Pet Behavior Tips

All content provided by the American Humane Association.

Back to school

  • When the kids head back to school, why not enroll you and your dog in a few classes too? Obedience classes will help your pooch learn a few basic behaviors essential to good doggie etiquette, like not jumping on people, walking on a leash (instead of dragging you down the street), or coming when called.

  • If your dog has the basics down pat, try an advanced obedience class or even an agility class where you'll both have loads of fun. You're never too young or too old to go back to school - even if you count your age in dog years.

Home Alone/Separation Anxiety

  • If you own a dog, you're one of at least 63 million Americans who share their lives with canines. However, most of these households are also empty during the day, leaving the family dog home alone.

  • Dogs are not naturally solitary animals, so when they're left alone, they may exhibit annoying or destructive behaviors. If your dog becomes aggressive toward you when you try to leave the house or if she chews, digs, house soils, or barks excessively when you're gone, she's suffering from separation anxiety. Obtaining another companion animal to keep her company probably won't work. It's your absence, not the lack of another animal, that is causing her anxiety.

  • How can you help your dog? First, don't punish her. Dogs associate punishment with what they are doing the instant it is administered. When you come home and punish your dog (for something she did earlier), she will think the punishment is for what she is doing the moment you become angry, which was enthusiastically greeting you.

  • Second, change your behaviors or routine. Your dog's anxiety begins when you indicate through your actions that you're about to leave without her. To get your dog accustomed to your leaving, pick up your keys and walk towards the door, but don't leave the house. Do this several times until your dog no longer exhibits anxious behavior.

  • The next step is to leave the house for a few minutes at a time. Gradually increase these planned absences so that your dog never has the chance to show any separation anxiety. When you return, greet your dog briefly (don't gush) and return to normal activities. This training may take some time, but it's a worthwhile effort.

Benefits of obedience classes

  • The key to getting your dog to come when you call is to teach it to come when you call. This sounds like simple common sense, but it is often overlooked. An eight week old puppy will follow on the heels of just about any kind-hearted, warm-blooded animal that pays attention to it. When you own a puppy, you can easily be lulled into thinking he follows you because you want him to, and he always will. The truth is, he follows you because he wants to. When he matures in six to nine months and develops other interests, he will take off in the direction of any good scent or diversion no matter what you say. He still loves you and plans to get back to you later, but he won't come reliably every time you call, unless you take the trouble to train him.

  • Just hollering the dogs name over and over again until he wanders your way is not training. This is where a good obedience training course comes in, and every dog owner will benefit from taking one. Ask at the animal shelter for information on obedience training, and enroll yourself and your four-footed friend, so that someday, your dog will come.

Bite-proof your children

  • Warm weather means kids on the move. Children on bicycles, skates, and skateboards explore new places and come into contact with different sights, sounds, people, and yes, animals. To prevent upsetting or even tragic situations resulting from active children encountering strange dogs, teach your children these rules about how to behave around dogs.

  • Dogs do not like to be teased. Stay away from dogs that are chained or in fenced yards. Do not shout, run around, or stick hands at the dogs through fences or open car windows. Never approach a strange dog.

  • Dogs are possessive about certain things. Do not grab things like bones, balls or other pet toys from a dog.

  • Never stick your hand into a dog fight. Find an adult to help.

  • Know what an angry dog looks like. Barking, growling, snarling with teeth showing, ears laid flat, legs stiff, tail up, and hair standing up on a dog's back are warning signs. If a dog looks this way, slowly walk away sideways. Shout "no!" at the dog and act like the boss. Never stare a dog in the eyes, or turn around and run away. Curl up in a ball on the ground and protect your face if a dog attacks.

  • If bitten, tell an adult right away. Remember what the dog looked like, if it had a collar, and in what direction it went. Wash the wound with soap and water. See a doctor and report the bite to the local health department.

  • The rewards of teaching consideration and respect for animals are children who are both humane and safe.

Include pets in fire safety programs

  • Pets belong in your fire safety program. Install smoke detectors and plan your family's (including your pets') safe evacuation in advance. Remember your pets' usual hiding and sleeping places. During a fire, they'll be terrified, and are likely to hide in their favorite retreats.

