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Behavior FAQ's

I am having trouble housetraining my new puppy/dog. What can I do to make it easier?

Most puppies can be reasonably housetrained by four to six months of age. However, some puppies are not 100% reliable until they are eight to twelve months of age. House training is accomplished by preventing indoor accidents through confinement and close supervision, and taking the puppy outside on a frequent and regular schedule and reward him for eliminating where you want him to go. You should keep crating and confinement to a minimum, but some amount of restriction is usually necessary for your puppy to learn to “hold it.” You can check out Weekend Crate Training for more detailed instructions.

Keep your puppy on a consistent feeding schedule and remove food between meals. Take the puppy outside on a consistent schedule. Puppies should be taken out every hour, as well as shortly after meals, play and naps. All puppies should go out first thing in the morning, last thing at night and before being confined or left alone. You need to go outside with your pup and walk him to the spot where you want him to “go.” Teach your pup a phrase that he can connect with the act of elimination. To do that, you wait till the action is happening, then give it a name. “Get busy,” and “go potty” are common phrases. As soon as he goes reward him with happy praise and a couple tasty treats.

Never rub your puppy’s nose in his stool: punishing your dog after the fact doesn’t work. If your puppy has made a mistake, and you don’t catch him in the act, it’s finished. If you catch him, then say ‘no,’ and take him outside right away. It’s much better to avoid the mistake by tying him to your side with a 6-foot leash or confining the dog in a pen, a crate or a puppy-proofed room. If he has an accident, clean it up with an enzyme product, and chalk it up to having a puppy.

Remember each dog is different and will have their own timetable for how long the housetraining process will take. For further information, check out the books Way To Go! and The Puppy Primer by Patricia McConnell (available for sale at BAHS Front Desk) or refer to House Training Your Puppy and House Training Your Adult Dog.

I have a new baby in the house/on the way. What can I do to prepare my pet(s)?

To make things go as smoothly as possible for everyone, teach your pets the skills they’ll need to interact safely with the new family member and help them adjust to the many new experiences and changes ahead. Remember to associate all new baby things with rewards: delicious treats (bits of cheese, hot dog or chicken) and calm praise every time.

Teaching your dog some basic obedience skills, like sit, stay, settle, polite greeting, and leave it, will help you manage her behavior when the baby comes. You can check out the book Family Friendly Dog Training by Patricia McConnell (available for sale at BAHS Front Desk) for more training information. Decide if your pets will be allowed in the baby’s room and start encouraging (a cozy pet bed and tasty treats) or restricting the area (baby gates and closed doors) ahead of time. If you don’t want your pets on the furniture or the bed after the baby arrives, introduce that restriction now. Start scheduling random short play and cuddle sessions with your pets, and gradually give them less and less attention at other times of day, so that they don’t come to expect attention at any particular time.

Gradually introduce your pets to the new experiences, sights, sounds and smells they’ll encounter when you bring your baby home, and associate these new things with rewards. This will help your pets learn to love life with the baby. Start setting up baby supplies (crib, toys, high chair, and swing) and introduce them to your pets one or two items at a time. You can also place smaller items on the floor or near a food bowl when you’re around to supervise your pets. Let them investigate, but if your dog picks them up, immediately redirect her attention to one of her own toys or chew bones. If your pets are sensitive to noises, consider getting a recording of realistic baby noises and play it frequently and use some baby products (shampoo, lotion, powder) so your pets become accustomed with the smells and sounds of a baby. You can also practice with a lifelike doll or introduce your pets to a friend or family member’s baby. You can also practice walking your dog with an empty stroller before the baby arrives. Remember to give her plenty of delicious treats, like bits of cheese, hot dog or chicken and calm praise every time they are introduced to anything associated with the new baby.

