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Preventing Animal Behavior Problems

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When a pet develops a behavioral problem, it may seem that it developed overnight. Many behavioral issues are the result of a pet’s reaction to changes in his/her routine or environment. Owners can take a proactive approach to prepare a pet for “change” and actively help him adjust by being aware of the types of changes that predispose pets to problem behavior. We sometimes overlook the fact that our pets will not automatically successfully cope with the changes we impose on them. A move to a new location for example, can be a common trigger for separation anxiety problems in dogs. In general, dogs are much less tolerant of being left by themselves in unfamiliar environments than they are in familiar ones. It is also common for a dog to develop symptoms of separation anxiety after returning home from being boarded. Even though he is back in his familiar environment, being apart from his owner when he or she leaves for work now causes him distress.

Changes in family dynamic or in the family’s schedule can also cause problems for dogs. Children going away to college or an adult returning to work or working longer hours, causing the dog to be left alone more often can trigger destructiveness, house soiling, or excessive barking. On the other hand, when young children are home for the summer, bringing their friends the dog is expected to get along well with, aggression or territorial problems can result if the dog is not comfortable with unfamiliar children coming and going.

The behavior of both dogs and cats can also be severely disrupted by the addition of a new pet. Improper introductions predispose pets to fighting problems. With cats in particular, a poorly planned introduction that results in a fight can set the stage for the cats’ relationship for moths to come. Cats are also very sensitive to changes in their litterbox. It is not a good idea for example to continually switch brands of litter, searching for one that is on sale. If a cat is using the litterbox reliably, don’t make changes!

Cats who are not well socialized or friendly, often do not react well to vacationing friends and relative visiting the home. This can trigger urine-marking or scratching of objects other than the scratching post. Because scratching is primarily a marking behavior, a can may decide to expand his scratching behavior in an attempt to reclaim his territory.

If you are a pet owner and are anticipating either short-term or permanent changes in your routine or lifestyle, consider how these events may impact your pet. If possible, it is usually helpful to expose your pet to the change slowly or gradually. If you know that your pet tends to be shy, fearful, or not very adaptable when it comes to changes, a consultation with a professional animal behaviorist may be helpful. It is almost always easier to prevent problems than it is to resolve them!