Dr. Al Townshend
Helping to shape a child’s behavior is a part of being a good parent. Our canine and feline family members also need guidance in proper behavior to become an accepted and valued part of the family.
The famous humorist Will Rogers said it best; “Dogs were placed on this earth to please mankind, and they spend 24 hours a day doing just that!” To fulfill that task, they need to understand what pleases us humans and, equally important, what displeases us.
Many books, videos, and internet websites offer ways to train pets. It is essential to remember that most are composed based on the author’s experiences training specific animals. Every pet is different and responds differently when it comes to training methods. Don’t be discouraged; finding the correct method that works for the pet and Guardian may take some trial and error. It really boils down to training good behavior and managing bad behavior until good behavior kick-in.
Training Good Behavior
If left to their natural instincts, it is not likely that dogs and cats would make good in-home companions. Learning good behavior provides needed social and environmental enrichment, strengthening the bond between pets and Guardian.
Starting early in the pet’s life and training them on good behavior can help avoid the misery of bad behavior later in life. The basic commands of sit, stay, and come are essential to control a pet. The “No!” command in a deep, louder tone lets a pet know what is bad behavior, and that is critical too.
Positive reinforcement of good behavior helps assure the pet that what they are doing is good and pleasing their beloved Guardian. Rewarding good behavior with a treat or a “good dog” and a pat on the head each time a pet practices good behavior is essential until the behavior is ingrained.
Learning to ask to go out for the bathroom or helping a cat learn to use the litter box are best learned and relearned with positive reinforcement.
“NO!” is also a learned command. Pets need to know when their behavior is not acceptable, and they need to be redirected toward better conduct.
Managing Bad Behavior Until Good Behavior Kicks In
The key to managing bad behavior is more patience. Every pet is likely to express some form of bad behavior until they finally understand. It’s important never to overreact when accidents occur. Getting emotionally upset and freaking out trying to potty train a puppy can upset and confuse the pet and make training more difficult.
Essential potty training takes time, patience, and tolerance. Positively reinforcing those times when the pet does it right and a redirection to the door or litter box at those bad times is the best way to succeed.
Chewing is natural for a dog. It strengthens the jaw muscles, cleans the teeth, and prevents boredom. What the pet chews can be a problem if proper chew toys are not provided, and chewing the furniture is not discouraged. Redirecting cats that love to scratch certain fabrics to a scratch post can resolve inappropriate scratching.
There are bad habits that develop due to circumstances. Boredom often creates depression, anxiety, and apprehension, which can lead to aggression, separation anxiety, and other more severe issues.
Serious behavioral issues often require help from outside the home. Pet trainers, animal behaviorists, and even veterinary behaviorists are available to help Guardians overcome complex behavioral problems.
Training begins when a pet enters the home, and a pet’s good behavior should be recognized at every opportunity. A pet’s bad behavior should also be identified and redirected toward the desired good behavior until it becomes routine.
Proper training and managing bad behavior are key to encouraging the close and positive bond we all want with our beloved pets for their lifetime and our lifetime of memories.