If you have a problem with your pet’s behaviour then you are not alone – many types of behaviour can become problematic for owners, including noise phobias, problems when a pet is left alone and aggressive behaviour. Over165, 000 dogs, for example, show aggression towards people on a weekly basis*.
PDSA Senior Veterinary Surgeon, Sean Wensley, says: “Many behavioural problems in pets can be linked to their early life experiences. Aggressive behaviour, for example, is often due to fear. A pet can become fearful of something because they were not introduced to it during their first few weeks of life, which is a particularly sensitive period of their development. In other cases their fear may be due to a negative experience they had when they were younger.”
The good news is that problem behaviour can often be prevented or treated, so PDSA has put the following tips together on how to prevent and manage problem behaviour in pets:
Socialisation is one of the most important things you can do for young pets. It’s all about letting them meet people and other animals, and letting them experience lots of everyday sights and sounds, especially in their first few weeks of life. Remember, though, that the experiences must be good ones! If your pet seems anxious or afraid when they’re doing or seeing something new, calmly end what they’re doing, remain positive and upbeat and do something different instead. Well socialised puppies and kittens are more likely to grow up to be friendly and outgoing dogs and cats.
Training is a great way to keep your dog’s mind active and helps make sure you and your dog understand each other. The key to successful training is to make it fun! The kindest and most effective method is known as ‘positive reinforcement’ or reward-based training. Put simply, this means rewarding good behaviour so that your pet will want to do it again. By repeating this, then adding a word as a signal, your pet will eventually respond to the word without needing a reward. Using reward-based training, almost any animal can be trained to understand signals, from dogs and dolphins to ferrets and fish!
Punishment (e.g. shouting, smacking or using devices like electric shock collars) should never be used as a training method. Punishment is unkind and doesn’t work as well as reward-based methods. This is because punishment causes anxiety, fear and pain which are emotions that have been proven to slow the speed of learning.
Take your pet to the vet
If you have any concerns about your pet’s behaviour, seek advice from your vet. Sometimes problem behaviour is caused by pain or medical conditions such as liver disease, so your vet can rule these out. Depending on the behaviour, your vet may then suggest referral to a veterinary behaviourist or a pet behaviour counsellor. Don’t be embarrassed about taking your pet to your vet because of their behaviour. Problem behaviour can strain the bond between you and your pet, and getting the right advice is the first step towards restoring this bond and ensuring your pet’s happiness.