Caitlin UltimoTraining / Training Tips

How to Stop Unwanted Behaviors

It’s happened to every pet parent. After a long day at work, you come home, ready to collapse on the couch. But when you open the door, there’s your pet, surrounded by torn-up couch cushions, crown molding that’s ripped off the wall or trash that’s tossed around the room.

Dealing with those behaviors can be frustrating and overwhelming, but with some work, you can understand and overcome them and help your pet become a well-behaved companion.

Role of Exercise

Many bad behaviors, such as chewing on furniture or scratching walls, come from the pet being bored. These behaviors are most common in dogs and cats that are left alone for long stretches of time and who do not get a lot of exercise. They have so much pent-up energy that they let it out as much as possible in the home.

Exercise can work wonders for behavior. A daily hour-long walk can help calm your dog so that he peacefully naps when you’re not home instead of tearing up the couch. For cats, getting them to play with a teaser toy or laser pointer can help work off their excess energy.

Medical Attention

Before beginning a training regimen, make sure your pet is in good health. If your dog or cat has always shown good behavior and is suddenly becoming destructive or aggressive, that can be a sign that something is wrong. A vet visit can rule out any health issues that might be going on.

Behavior Correction

Once you’ve established that your pet is healthy, you can begin working to eliminate bad behaviors. The secret to training your pet is to prevent bad behavior and reward good behavior.

• Barking: Dogs bark for a variety of reasons, but often because they want some sort of attention, such as barking at you to take them for a walk or to encourage you to play fetch. If you respond to the barking by giving in, you reward the behavior. Break the cycle by only responding when your dog is quiet. Wait for him to take a break, then get up and get his dog leash. Eventually, he’ll make the connection that he only gets what he wants when he’s silent. Remember that some barking is perfectly okay and natural—it’s excessive barking or barking uncontrollably to get you to do something that becomes a problem.

• Chewing: If your dog or cat likes to chew things he shouldn’t, such as furniture or shoes, he’s likely bored. Provide him with plenty of exercise and pet-friendly toys he can gnaw on, such as a stuffed Kong or bully stick. Chewing is good for your pets, and by encouraging them to chew on healthy alternatives, you can keep them entertained without damaging your things. For particularly bad chewers, you can also use repellent sprays. These substances make the object taste gross, so your pet won’t want to chew it again.

• Scratching: Similarly, cats have a distinct urge to scratch. It’s a way to burn off energy and trim their nails. Providing many different surfaces for them to scratch freely can help keep them from scratching your heirloom rug. Keep multiple scratching posts and cardboard scratchers around to keep your cat entertained.

• Jumping Up: While it might be adorable to be greeted by a hopping pup when you come home, the behavior can be frightening or even dangerous for elderly guests or friends afraid of dogs. If your dog jumps up, don’t reward the behavior with petting or playing. Instead, turn away from the dog right away, and don’t interact with him until he’s back on all four paws again.

Animals often learn bad habits when left to entertain themselves. You can minimize unwanted behavior by giving them enough attention and exercise and by providing acceptable alternatives that allow them to chew or scratch to their hearts’ content. Happy pet, happy parent.

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