Fear not! We’ve gathered our favorite and most helpful resources for pet owners to help solve common (but frustrating!) behavior concerns. Whether you have a puppy that is chewing you out of house and home, a cat that suddenly doesn’t want to use the litter box, or your dog doesn’t like it when strangers approach, we have information to help! So scroll through this page and check out the resources below.
Just adopted or thinking about adding a pet to your household? Click here for helpful information about introducing your dog or cat to other pets and your home.
Our puppies don’t have thumbs or hands, they interact with the world through their mouth! They use it for playing, eating, chewing, and exploring so we can’t stop them from putting things in their mouths, but we can help control what they do put in it. We want to minimize their opportunities to munch on fingers, toes, and limbs, maximize opportunities to interact with people appropriately, and finally, ensure they aren’t learning to bite more.
Exercise and regular training games will be your best friend in preventing this unwanted behavior. A physically and mentally tired puppy is significantly less likely to bite or nip. To further prevent biting, look at their access to human limbs- puppies on couches and beds have easy targets for teeth, so you might want to prevent access to these surfaces while in training.
For maximizing opportunities to interact appropriately, make sure that interactions involve a toy between their mouth and your limbs. The more they practice interacting with you through toys, the less likely they will be to interact with your hands without them.
When they nip at us we want to make sure we are not rewarding them by initiating play, giving attention, talking to them or anything else they might enjoy. I’m not advocating punishing our puppies, in fact I’d avoid that because we want to ensure they feel safe and secure around us, but just to ignore the biting. If they nip when you’re on the couch, stand up so they can’t continue to do so, and ignore them for 10-15 seconds, then when you re-engage with your puppy, make sure you do so through a toy. Any attention, even pushing them off, yelling at them, spraying them with water when they nip can be interpreted as initiating play or giving attention, which can make her more likely to nip in the future.
Check out these awesome links below for more information on Puppy Nipping!
Clicker Training – Puppy Nipping
Whole Dog Journal – Puppy Biting Survival Strategies
ASPCA – Puppy Mouthing, Nipping, and Biting
To house train your dog, you want to maximize their opportunities to go outside and minimize their opportunities to go inside.
To maximize opportunities to go outside we want to first look at common times when dogs have to pee:
- After eating
- After drinking
- Before going to bed
- After waking up in the morning
- After naps
- After playing
- After Training
- When everyone gets up and moves to a new spot
Mostly any “transitional” period is a likely time when they might have to go to the bathroom, so be proactive and take them outside! By taking them out at these times, they will get LOTS of opportunities to be correct and use the bathroom in the right place.
Additionally we want to minimize their opportunities to go inside. That could be things like managing them through keeping them on leash when they wouldn’t typically be supervised so they can’t sneak off and pee behind the couch. It could be crate training. It could also just be keeping an eye on them to watch for those signs they has to pee such as sniffing in circles, exploring the edges of the room, leaving the room, whining, or pacing.
Just like with our Puppy Nipping problems, we can’t really stop our dogs from putting things in their mouths, but we can help them build excellent habits of putting appropriate items in them! Chewing is an essential part of our dogs for helping adult teeth come in, dental hygiene, and reducing boredom so we want to make it as easy as possible for our dogs to chew appropriate items, and difficult for our dogs to chew inappropriate items.
You’ll first want to puppy proof your home by keeping shoes in closets, trash cans behind doors, and socks in the laundry hamper. When unsupervised, you might want to even prevent access to coffee table legs or couches by crating your dog, keeping them behind an exercise pen, or confined in another room. Make sure your dog has access to appropriate chew toys as well to build great habits of chewing on things you don’t mind them destroying. Long lasting consumables like pig ears or bully sticks, or food puzzle toys like KONGs will keep them chewing and occupied for a while.
Since stress and boredom are common causes of destructive chewing, increasing the amount of physical and mental exercise your dog is getting can help alleviate these issues. More rigorous exercise and training will keep them exhausted and happy, and significantly less likely to chew inappropriately!
If your dog stares, growls, snaps, or does other concerning behaviors towards your family or other pets when they are eating or have another resource like bones or toys, then they might be resource guarding. We want to acknowledge that your dog is feeling threatened when they do this, and our goal should revolve around helping them feel less threatened. To do this we want to first set up an excellent management strategy to prevent your dog from feeling threatened. If they behave this way when eating their meals, feed them separately from your other pets and away from humans, either in another room or even crated. Let them leave the food bowl completely before removing the empty bowl. If your dog behaves this way with toys, you’ll want to leave them alone when they are in possession of it. Often times, just leaving them alone when they have these resources, and feeding pets separately is sufficient to not encounter the problem, but by itself, these management strategies won’t solve the resource guarding.