You can prepare your pets for the baby’s touch and movement by playing Poke the Kitty/Doggy. Very gently give your pet a little poke, pat or pinch. Then immediately give him a yummy treat or his dinner. Play this game at least two or three times a day until the baby arrives. Once the baby comes, help your pet to enjoy being around her. Offer lots of praise, treats or play whenever he comes anywhere near the baby, but don’t force him to approach. Stop the praise and rewards whenever your pet walks away from the baby—but do continue to have scheduled cuddling and playtime with him. Refer to Preparing Your Cat for a New BabyPreparing Your Dog for a New Baby, and Preparing Your Dog for Life with a Toddler for more information. You can also check out the book Living with Kids and Dogs... Without Losing Your Mind by Colleen Pelar.

My cat isn’t using the litter box. What can I do to fix the problem?

You must first identify why your cat isn’t using the litter box and attempt to correct the reason. Elimination problems can develop as a result of conflict between multiple cats in a home, as a result of a dislike for the litter-box type or the litter itself, as a result of a past medical condition, as a result of the cat deciding she doesn’t like the location or placement of the litter box, or as a result of the un-cleanliness of the litter box.

The first step in resolving elimination outside the litter box is to rule out urine marking (separate issue) and medical problems (have your cat checked by a veterinarian). Next, make sure you have enough litter boxes for all your cats, one for each cat in your household, plus one extra. Remove any covers or liners, scoop the boxes at least once a day, scrub them with warm water and unscented soap and completely replace the litter once a week. Place litter boxes in quiet, accessible locations, away from high-traffic areas and away from areas where the cat might feel trapped. If you live in a multistory residence, you may need to provide a litter box on each level. Clean accidents thoroughly with an enzymatic cleanser designed to neutralize pet odors and if you notice your cat eliminating in a particular spot, put a litter box there. If you can’t put a litter box in that area, try to make the spot unappealing with sticky tape, or motion activated lights, or by placing her food dishes, a cat bed, or toys there.

Some cats can develop a preference for litter type and scent. Each cat is different, but in general, cats are very sensitive to smell and some will have sensitive paws, especially if they are declawed. If you think your cat may dislike her litter type, texture or smell, try offering her different types of litter to use. Cats generally prefer unscented, clumping litter with a medium to fine texture. To help your cat pick her preferred litter, put a few boxes side-by-side with different types of litter in them. She’ll use the one the she likes best.

Some other possible reasons contributing to inappropriate elimination can include: she experienced a frightening or upsetting event while using her litter box, she is feeling stressed, or there is conflict between cats that live together. Identify and, if possible, eliminate any sources of stress or frustration in your cat’s environment.

For further information, check out the book Fastidious Feline by Patricia McConnell (available for sale at BAHS Front Desk) or the articles Litter Box Problems and Remedial Litter Box Training.

My cat gets aggressive when I’m playing with her. What can I do to make her play nice?

It may take a bit of time and effort, but if you’re consistent and patient, you can teach your cat to direct his playful energy toward appropriate toys instead of you. Provide a variety of toys for your cat so you can determine his preferences. Some cats like batting at small balls or fake mice and others prefer dangly toys on strings that they can stalk and pounce. Frequently give your cat new objects to investigate, such as paper bags or cardboard boxes. Twice a day, spend at least ten minutes playing with your cat. During playtime, don’t encourage him to bat at your hands or feet. Instead, direct the play away from you by using a long dangly toy or throwing your cat’s favorite toys. Schedule play sessions to coincide with times when your cat seems most active and playful. Do not physically punish your cat for rough play. If you hit or slap your cat, he may perceive your actions as play and become even rougher. Alternatively, he might become fearful of your hands and respond by avoiding you or changing from play to real aggression. Check out Cats Who Play Rough for more information.

I just got a new cat and my other cat hates her. How can I make them become friends?

If you’re bringing a new cat into your home, be patient. The introduction must be gradual. Following the initial introduction, it can take a very long time for a relationship to grow. It takes most cats 8 to 12 months to develop a friendship with a new cat. Although some cats certainly become close friends, others never do. Many cats who don’t become buddies learn to avoid each other, but some cats fight when introduced and continue to do so until one of the cats must be re-homed.