  • If possible, escort your pets to safety on leashes, in crates, or in cages. In an emergency, a cat can be safely carried inside a pillow case. Obedience-trained dogs will be more likely to cooperate with their owners during the evacuation and ensuing chaos.

  • Include some of your pets' food in your family's emergency kit. Pets' health records should also be included, as a boarding kennel will require these documents.

  • Always identify your pets with collars and current license tags and vaccination tags. Proper identification is crucial if pets and owners are separated during or after a fire.

  • Take your animals to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Pets can suffer from serious smoke inhalation in a matter of minutes, and may also have burns underneath their fur or feathers.

Punishment doesn't work

  • Your dog tips over the kitchen trash can whenever she's left alone. You scold her when you get home, but she continues to dump the trash. Only now she cowers and has that "guilty" look when you arrive home. Well, she obviously knows she's doing wrong, right? Wrong!

  • Those "guilty" looks are only submissive postures to show that she knows you're angry but does not know why. She's going to associate your anger with whatever she was just doing - like the enthusiastic greeting she gave you at the door the moment before your yelled at her.

  • That is why punishment is such an impractical and sometimes damaging way of training your pets. For punishment to be effective, you have to catch your pet in the act every time she does it. And that is not easy to do.

  • You'll have more success modifying your pet's behavior if you simply change the environment so the "bad" behavior is no longer fun. Move the trash can so that your pet can't reach it; or put a lid on it so that he can't get into it. The same applies to house soiling, chewing, or scratching. If your cat is scratching your favorite couch, change the texture (if it's rough, put something smooth over it) or make it smell bad to your cat with muscle rubs or perfumes. Then put her scratching post next to the couch and reward her whenever she uses it. If your cats are chewing your houseplants, coat the leaves with a bitter, pet-safe substance. Then give them their own plant to chew on and reward them for eating those.

  • Even though pets are not people, we do share a preference for pleasant things. Instead of stopping "bad" behaviors, start thinking about how to get your pet to do "good" behaviors, so you can reward her.

Every dog needs a den

  • Dogs are den animals. If you don't provide your dog with a "den" of his own, he'll make do with whatever's around - a chair that just fits, the narrow place behind the couch, or the wedge of space between the bed and the wall. One method of housetraining, called crate training, relies on a dog's natural tendency to seek out these cozy and secure places.

  • A crate is kind of like an indoor doghouse. While its primary function is to serve as a bed or den, used correctly and for brief periods of time, it can also be an ideal tool to housetrain your pet or keep those canines who suffer from separation anxiety from destroying the house while you run a few errands.

  • However, the dog is not suppose to live in the crate. Endless hours in the crate can lead to severe social and isolation problems with your dog - and he will no longer see the crate as a special retreat. When you are home, your dog needs to be out with you. In fact, the crate should be kept in the room where the family spends most of its time. That way, your dog can seek refuge from the hubbub of household activity, yet still feel like part of the family.

  • Once your dog realizes that the crate is a sanctuary for him, and that no one can bother him while he is in his "den" he will begin to seek out the crate on his own.

Fetching- good fun!

  • Want a simple and fun game to play with your dog? Try fetch. As natural "chasers", most dogs love this game. In fact, some dogs prefer chasing a ball over eating treats!

  • To play fetch, you'll need something safe to throw and safe for your dog to carry, like a tennis ball or frisbee. Be careful that the item is not so small that your dog could accidentally swallow or choke on it. You can spark your dog's interest in the object by rubbing some meat on it. He shouldn't hesitate to run after it once he smells the enticing odor.

  • Stand in one place, and as you throw the object a few feet (you can throw it farther as he catches on ), yell "fetch" so that your dog starts to learn what that word means. He should chase the object and pick it up.

  • Now comes the hard part. Tell your dog to "come" and make him sit (while still holding the object). Then gently take the ball from his mouth as you say "drop it". When he does, heap loads of praise on him.

  • Whatever you do, don't chase him! If you do, he'll only learn the fun of being chased by you. Stick to your guns, and your dog will soon realize that he has to give the object to you or the game will end. Once he knows that fun will follow, he should eagerly drop the object again and again.

  • Fetch can even be taught to puppies as young as ten weeks old. At this age, you're better off rolling a ball only a few feet away, since puppies get easily distracted.