Tips for managing behavioural problems

Most pets will, at some point exhibit problem behaviour. The tips below can help you manage and resolve issues as quickly as possible.

  1. Visit your vet: there may be health issues causing the problem so a check up is always recommended
  2. Control the situation and environment: managing the situation to avoid the problem may be the easiest approach eg. if your cat goes to the toilet in inappropriate places, close off the area so it cannot access it, a dog that is on lead cannot run away or jump on people, always supervise interaction between pets and children.
  3. Do no harm: if your response to the behaviour problem is not effective, it’s important to understand that there is a chance that you could actually be making the problem worse! Don’t persist, stop and seek help. The RSPCA Animal Behaviour team are here to help you!
  4. Adopt a positive approach: Instead of saying ‘no’ – select and reward a good behaviour rather than penalising the bad behaviour eg. Teach your dog to ‘sit’ when it greets you.
  5. Be consistent: animals of all types learn best from consistent rules. Negotiate with everyone in the household and set some house rules that everyone must stick to!
  6. Your pet should earn what it wants: an owner who gives their pet everything will have difficulty influencing their pet’s behaviour. Take the time to teach your pet some manners and you will both benefit eg. teach your dog to say ‘please’ by sitting, or doing something for you, before he gets what he wants.
  7. Alleviate boredom: one of the most common contributors to problem behaviours is boredom. Providing adequate exercise, enrichment and human interaction will help alleviate and reduce the likelihood of problem behaviours developing. Spending quiet ‘quality’ time with your pet, regular exercise and leaving toys for your pet when you are not home, will help to keep your dog out of mischief.
  8. Understand your pet: your pet’s tendency to run or stay close, chase or herd, work with people or work independently are often the result of genetics. Take the time to research your pet’s breed and you will learn how best to work with your dog’s natural instincts and where you need to concentrate training efforts.
  9. Your pet is an animal not a person: some problem behaviours are purely normal behaviours that we deem to be inappropriate eg. digging is a natural canine activity but distressing to a proud garden owner. Whenever natural behaviours conflict with what you want, be creative and see if you can find an outlet for those activities that suit you both.
  10. Communicate with your pet in a way that it understands: most behaviour is sustained by a reward of some type. You may be inadvertently rewarding a behaviour that you don’t like. If you are having difficulties in teaching your pet – get professional help. The sooner you begin working on a problem the sooner you will have it solved.

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