Can Be a Killer
problems” kill more companion animals than any other cause
of death. Sad but true.
barks at everything that moves.
If that cat hangs his butt out over the litterbox one more
time, Im gonna scream.
I only went to the grocery store but by the time I got home,
the dog had eaten the whole side off the chair.
problem behaviors are not bad animals. This is a very important
concept, especially when children are involved. The last thing
we want is for children to grow up thinking that animals are expendable,
or things to be discarded simply because they do what
we want, or fail to please us.
is your concern? Write it down as a statement.
is the focus of your animals issues?
animals?...(generalized or specific)
human family members?...(generalized or specific)
strangers/guests?...(generalized or specific)
animals territory?...(marking or defending)
animal herself?...(self-destructive behaviors)
Find the pattern. (There always is one, sometimes
were just too dense to see it. Use a calendar to keep track
of incidences and consider keeping a journal.) When did the problem
behavior start? How long-standing is it? Is it constant or intermittent?
What makes it worse/better?
any coping or behavior modification methods you have already tried
and their effects on the behavior.
Again, be completely honest.
What circumstances motivate this animal to behave or misbehave?
(When the parents argue, the child cries, and the cat sucks wool
to relieve her stress.)
How much negative reinforcement is operating?
(When Luther starts barking, the owner immediately distracts him
by picking Luther up, hugging him, and talking baby talkif
you were Luther, youd bark too if you knew your favorite
person would hug and make a fuss over you.)
Could other mixed messages be getting
in the way? (Cheetah, who persistently rearranges
the dried flowers in the vase on the table is caught in the act.
Cheetah, I saw you do that! Come here! Cheetah hesitates
but reluctantly comes forward. You pick Cheetah up and hold him
in front of your face and yell No, no, no! Don’t you
ever do that again! If you were Cheetah, youd be
confused by the mixed message. She called me, I went over to her,
and then she picked me up and yelled in my face for obeying her.)
with punishment (i.e., negative reinforcement) is that it just
cant be implemented quickly enough. For this to work, you
have to be there with that punishment the nanosecond
the animal misbehaves. Additionally, you have to be there with
that punishment every single time Cheetah messes with those dried
be much better off setting mousetraps on the table and covering
them with a sheet of newspaper. This is one reason why its
so important to consider the effect of your immediate reaction
toward the animal after the problem behavior occurs.
it be that this example of abnormal or aberrant or inappropriate
behavior is actually an example of normal or instinctual or
(Your terrier constantly digs herself out under your fence to
escape. Your Siamese cat has a loud voice and talks
too much. Most animal behavior is due to natural instinct, and
as such it is generally age-predictable, normal, and appropriate.)
Identify myths and old spouses
tales regarding the care and training of animals.
(How many times do you hear housebreaking is easy, all you
have to do is rub her nose in it?)
Use your resources!
(Talk to your veterinarian. Surf the Web.
from the library or bookstore.)
everyone knows how (or cares) to think like a cat or a dog, or
a horse or a rabbit.
are you to keeping the animal if the behavior could be modified.
Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a
What level of behavior change would it
take for the animal to be allowed to stay in your home? (Complete
change, partial change?)
is the rest of your household to help modify the animals
behavior? (Since the key to behavior modification is consistency,
everyone who interacts with the animal on a daily basis needs
to be part of the team.)
a Behavior Audit
By what names (including nicknames) is
your animal called? (The names people choose
for their pets can be enlightening.)
What do you know anything about your animals
lineage? (Aging often brings on physical disorders
that can effect behavior. hyperthyroidism, failing eyesight, arthritis,
etc. Some behaviors are especially “typey for particular
When was this animals last vet visit?
What was it for? What was the outcome? (If the
problem is indiscriminate peeing, your animal needs
a urinalysis to rule out a medical concern before behavior modification
Evaluate your current brand of food. (Allergies to food additives can cause all sorts of behavioral
and physical problems.)
Which drugs (and dosages) is this animal
currently taking? (A dog on Lasix for congestive
heart failure is more likely to pee inside before you get home
because she cant hold her urine as long due to the diuretic
effect of the drug.)
Has this animal been declawed?
(Its not unusual for declawed cats to become bitey
because theyve lost part of their natural defenses. Inappropriate
elimination is seen as a result of declawing in some cases where
the softer, postoperative litter was not used until the paws
were completely healed.)
Evaluate your current brand of litter.
(Heavily perfumed litter can end up smelling dreadful after
its been peed on.)
How often is the litter box scooped?
(At least every week is a telling response.)
How often (and with what) is the litter
box itself cleaned? (Some people have never
done this! Remember that phenols, contained in products like
Lysol or PineSol, are TOXIC
is the litter box kept?
(If its too close to the food and water dishes, or out
in the midst of traffic patterns, there are bound to be problems.)
our Behavior Audit, a file you can download
Behavior Audit is a PDF file. If you don’t already
have Adobe’s Acrobat Reader (the application necessary to
read PDF files), click the button below to download it for free.
completing the audit, take some time to think.
you the most about whats going on?
is your animal? (Does he seem: fearful •
angry • depressed •
stressed • ill •
bored • content?)
you characterize your household? (Does it seem: tense • chaotic • loud • quiet • peaceful?)
Do the humans
involved agree as to the problem?
Does Animal Behavior Consults
(ok, ok, most) JCHS members live with cats. One or two are willing
to work with caregivers who have feline behavior concerns. Phone
consults and home visits are possible.
addition, printed material about the following issues is available
upon request. E-mail
Phobias, and Stress
Patterns Conflicting with Domestication
(Spot & Co.) runs positive-reinforcement obedience classes
for puppies and adult dogs throughout the year and has generously
agreed to field dog-behavior questions for us. Please schedule
requests for phone consults by e-mailing
addition, printed material the following issues is available upon
Phobias, and Stress
Noise, and Destruction
Elimination and Marking
The Cat Files on PATV
Files features a number of JCHS cats and a member who does
behavior consults. The Files are part of the Animal
House show, which also features Pet Parade from
City Animal Care & Adoption Center.
a Consultation with an Animal Communicator
We are fortunate
that one of our members, Sondy Kaska, is an animal communicator.
Understanding your animal companion’s reason for a particular
behavior can help you arrive at a resolution satisfactory to both
of you. Excessive
barking, failure to use the litter box, fighting between animals
in a household, jealousy, over-protectiveness, and a multitude
of other behavioral issues can be addressed.
To learn more
about animal communication and how to schedule an appointment,
is a PDF file. If you don’t already have Adobe’s Acrobat
Reader (the application necessary to read PDF files), click the
button below to download it for free.
Fancier’s Guide to Problem Behaviors—Cindy
Tittle Moore’s legendary opus from rec.pet.cats, back when
the Internet was in its infancy. It’s still great information!
but it works like magic
Urine—stop the peeing
Cats House—the site was
designed after the first book was printed. This is what appears
to be t.h.e. most cat-friendly house ever. Great ideas abound.
Owners Guide Topic List—from
breed profiles and tips for choosing the best dog for your lifestyle
to kids and dogs to canine aggression