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What can I do When My Pet Misbehaves?

Ah, the torture of naughty pet behavior and not knowing what to do about it! There is always a reason for acting out, but the reason can be a mystery — so frustrating! And unfortunately, you can't fix a problem if you don't know what's causing it in the first place.

Pets who act out: a list of possible causes

  • It may be due to an underlying emotional condition. They might be reacting to a neighborhood animal that they see or hear from inside the house. They could be influenced by your own emotional state or recent changes in the household. They might be angry about something — perhaps literally "pissed off." They could have previous trauma, anxiety, depression, or a background that cemented some bad habits. It could be grief over a recent death in the home. I’ve even dealt with situations (more than once!) where one of the other humans in the household was actually the source of the problem — inciting and reinforcing unruly behavior. The wife craved serenity but the husband got the dog all riled up because he thought it was cute and “fun” to do. One other client's fiancee actually goaded their dog to attack — and bite — his (human) friend when he came over, in order to "test out" if he would be an effective guard dog!

  • There could be an undiagnosed medical condition. There might be something going on inside that you don’t realize: for instance, they could be peeing inappropriately due to an infection or other urinary condition. If your cat is de-clawed, the type of litter you are using could be painful for them to step on (even years later), and they will want to avoid the litter box. Your pet may be in pain from arthritis, bad teeth, or some other cause. They could be having age-related changes and are more easily confused because they can’t see, hear, or think as well as they used to. If they haven't had a veterinary checkup in a while — especially if they're now a "senior," make an appointment with your vet.

  • There is a struggle with others in the household. Sometimes the mix of personalities just isn’t right — everything might have been stable until another pet was adopted into the family. We assume sibling animals should get along, but sometimes they don't. Or a pet is reacting to a human's personality — I remember one cat who was greatly upset by a teenager's boyfriend who would visit the house. That cat just knew this guy was a bad dude, and he made quite a statement about it with his spraying. The teen had made threatening gestures to the cat and it was the cat's way of saying "back off and get out of MY territory!"

  • Boredom. You may be so used to your pet sleeping a lot that it doesn't cross your mind to give them the attention they need, and this falls into a habit. I've seen this problem with cat people who think that cats are self-contained and don’t need much interaction, which is quite untrue. Or perhaps your dog or cat is excessively whiny or barky because they are simply not getting enough exercise or stimulation. Some animal breeds are more demanding of excitement than others, for instance Bengal cats, Border Collies, Jack Russells, etc. Older animals in particular need stimulation and enrichment to keep them from being bored and to help their brains and bodies work better.

  • The pet just doesn’t “get it.” Sometimes they don’t realize that what is natural to them (for instance, spraying/marking) is actually repellent to humans. I often find myself having to explain this to cats — especially the male ones. They're genuinely surprised about it (which is rather amusing), but from their perspective, it does make sense.

  • You're not “getting it.” I’ve had more than one animal tell me that they knew they were being naughty, but acting out was the only way to make enough of a statement to get their human’s attention. In some cases, if what they've been doing is not getting the desired response, they'll escalate it to increasingly dramatic behavior.

What NOT to do when a pet misbehaves

  • Don't "discipline" or scold them. I don't recall ever working with a pet that actually meant to be "bad", or to plan out an act of deliberate vengeance for no good reason. As the above examples illustrate, they're just doing what they're doing for legitimate reasons because they don't know what else to do. They need understanding, not meanness and negativity. If you scold them, they may not even connect it to whatever it was they did to elicit the scold in the first place. Let's work together to get to the bottom of the problem before you lose your temper and yell or squirt them with a water bottle. (By the way, I hold no judgements about this — "losing one's cool" is a natural impulse— we are far from perfect too.)

  • Don't assume you have to give them away or put them down. Problems with naughty pets can be gotten to the bottom of AND fixed — I do it all the time! I think back several decades to when I was in a different career. I worked with a woman who was having marital difficulties with a verbally abusive partner. There was a lot of yelling. They had a young-ish cat that began pooping all over the place, which escalated the existing tension in the house. There was apparently some discussion that their only recourse would be euthanasia. She left the company shortly thereafter so I don't know what ultimately happened, but it makes me extremely sad every time I happen to remember it. That poor kitty was surely just reflecting and expressing the "crap" that was flying around in that household, don't you think?

What are the solutions for pets who misbehave?

With the exception of medical causations diagnosed by your vet, the types of behaviors outlined above require a different modality in order to successfully treat them. Animal communication is the most effective way I know of to uncover and actually fix these diverse problems. Though you may be stymied by your pet's behavior, from my perspective, it's really quite simple. Step One is to get to the root cause(s) of the problem. Then we have the proper information to go on to Step Two — creating and implementing the right plan. The solutions I'll give you are practical AND easily do-able.

The bottom line is that no one needs to suffer with this. What matters is that we get to happiness and harmony within the household as quickly as possible. You will most likely be amazed to find out how fast we can make changes happen, once we know the actual reasons that started the bad behavior in the first place. Typically, we see improvements right away. Book a Discovery Session to learn more.


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