Here is a sad-but-true (and alarming) fact: The number one cause of euthanasia in pets is not illness or disease—it’s behavioral problems! When pets constantly misbehave, they often end up being put out on the street or surrendered to a shelter, where they eventually may be put to sleep. The real tragedy is that behavioral problems can be easily prevented with a little extra effort and consistency on the part of the pet’s owner, and existing behavioral problems can be overcome with only a little extra effort and diligence.
Pet owners often unwittingly create behavioral problems by reinforcing the cute things that puppies and kittens do. To young animals, the attention they receive when we coo and pick them up or give them treats is interpreted as a reward for whatever action they have taken. So, if a puppy has barked and jumped up on you to get your attention and you immediately pick him or her up, that puppy has learned that to get your attention, all he needs to do is bark and jump up on you. Months later when the dog weighs 80 pounds and jumps on everyone in the house, this bad behavior is your fault for not teaching your dog to sit rather than jump.
The same holds true for the kitten that gets into the trash or jumps on the table, but then one day ruins the expensive dinner for eight you spent all day preparing! Learning plays a huge role in most behavioral problems, and it also plays a critical role in preventing or correcting such problems.
Young animals are most impressionable from 8 weeks to 18 weeks of age. When a pet’s actions result in unpleasant consequences, responding with a firm “NO” or a withdrawal of attention decreases the chances that your pet will repeat that behavior. If you are consistent in your behavior and actions, your pets will learn quickly. Similarly, if the behavior is followed by something pleasant, such as treats, attention or affection, the behavior is likely to be repeated. The trick is to consistently reward the pet for good behavior and appropriately respond to bad behavior, as well.
Is There a Medical Connection?
Behavioral problems can be due to a medical issue, a lack of training, or both. Consult with a veterinarian if your pet begins acting up. Your vet will ask questions to determine if you are unintentionally reinforcing bad behavior. The vet will also do a thorough physical examination to rule out underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to the problem.
For example, a pet with dental problems or arthritis could be in pain—and therefore more irritable. An older dog or cat with poor hearing or vision is another example of a pet more likely to have problems that we need to be aware of and sensitive to. Of course, preventing problems from the onset is the best way to bond with your pet.
I recommend that all puppy owners take their new four-legged friends to a veterinarian-endorsed puppy kindergarten at a young age—not only to begin teaching the puppy good behavior, but also so you can learn how to properly train your dog. New kitten owners should speak with their veterinarians to learn how to raise well-behaved cats.
At Sarasota Veterinary Center, we have a “Puppy Talk” with every owner who has a new four-legged family member. We spend two to three times longer with the new puppy parents than we do during a typical visit, so there is time to explain many of the things new puppy owners never think of but are critical in building a much stronger human/animal bond and developing a positive lifetime relationship with the pup.
Yearly checkups for all pets are an important part of preventing health and behavioral problems, as well. A badly behaved pet can lead to a host of unpleasant problems, but a well-behaved pet brings many years of joy and companionship. All it takes is a little effort on your part, and both you and your pet will be well rewarded!
If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment for your pet, please call us at (941) 377-3031.