How to Stop Your Pet's Bad Habits

Medically Reviewed by Will Draper, DVM on November 13, 2013
3 min read

Sure, he's your best friend. But even your best friend has some habits you could live without. You try to get him to stop, but your efforts may encourage your dog's bad behavior, not curb it. Try these tips instead.

You're relaxing on the sofa after a long day, until your dog breaks the silence with a piercing bark. Then another. He won't let up. So you call him over and pet him to distract him from barking.

If you think that will keep your dog from repeating this scenario again and again, you're barking up the wrong tree. "When we respond by giving the dog attention, we reward him," says Bonnie Beaver, DVM. She's a veterinary behaviorist and professor at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

If you want to curb barking, don't respond. Instead, try to identify the trigger and downplay its impact. You might quiet outside sounds with white noise machines, TV, or static on the radio. Or you can keep the dog in a part of your home where he won't hear those sounds, such as a back bedroom. This may be a good plan if neighbors complain about barking while you're gone.

Dog owners often feel guilty about keeping their pet in a crate or confined to one room of the house, but Beaver says dogs don't mind at all.

Another strategy is to give your dog something to do that he can't do at the same time as barking, Beaver says. You can fill food puzzles with treats that a dog may work for hours to retrieve. The dog is entertained -- and he can't bark.

Every time you walk through the front door, your dog jumps up to lick your face, planting paw prints all over your clothes. So you stop and pet her, while pushing her off.

While you think you tell your dog "no," paying her any attention at all says "yes." "We're pushing, we're interacting with them, which is what they want," Beaver says. "If you stood straight as a rod, looked forward, and said ‘no' or turned your back to them, that is no attention. That's the way to do it."

Or continue to walk into the house and straight into the dog. "It throws them off balance, and you're not giving them attention," Beaver says. "Even eye contact is a reward. Just keep walking, look straight ahead, and don't touch them."

If your dog will sit on command, ignore the jumping and say only "no" and "sit," Beaver recommends. When the dog sits, you can pet her. "They'll learn that the way to get attention is by sitting and eventually sit by themselves. It really doesn't take very long if you're consistent," she says. "Even when visitors come, someone has to be there to tell the dog to sit."

Consider the source. Give your cat a scratching surface similar in texture to the surface she prefers. If she likes the carpet, she may prefer a horizontal surface rather than a post.

Provide alternatives. Put toys, treats, or catnip on top of the scratching post or surface, which will help your cat learn to prefer those scratching tools.

Create a scratching space. Confine your cat with her scratching carpet or post to a small carpeted area that you cover with a plastic office mat.

Give them a trim. Clip your cat's nails to lessen some of the damage of scratching.

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