reinforce the behavior with treats or toys to stop the barking, but instead, praise and reward your dog when they are quiet, so they understand the desired behavior.
#4: Cats who eliminate outside the litter box
House soiling is a common problem for pet owners, and more than 10% of cats will develop an elimination problem. However, this unpleasant behavior may indicate that your cat has a disease such as hyperthyroidism, cystitis, urinary tract infections, and diabetes, which increases their urgency to urinate, and they may not reach the litter box in time. Other reasons your cat may eliminate outside their box include:
- A negative association following a previous medical condition
- A desire to spray or mark their territory
- Too much, or not enough, litter
- Lack of privacy, or uncomfortable location
- A dirty litter box
- Not enough litter boxes—you should have one litter box per household cat, plus one extra
Bring your cat for a veterinary examination if they are eliminating outside of their box, to ensure they don’t have underlying medical problems.
#5: Cats who scratch household items
Scratching can be normal cat behavior (e.g., marking their territory, warning other cats to stay away), but, unfortunately, many cats choose household items to sharpen their claws. Never punish your cat for scratching—encourage them to use more desirable locations.
- Provide a variety of scratching post types and sizes, to determine their preference.
- Place scratching posts near previously scratched areas, such as the couch.
- Place catnip or their favorite treats on the scratching post to encourage use.
- Cover previously scratched objects.
- Regularly clip the cat’s nails.
At Angels Camp Veterinary Hospital and Mother Lode Veterinary Hospital, we understand an owner’s frustration when their pet misbehaves or develops an unpleasant habit. We want to get to the root of your pet’s undesirable behavior, and address any medical problems that may be the cause. Contact us at Angels Camp Veterinary Hospital or Mother Lode Veterinary Hospital to schedule an appointment, and we’ll help your misbehaving pet learn how to behave.