Better be Better Behaved

4 Key Points that will Solve a Pet’s Behavioural Problems

When a pet’s behaviour goes astray, the results affect the whole family.

Those of us who love our pets regard them with the same kinship as we do our own children. Therefore, behavioural problems with pets can have long-lasting and far-reaching effects on the whole family.

There are solutions to most of the annoying behaviours that are troubling you and your pet.

Usually the solutions flow when the following four questions are answered.

1. Is there a medical reason for the behavioural problem?

2. Can the animal learn to behave better and, if so, can you teach it to behave better?

3. How can you manage the behaviour?

4. Are medications needed for this behaviour?

Is there a medical reason for the behavioural problem?

Some behaviour problems have a medical cause and unless the medical cause is properly treated, the behaviour will rarely abate. For instance, a dogPuppy on cushion sad.jpg or cat that is injured or that is in pain may be aggressive when unsuspecting children approach the pet to play with it.

A young puppy or kitten with gastro-enteritis may soil the house because it can’t get outside quickly enough and likewise, a cat or dog with kidney disease may produce excess quantities of urine that will cause soiling. With cats, lower urinary tract disease is a common cause of house-soiling, including spraying. Diseases of the thyroid gland can cause behaviour problems. With cats, hyperthroidism (an over-active thyroid gland) can cause restlessness, vocalisation and attention seeking. With dogs, hypothroidism (Low-active thyroid) can cause serious aggression, usually called ‘out of context’ aggression.

Some disorders of the brain can certainly cause unusual behaviours and defective vision and hearing will cause behavioural change too. If you think your pet is unwell, then visit your veterinarian for a ‘check up’ before you battle with the behaviour. Blood tests are usually needed.

Can the dog or cat learn to behave better?

One of the big questions when a pet misbehaves is can your pet learn to behave better and, if so, do you know how to teach it to behave better?

While many dogs are quite able to learn, there are some that can’t. In addition, while I see many dogs that are quite able to learn, it’s the dogs’ owners that are causing the problems by using all the wrong techniques.

Cats are more difficult to teach than dogs but there are ways of teaching a cat to improve its behaviour.

We do IQ testing with dogs which is helpful and a lot of fun!

Why would a pet be unable to learn?

Animals which are, to use a human term, ’emotional’, often don’t think clearly. Dogs have only a limited capacity to think logically even when they are calm. When they are anxious, fearful, aggressive or if they have compulsions, then their ability to think, to concentrate and thus to learn is greatly

So, is your dog a Canine Einstein? If ‘yes’, then the next question is – do you know how to get good behaviour from your Pooch??

If you are using punishment regularly then you certainly need help. Modern behaviour therapy for dogs relies on reward-based learning and usually involves some form of cognitive therapy.

Cognitive therapy is, while your dog is calm, the process of teaching your dog what you would like him or her to learn. Then, in due course, you apply this new knowledge to the problem that you want to solve knowing that then your dog will have a better understanding of what you want it to do.

In my clinics, cognitive therapy is often partnered with progressive desensitization or progressive approximation to create effective cures for behaviour by ‘stepping into’ the problem rather than drowning in it!!

It’s much the same with cats but cats are harder to motivate to change behaviour with dogs. WIth dog, if you throw a liver treat across the floor they say ‘Yes. Let’s to that again!. A cat’s response is more likely to be ‘You threw it away. You go get it. Just leave me alone.’

How can you manage the behaviour?

Managing a behaviour refers to practices that don’t directly solve behaviour but that do affect the progression or outcomes of the behaviour.

For instance, if your dog annoys you by barking at pedestrians that pass by, construct a ‘mid-way’ fence to stop the dog getting to the boundary fence. Doing so will stop most of the barking by removing the dog from the boundary fence.

The fence doesn’t solve the problem on its own (in the short term), but at least your dog is not teaching itself bad behaviours continually.

Then, any strategies you use to teach the dog the benefits of quiet behaviour will be much more effective.

For cats, if they are soiling on your bed, close the bedroom door. Again that doesn’t solve the underlying problem if the litter trays are dirty but allows you to refocus your cat on the clean litter trays you have then supplied in another room.

Reducing the frequency of a behaviour by managing it thus allows you to work on other reward-based training to reduce the barking in the long term.

Are medications needed for this behaviour?

Some behaviours are quite difficult and will not improve without the use of medication.

Thankfully, modern medications that are used to treat pet behavioural problems have very few side effects but you need to know the full story before you decide to use a medication approach. Medications should not be used as the sole therapy for behavioural problems but medications can be a vital piece in the jigsaw of therapy.

Medication is commonly used for anxiety disorders, compulsions, panic disorders and for some forms of aggression. If your veterinarian decides to use a medication, be certain you ask how often it needs to be given, how long it will be before it takes effect and for how long your vet feels it will be needed. At Cam Day Consulting, when we consult with pet owners, the first step is to assess the pet’s behaviour to determine what’s happening and to reach a diagnosis of the problem.

That then allows the implementation of the four step process described above to be achieved with accuracy. Add to that the use of Outcome Targets that are measurable, and a pet’s behaviour almost always improves dramatically.