When introducing a new cat to an already established cat, let the cats get to know each other in their own way. Keep the new cat in a separate room for a few days and let the cats hear and smell each other through a closed door. You can then start opening the door of your new cat’s room a small crack so they can see each other but can't touch each other.  Keep doing this at intervals until they get used to seeing and smelling each others scents.  Expect some hissing, growling and swiping – This is the established cat’s way of letting the newcomer that they are on her/his territory.

Never leave the cats alone and supervise their first few meetings. At night or when you are not at home lock the newcomer in their room until you feel comfortable that the cats will be safe if left alone together. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months before the cats can reach an agreement!  Never rush introductions!Cats can get stressed very easily and they love routine so having to deal with another cat is something that you need to do slowly.

Be sure to have separate food bowls, litter trays and beds for the two cats. Always ensure there is plenty of food, as this will make the transition easier as the established cat realizes that there is no reason to fight over food.  Feed the established cat first, so their routine is not changed and they don't feel neglected. Some experts recommend having a litter tray per cat + one.  Always make sure they have privacy and put the litter tray where they feel safe from the other animals. Always make sure to give them equal attention so they don't become jealous of each other. Check out Introducing Your Cat to a New Cat and Aggression Between Cats in Your Household for more information.

How do I introduce my new cat to my current dog/ new dog to current cat?

Keep in mind that dogs and cats, like people, need time to get to know each other. Allow the cat to control most of the interactions, and make the dog the onlooker. Allow the new pet to become comfortable and familiar with their new home for a few days before introductions. Refresh your dog’s obedience skills: “Leave It” and Recall (coming when called) are beneficial for introductions and trim your cat’s nails.

Start the introductions through a baby gate, walk your dog slowly by the doorway several times each day for a couple of days, praise and treat him for calm behavior. Give the cat a treat as well so your cat will associate your dog with delicious treats. If the dog overreacts to the cat, distract him with treats and walk away and try approaching again later. Take things slow and let the cat set the pace for introductions. Keep in mind that cats can take months to form relationships with other animals. If she runs and hides from the dog, continue the gradual viewing through the gate and NEVER attempt to force any interactions by holding your cat, putting her into a crate or carrier or restricting her movement in any way.

If she doesn’t seem afraid of your dog or tries to jump over the gate, you can try introducing them to each other in a larger room. Make sure your dog is on a leash and your cat has an easy escape route (ex. cat tree, under furniture, leave the room). Keep your cat and dog confined in separate areas of the house when you’re not present to directly supervise. Interrupt any chasing, barking or agitated behavior from your dog by using a leash to move him away from your cat. Redirect his attention to another activity or ask him to do some easy obedience skills for food rewards. Avoid scolding, yelling or jerking on your dog’s leash. Check out the article Dogs Chasing Cats.  A positive approach is crucial because you want your dog and cat to learn a pleasant association with each other’s presence. Refer to Introducing Your Cat to a New Dog and Introducing Your Dog to a New Cat for more detailed instructions.

How do I introduce my new dog to my current dog?

Maximizing the potential for a great relationship between your new dog and your current dog is a two-step process. It involves the actual introduction and then management of the new dog in your home. Be patient. Bringing a new dog home requires that everyone make some adjustments, especially your current pets. And it will take time for your dogs to build a comfortable relationship.

Introduce your dogs on neutral territory, like on a short walk through your neighborhood, in a nearby park or in a friend’s yard. Have two people, one to handle each dog, while keeping the dogs on leashes. Don’t force any interaction, let them sniff and get acquainted on their own terms. After a few minutes, pull them away from each other and walk them in wide circles. Watch the dogs’ body language for signs of stress and to gauge whether things are going well or not. You can check out Canine Body Language for more detailed information. Once the dogs’ greeting behaviors have tapered off and they appear to be tolerating each other without fearful or threatening behavior, you’re ready to take them home. Before you take them inside, walk them together around your house or apartment building.