It can be difficult to leave a dog at home that whines, barks, paces, pees, or even destroys things when you’re gone. Before calling it full blown separation anxiety, we want to look at what exactly our dogs are doing, and see if there are ways to help them feel more comfortable being left alone. We first want to ensure that our dogs are dogs are properly house trained, are not destructive out of boredom, and are getting plenty of exercise before we leave them alone. A dog who has their mental and physical needs met are usually more likely to just sleep the day away when left alone.
If your dog is still having issues while they are getting plenty of exercise and house trained, then we next want to look at some management strategies to prevent them from feeling distressed or behaving poorly when alone. You can look into doggy daycare, pet sitters, dog walkers, or even having a friend watch your dog during the day which can help your dog always have people around to prevent the problem from occurring. Sometimes, our dogs are happy having a sibling at home to spend time with so go check out our adoptable dogs for a potential friend! To further help our dogs feel better about us leaving them alone, give them a long lasting consumable like a bully stick or pig ear, or a KONG filled with their food and peanut butter. This can keep them content and occupied while you are away.
Check out these awesome links below for more information on Separation Issues!
Whole Dog Journal – How To Manage Separation Anxiety
Clicker Training – When Are You Coming Home?
ASPCA – Separation Anxiety
Hiding or Fear
For dogs that feel afraid of things, whether it is strangers approaching on walks, new people coming to your house, loud noises, strange dogs, or even stairs, our goal should be to help them feel better around these things. We want to acknowledge that when our dog is growling at a person approaching or is even hesitant to pass through a doorway, they are feeling afraid and would benefit from either more space from the scary thing, or for the situation to be more fun and enjoyable. To help our dogs learn that scary things aren’t as scary, we want to to gradually introduce the trigger that causes the fear reaction at such a low level that it is hardly noticeable to our dog. At the same time, we want to condition them with high value treats, play, and fun while the trigger is present to so they learn the scary thing predicts awesome fun things happening.
Now some dogs are more shut down and might choose to hide in a corner, in their crate, and try to avoid things at all costs. For these dogs, we want to try to find something they like such as canned food, left overs from dinner last night, or even a certain bone, and we want to just help them feel more comfortable. Giving them more space and opportunities to not interact, might help them overcome their fear of being in a new environment quicker compared to forcing them to interact.
Check out these awesome links below for more information on helping dogs who feel afraid!
Whole Dog Journal – Building Your Dog’s Confidence Up
Nicole Wilde – How to Help Shy, Anxious, or Fearful Dogs
Fearful Dogs – What You Need to Know
Litter Box Issues
It can be weird to have a cat who has been successfully using their litter boxes their whole life suddenly decide that right next to the litter box, or on top of your bed is the new best place to relieve themselves. This is a more common problem than you may think and most frequently happens when there has been a change in their life such as moving to a new place, a new pet entering the house, changing the type of litter, or even a medical concern. Since there could be a variety of reasons why your cat stopped using the litter box, you first want to get your cat checked out by their regular vet and have them look for things like urine crystals, or a UTI. These can cause going to the bathroom to be painful, and the litter box can then start to predict that pain, so your cat will begin to avoid that litter box.
Once your cat is medically clear, your goal should be to make going to the litter box as stress free as possible. You may need to increase the number of litter boxes (usually the recommended number is the number of cats you have plus one litter box), change the type of litter, scoop more frequently, move the litter box away from potentially loud of scary objects like water heaters and washing machines, and potentially add more privacy such as a cover on the litter box. Usually playing around with these variables will make using the litter box less stressful for your cat, and they will start using it regularly again!
A common issue people have with cats, especially after just bringing them home is that they spend all day hiding, and then only come out at night when you’re asleep! It is pretty typical for cats to hide when getting used to a new environment so it can take a little bit longer than we anticipate for them to become fully comfortable. To help them become for comfortable we want to strategically set up their environment so they can still “hide” but in more socially acceptable ways. Try blocking off the bottom of your sofa, under your bed, or any other tight places your cat likes to hide while at the same time, give them a more preferred place to hide such as on top of a cat tree, a crate you can keep out, a small cat bed on a book shelf, or something similar that will give them privacy, but out where the humans will be. To help these “hiding places” become a preferred place for your cat to be, hide food, cat nip, or other high value treats and toys in those spots so as your cat hangs out there, they have an awesome time! For those cats that are only active at night, try making the daytime more nocturnal cat friendly by closing the blinds, turning off the lights, and limiting noise to encourage them to come out and explore more.
Check out these awesome links below for more information on cats that hide!
Cat Behavior Associates – Why Every Cat Needs Hiding Places
Cat Behavior Associates – Helping a Fearful Cat
SPCA Cincinnati – Cat Sense