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Behavioural Problems

LIKE people, animals come in all shades of moods. There are the meek and themild as well as the happy and snappy. But, like humans, temperament can becontrolled and bad vibes channelled into positive energy.

With animals, as it is for humans, it is down to training.

And obedience training is one of the best things you can do for your dog andyourself.

Obedience training will not solve all behaviour problems, but it is thefoundation for solving just about any problem. Training opens up a line ofcommunication between you and your dog.

Knowing how to communicate is necessary to instruct your dog about what youwant it to do. You can teach anything from a simple “stay” command to “sit”,through to “off”.

Dogs are social animals but without proper training, they will behave likeanimals, they will bark excessively, dig holes in the garden, fight otherdogs and even bite you and that’s because what we see as a behaviour problemis a perfectly normal canine activity.

Obedience training is the easy way to establish who is in charge. It shouldbe fun and rewarding for you and your dog. A well-trained dog is moreconfident and can be allowed a greater degree of freedom than an untrainedone – simply because a trained dog will come when called.

Most training can and should be done in your home because this is an areafamiliar to the dog. The secret is to keep the obedience training sessionsshort and sweet and your commands consistent and delivered in the same toneof voice.

The single most important aspect of training is rewarding your dog for goodbehaviour. The more times the dog is rewarded, the quicker he will learn. Ifthe dog is misbehaving, it is no good ordering it to “come” and thenpunishing it once it is by your side. That is sending out the wrong message.

One of the main and most common behavioural problems is jumping. Some of thetime we tolerate it, other times we reward the behaviour by exchangingenthusiastic greetings and then there are the occasions when we areirritated because we’re dressed up and the dog’s paws are muddy.

Reprimanding the dog for jumping up usually does not work. Either the dogmisunderstands the reprimand as praise or he gets even more excited and thejumping gets worse.

A better solution is providing your dog with an alternative method ofgreeting you and others. Teach your dog to sit-stay. He cannot sit-stay andjump up at the same time. When he is sitting you can then kneel down andgive him a warm hug and kiss.

Practice is essential. If your dog is excitedly jumping up when you returnhome from work – and this only happens once a day – then he is only gettingone practice session a day. Try speeding up the training process by leavingthrough the back door and returning through the front door over and overagain.

Dogs that have a reputation for biting are, more often than not , loving,sweet, adorable, affectionate and wonderful 99 percent of the time. Only onepercent of the time does something specific happen that makes them bite.

Learning to bite, and control the power of the jaws, is something learned inthe litter when rough and tumble play teaches the puppy what is, and what isnot acceptable.In incidents of biting it is usually down to the animal not having had asocial life. And a dog that is afraid reacts in two ways; timidly oraggressively. That is why children are the ones who are most often bitten.They are the ones that prod and poke without thinking of the possibleconsequences.

If your dog does bite – deal with the problem and remember, reprimands alonewill not stop the biting. If no respect exists between dog and owner, thebiting will get worse; if trust is not there, the dog may eventually biteout of fear or lack or confidence. The dog must understand that it is thebiting that you don’t like, not the dog itself.

One of the other biggest worries owners have with dogs is protecting themfrom the bangs and crashes of fireworks. The problem is made worse now thatdisplays seem to happen all-year round rather than on and around November5th.

Dogs often express their fear in destructive behaviour, barking, cowering,and throwing various fits. There are two mistakes owner make to exacerbatethe situation.

Never reprimand or punish the dog for being afraid because he will onlybecome more frightened. Secondly, never verbally or physically try toreassure or comfort the dog when he is acting fearful.

The best solution is to confine him to a place where he can’t hurt himselfand he feels safe. Alternatively teach your dog a few tricks and gamesbecause it is difficult for a dog to be afraid when he is enjoying hisfavourite game of fetch or alternatively reassure him and teach him toignore the noise.

Cats tend to cause less problems but it is normal for cats and kittens tobite and scratch. If a cat is frightened or feels threatened, it willnaturally try to defend itself.

If you touch your cat in a sensitive area, he may bite or scratch as a wayof telling you to leave alone. There is a fine line between pleasurablepetting and irritating handling. When your cat has had enough, the only wayit knows how to say stop is with its claws or teeth.

Cats and kittens will also scratch and bite when they are playing and actingout their hunting instincts.

The answer to this is to teach your cat to enjoy being touched and handledso he doesn’t feel threatened, defensive or irritated. Start by doing itwhen the cat is relaxed and handle him in ways he finds pleasurable. Scratchbehind his ears and stroke the top of his head. Lengthen the strokes toinclude more of his body. Stroke down his back, down the hind legs and tail.Use plenty of praise, reassurance and an occasional food treat. Work slowlyand gradually increase the area of his body that may be stroked.

Within a very short handling session, you will be able to locate your cat’ssensitive spots that will require additional careful attention. Usuallythese are the mouth, paws, ears and tail. When working with these areas,touch your cat for just one second and immediately reward him with hisfavourite food treat. Keep praising and rewarding and soon the cat that overwill learn to enjoy attention.

Cats, however, are predators. Even though you provide your cat with all hismeals, his instinct is to hunt. It is normal for cats to continuallypractice and fine-tune their hunting skills. Therefore, it is essential thatyou provide an outlet for this behaviour or your cat will practice on you.

Play sessions will give your cat enough opportunity to vent his energy. Makethese sessions active and fun. Tie a toy to a length of string. Drag it infront of your cat, alternating between slow pulls and sudden jerks. Let yourcat stalk and play attack his toys instead of you.

Of course if all else fails you can take your pet to an animal psychologist.

They deal with a range of behavioural problems including: aggression,destructiveness, toileting problems, marking, spraying, vocal behaviour,nervousness, car travel, livestock chasing and general control.

In the treatment of behaviour problems it takes time to establish cause anddevelop treatment plans that are suitable for the owners circumstances.

Consultations are held on an appointment basis, either at a clinic or inyour own home. They normally last 90 minutes to two hours. If possible allfamily members involved should be present. A history of the problem will betaken and your pets temperament assessed. After that the counsellor willexplain the motivation for the behaviour and help you devise a treatmentprogramme.

Treatment programmes vary according to the nature and severity of theproblem. Often only one consultation is necessary. Further advice andafter-care can be provided via the telephone. Where treatment dictates it, afollow-up appointment can be arranged. A report outlining the therapy willbe sent to you and your veterinary surgeon.

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