Benefits of a Well Behaved Pet
Owning a puppy or kitten is lots of fun. There are behaviors that are natural for their age that can be very cute and entertaining in their early years such as mouthing and nipping but will become destructive as they get older. Puppies need to, and are eager to learn, what is expected of them. This requires patience, training and reinforcements.
Training should begin early and can be accomplished with positive reinforcement. Find a treat or toy that your new charge is motivated to have and use it as a reward for good behavior. To teach a puppy to sit (the easiest of the commands) lightly push on the puppy's rump and say the word sit and reward it with praise and a treat immediately. Repeat this action multiple times until it can do it without you putting it in position. The praise and the reward must be simultaneous with the action for the puppy to understand what it is being rewarded for. This can be repeated for any commands you want the puppy to understand. Eventually the treats can be taken away and the reward can be the oral praise only. Some learn quickly, others take longer.
Never discipline a puppy for doing something wrong. Negative reinforcement or punishment will not work unless you can do it every single time an action occurs or the puppy will not understand what it is being punished for and and may become fearful. Puppies respond much better to a positive reward system and will encourage good behavior. There are many obedience training classes available to help you.
Socialization with people and other animals is also important to prevent pets from being fearful of new situations. Many pet stores and veterinary hospitals offer socialization classes for new pet owners to get them used to being around new people and animals.
We as veterinarians love working with calm animals that are happy to be there. We never want to see animals fearful of our exams or handling. We want it to be a positive experience not a negative one. To do this bring your puppy into the hospital hungry and bring treats it enjoys. Give it treats for good behavior throughout the exam and while it it is getting its vaccinations. This will help make it a better and fear free experience in the future.
One of the major complaints for kittens is scratching behavior which is normal for marking, stretching and shedding their claw sheaths. The key is to get them to scratch on something appropriate. Have several options available. Every kitten is different it the type of material that they will find acceptable. Some like sisal rope, others like carpet or cardboard. Have both horizontal and vertical options available and reward them with treats and praise when they use appropriate surfaces. You may need to cover surfaces you don't want them to use with aluminum foil or plastic to discourage them using those surfaces. Sprays are also available to make an area less favorable.
Getting your kitten to the veterinary hospital can also be stressful but can be mitigated by getting them used to being in a carrier early in life. Keep the carrier in the house with the door open or off. Put some comfortable bedding inside to make it cozy and place treats in the carrier as a reward for going in. Feliway which a calming pheromone, can be sprayed on the bedding or in the carrier prior to the visit as well. This will help make the carrier a safe place that they will be comfortable in and reduce their stress when traveling in the car.
By training your pets early in life you will assure a healthy future and relationship as it gets older and more mature.
Debbie Justice-Obley, DVM
January 7, 2016