Pet owners want to live happily with their pets and enjoy
their company when they are well-behaved. Like all household members, pets need love, rules and consistency
in order to feel secure and to fit into the household lifestyle. It’s important to set reasonable expectations and rules
when a pet joins the household. For example, the feeding and exercise schedule should be consistent and household members should all agree whether or not the pet is allowed on the furniture.
Pets do not know that a behavior is unacceptable unless it is corrected or redirected to an acceptable behavior. If bad behavior is not corrected, it will become more difficult to stop. If an unwanted behavior is unintentionally rewarded, it may become more frequent. Feeding a pet that wakes you up in the middle of the night will lead to the pet expecting to be fed at that time the next night.
Owners should realize that some unwanted behaviors may actually be normal for the pet. A kitten likes to play by pouncing on moving prey, but attacking family members’ ankles as they walk by is unacceptable. Redirecting that play behavior to chasing a cat toy makes it acceptable and fun activity.
Other unwanted behaviors, such as urinary accidents, might be caused by actual physical or medical conditions that the pet cannot control, such as a urinary infection. If a pet suddenly has behavior changes, a physical exam and diagnostic tests provided by your veterinarian may be needed to discover the reasons for these changes.
Most pet behavior can be corrected by basic pet obedience training methods. Some problems may require advice from your veterinarian for correction. If an unwanted behavior continues even with attempts to change it, expert assistance from a pet trainer or a professional animal behaviorist may be necessary. These advisors will need a complete history of how the unwanted behavior evolved, and they often do home visit in order to evaluate the problem and offer a solution.
Consistent rules, early correction with positive redirection, and recognition that a problem is developing are key points to preventing or changing unwanted pet behaviors. When pets are well behaved they are a joy in your home and wonderful companions.
Karen Geissert, D.V.M., owner of Acton Animal Hospital, has practiced veterinary medicine for over 30 years. Questions for her may be submitted to ActonAnimalHospital@comcast.net.