We all love our pets, but that doesn’t mean we love their bad habits … like stealing dirty laundry, hijacking your burger when you step away from the table, or peeing in your shoes. But what we might see as bad could be the result of an innate function of that particular animal. Even more, it could be a pet’s way of trying to communicate with its owner. While happy to share some simple tips, Guerrette noted that it is always wise to consult with your veterinarian or an animal behaviorist should any off behavior not be corrected through various modifications.
Moonshine turned to Tara Guerrette, canine enrichment coordinator and adoption specialist for the Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe, for advice to help break some of your pets’ bad habits.
Problem: Your dog is a countertop klepto, stealthily swiping food the moment you turn your back.
Solution: While there’s the obvious answer of not leaving food on the table or counter within your dog’s reach, Guerrette suggests putting the dog somewhere else, like in a crate or bedroom, with a yummy, stuffed Kong or something similar safe to chew on. Gating off an area is also an idea.
Problem: Your dog has a thing for chewing: shoes, clothes, the leg of your dining room table …
Solution: Such behavior can often be a sign of boredom, or just not having enough appropriate things to gnaw, explained Guerrette. “Chewing is normal to dogs and it can help relieve anxiety, so you need to be sure to allow them appropriate items to chew on,” she said. “If you don’t want your dog chewing on certain items, just keep those items out of reach and make sure your dogs have lots of safe chewing toys or bones.”
Problem: Your cat thinks your kitchen counter is a good place to take a stroll.
Solution: “Old cats can learn new tricks!” asserts Guerrette. “In that scenario you would just need to make the counter unappealing for the cat to jump on.” She suggests lining the countertop with tin foil or double-sided sticky tape until the cat learns not to hop onto it.
Problem: Your cat prefers peeing in your shoes instead of the litterbox.
Solution: Such behavior is usually a cat’s way of communicating to us that something is wrong. “It can be as simple as the litter box not being cleaned often enough, or it can be more complex and a way to tell us something is wrong medically,” Guerrette says. “With cats urinating in the house it is important to get to the bottom of why they are doing it in order to solve that behavior, which isn’t always easy.” First, try cleaning the box more frequently, switching litter, or adding another box in a different part of the house; it is always smart to have a litter box on every floor of the home. If there’s nothing wrong medically, and these suggestions aren’t working, a cat behaviorist can be helpful. As far as cleaning goes, make sure to get an enzymatic cleaner like Nature’s Miracle.
Problem: Your cat scratches — everything!
Solution: “Scratching is actually very normal for cats and we need to make sure to always give them appropriate things to scratch,” advises Guerrette. “If your cat is scratching the woodwork, buy a wood scratching post and put it near or on top of where they are scratching.” There are products you can buy to both discourage and encourage scratching. Try placing double-sided tape on the surface you don’t want scratched and put some fragrance that encourages scratching on the new scratch pad.
Guerrette noted that positive reinforcement training is a great way to build a strong relationship with your animals and show them what behaviors you want them to continue doing. She recommends always having a bag of treats on you so you can reward your pet whenever they offer behaviors you like.
“We often expect that animals automatically know what we want from them and they really don’t; it is our job to show them what we like and prevent them from doing things we don’t like,” she said. “If you don’t want them chewing on certain things, make sure to put those things away and give them items they can chew on to set them up for success.”