Cujo or Marmaduke? How to know the difference between true behavior issues and poor training.

Dr. Anne Briley, Dr. Steven Epstein, Dr. Michael Forcier, Dr. Karen Spencer and Dr. Scott Senf (Left to Right) The Veterinary Team at Animal Medical Center of Mt. Pleasant

Does your dog jump excitedly on everyone he meets or does he growl and hide behind you when he meets new people? Does your kitty cat scratch enthusiastically in her litter box or would she rather pee on the rug in your bathroom? Sometimes our darling pets ‘behavior can be less than darling’, but when do you just need to make some minor adjustments in training and when do you call your local behavior specialist?

Having a pet, whether it is a dog or cat, can be a wonderful and rewarding experience for both you and your pet, but, with pet ownership comes lots of responsibility. Most of the time having a cat in your life means having a litter box somewhere in your house and keeping that litter box clean! Everyday!
If your cat urinates outside his or her box when the litter box is dirty can be an easy fix. Make sure you scoop your cat’s box everyday. If you have multiple cats the rule is- one box per cat plus an extra box. It is best to make sure the litter boxes are in low traffic areas, and preferably they are not near your cat’ food and water bowls. If you are doing all these things right and still your kitty is peeing on your bathmat, then you need to make an appointment with your veterinarian. We need to first do some testing to be sure your kitty doesn’t have a urinary tract infection (UTI) or a disease like kidney failure or diabetes which might cause an increase in need to urinate. Once medical issues are ruled out, then behavioral mediation may be needed.
Many times when our dogs misbehave it is simply a result of poor obedience training and not more serious behavioral problems. For instance, if you leave your puppy or your dog alone in the house and he chews up the shoes you left in the living room or he takes bread off the kitchen counter and eats it all, those are what I call crimes of opportunity and not an indication of separation anxiety. Puppies and young dogs are usually much better off if they are crated or kept in the yard when you leave.
When left alone boredom can quickly set in and that’s when shoes, magazines, plants and even furniture can be chewed for entertainment. A dog, who cries, pants, salivates and chews at his crate or windows/doors when left alone is showing signs of separation anxiety and will need some behavioral counseling and possibly anti-anxiety medications to help him cope.
Another common dog problem is the dog that jumps up on his hind legs to greet everyone. This is another example of a lapse in training rather than behavioral issues. Often one or more family members may allow the dog to jump on them, even when others correct the dog for the same jumping. Inconsistent correction for these type of problems lead to confusion for your dog and result in poor training response. Obedience classes with a registered dog trainer can help with issues such as jumping, coming when called, sitting on command and better leash manners.
A final thought, aggressive behavior is a very serious matter and is cause for a consult with your veterinarian. At Animal Medical Center of Mt. Pleasant, we offer a Behavior Consultant with Dr. Briley.  Aggression can be your dogs or cat’s attempt to deal with a fearful situation and can end tragically. Be aware if your dog seems nervous or fearful around other animals or people, especially children. It is better to be proactive in dealing with issues with your veterinarian than to wait for a possible bite incident to occur.
Remember that your dogs and cats do need care and attention. Lots of exercise, good diet, routine grooming, obedience training and routine veterinary care is the recipe for a happy pet and a happy owner.

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