It’s crucial to avoid squabbles during the early stages of your dogs’ new relationship. Pick up all toys, chews, food bowls and your current dog’s favorite items. When dogs are first forming a relationship, these things can cause rivalry. These items can be reintroduced after a couple of weeks, once the dogs have started to develop a good relationship. Make sure each dog has its own food and water dishes, bed, and toys, and only give the dogs toys or chews when they’re separated in their crates or confinement areas. Feed the dogs in completely separate areas. Pick up bowls when feeding time is over. (Some dogs will compete over bowls that recently contained food.) Keep the dogs’ playtime and interactions brief to avoid over-stimulation and over-arousal, which can lead to fighting. Give your new dog his own confinement area. When the dogs are separated, it might be a good idea to let them get to know each other through a barrier, like a baby gate. Your new dog should be gated in his confinement area, and your current dog should be free to move around and visit when he wants to. Confine the dogs in separate areas of your home whenever you’re away or can’t supervise their interactions.

When the dogs are interacting, interrupt any growling or bullying behavior with a phrase like “Too bad,” and then quickly separate them for several minutes. Then allow them to be together again and remember to praise your dogs when they are interacting nicely.

Spend time individually with each dog. Give each of them training time with you and playtime with other dogs outside your home. Refer to Introducing Your Dog to a New Dog or for more detailed instructions.

My dog does pulls on the leash, jumps on me, lays on the couch, and won’t let me clip his nails. Is he being dominant?

The concept of “dominance” has been used to explain just about every inappropriate behavior in dogs that owners can possibly complain about. The problem is that the term dominance as is used by most dog owners today, and unfortunately some trainers still, is completely incorrect. Dominance describes a social relationship between two or more individuals. It is NOT a character trait. Despite what many people believe, dogs do not spend their time seeking to establish control over humans. If a dog jumps on you, it’s because he has not learned that this is an undesirable behavior. If he pulls on leash, he hasn’t been taught that he should walk closely beside you. If he doesn’t like being groomed, he most likely finds the brush and clippers uncomfortable or scary or both. The moral of the story is, if your dog is doing something you don’t like; forget about worrying about “dominance.” Instead decide what it is you want your dog to do instead, and then proceed to teach him that and reward him for doing it right. For more information on dominance, read Dominance and Dog Training.

My puppy is always biting and nipping me. How do I make him stop?

When puppies play with people, they often bite, chew and mouth on people’s hands, limbs and clothing. A puppy or dog who hasn’t learned bite inhibition, the ability to control the force of his mouthing, with people doesn’t recognize the sensitivity of human skin, and so he bites too hard, even in play. Most pups learn bite inhibition during play with other puppies; however, it is your job to teach him that people have very sensitive skin, so he must be very gentle when using his mouth. When your puppy delivers a hard bite, yelp loudly. Then, when he startles and turns to look at you or looks around, remove your hand. Either ignore him for 10 to 20 seconds or, if he starts mouthing on you again, get up and move away for 10 to 20 seconds. After the short time-out, return to your puppy and encourage him to play with you again. It’s important to teach him that gentle play continues, but painful play stops.

If your puppy bites at your feet and ankles, carry his favorite tug toy in your pocket. Whenever he ambushes you, instantly stop moving your feet. Take out the tug toy and wave it enticingly. When your puppy grabs the toy, start moving again. If you don’t happen to have the toy available, just freeze and wait for your puppy to stop mouthing you. The second he stops, praise and get a toy to reward him. Repeat these steps until your puppy gets used to watching you move around without going after your feet or ankles. Remember to provide plenty of interesting and new toys so that your puppy will play with them instead of gnawing on you or your clothing. You can also consider using a taste deterrent, such as Grannick’s Bitter Apple®. Before you start interacting with him, spray clothing that your puppy likes to mouth. For more information on taste deterrents and how to use them, check out the article on Mouthing, Nipping and Biting

Avoid waving your fingers or toes in your puppy’s face or slapping the sides of his face to entice him to play. Avoid scruff shaking, whacking your puppy on the nose, sticking your fingers down his throat and all other punishments that might hurt or scare him for playful mouthing. They usually react by playing more aggressively and biting harder and physical punishment can also make your puppy afraid of you—and it can even cause real aggression.

You can refer to the article Puppy Mouthing or the book The Puppy Primer by Patricia McConnell (available for sale at BAHS Front Desk) for more detailed instructions.

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