Our aim is to provide humane education regarding environmental enrichment to enhance the life of all captive animals.
Why Should You Do It?
Many people can’t imagine life without dogs. We admire and adore them for their loyalty, unconditional affection, playful exuberance and zest for life. Nevertheless, dogs and people are very different animals. Although officially “man’s best friend,” dogs have some innocent but irksome tendencies—like jumping up to greet, barking, digging and chewing—that can make it downright difficult to live with them! To make the most of your relationship with your dog, you need to teach her some important skills that will help her live harmoniously in a human household.
Learning how to train your dog will improve your life and hers, enhance the bond between you, and ensure her safety—and it can be a lot of fun. Dogs are usually eager to learn, and the key to success is good communication. Your dog needs to understand how you’d like her to behave and why it’s in her best interest to comply with your wishes.
How Should You Do It?
If you ask around, you’ll get all kinds of advice about training your dog. Some people will tell you that the key is to use a “firm hand”—to make sure your dog doesn’t think she can get away with naughty behavior. Some people argue that you should only use rewards in dog training and avoid punishing your dog in any way. Some people insist that all you have to do is “be the alpha dog,” assert your status as the dominant leader of your “pack.” It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the glut of differing opinions out there.
Regardless of which method and techniques you use, effective dog training boils down to one thing—controlling the consequences of your dog’s behavior. If you want to influence the way your dog behaves, you need to:
Your dog might decide that people are scary since she gets hurt whenever she tries to greet them—and she might try to drive them away by growling or barking the next time they approach.
Your dog might decide that YOU are scary since you hurt her whenever she tries to greet people.
If you can teach your dog polite manners without hurting or frightening her, why not do it? Rather than punishing her for all the things you don’t want her to do, concentrate on teaching your dog what you do want her to do. When your dog does something you like, convince her to do it again by rewarding her with something she loves. You’ll get the job done without damaging the relationship between you and your best friend.
If You Don’t Like the Behavior, Take Rewards Away
The most important part of training your dog is teaching her that it pays to do things you like. But your dog also needs to learn that it doesn’t pay to do things you don’t like. Fortunately, discouraging unwanted behavior doesn’t have to involve pain or intimidation. You just need to make sure that behavior you dislike doesn’t get rewarded. Most of the time, dog motivations aren’t mysterious. They simply do what works! Dogs jump up on people, for example, because people pay attention to them as a result. They can learn not to jump up if we ignore them when they jump up instead. It can be as simple as turning away or staring at the sky when your dog jumps up to greet or play with you. As soon as she sits, you can give her the attention she craves. If you stick to this plan, your dog will learn two things at once. Doing something you like (sitting) reliably works to earn what she wants (attention), and doing things you don’t like (jumping up) always results in the loss of what she wants.
Control Consequences Effectively
As you teach your dog what you do and don’t want her to do, keep the following guidelines in mind:
Consequences must be immediate Dogs live in the present. Unlike us, they can’t make connections between events and experiences that are separated in time. For your dog to connect something she does with the consequences of that behavior, the consequences must be immediate. If you want to discourage your dog from doing something, you have to catch her with her paw in the proverbial cookie jar. For example, if your dog gets too rough during play and mouths your arm, try saying “OUCH!” right at the moment you feel her teeth touch your skin. Then abruptly end playtime. The message is immediate and clear: Mouthing on people results in no more fun. Rewards for good behavior must come right after that behavior has happened, too. Say a child in a classroom answers a teacher’s question correctly, gets up from his desk, sharpens his pencil and then punches another kid in the arm on the way back to his seat. Then the teacher says, “Good job, Billy!” and offers him a piece of candy. What did Billy get the candy for? Timing is crucial. So be prepared to reward your dog with treats, praise, petting and play the instant she does something you like.
Consequences must be consistent When training your dog, you—and everyone else who interacts with her—should respond the same way to things she does every time she does them. For example, if you sometimes pet your dog when she jumps up to greet you but sometimes yell at her instead, she’s bound to get confused. How can she know when it’s okay to jump up and when it’s not?
Be a Good Leader
Some people believe that the only way to transform a disobedient dog into a well-behaved one is to dominate her and show her who’s boss. However, the “alpha dog” concept in dog training is based more on myth than on animal science. More importantly, it leads misguided pet parents to use training techniques that aren’t safe, like the “alpha roll.” Dogs who are forcibly rolled onto their backs and held down can become frightened and confused, and they’re sometimes driven to bite in self defense.
Keep in mind that ditching the “alpha dog” concept doesn’t mean you have to let your dog do anything she likes. It’s fine to be the boss and make the rules—but you can do that without unnecessary conflict. Be a benevolent boss, not a bully. Good leadership isn’t about dominance and power struggles. It’s about controlling your dog’s behavior by controlling her access to things she wants. YOU have the opposable thumbs that open cans of dog food, turn doorknobs and throw tennis balls! Use them to your best advantage. If your dog wants to go out, ask her to sit before you open the door. When she wants dinner, ask her to lie down to earn it. Does she want to go for a walk? If she’s jumping up on you with excitement, wait calmly until she sits. Then clip on the leash and take your walk. Your dog will happily work for everything she loves in life. She can learn to do what you want in order to earn what she wants.
Training New Skills
It’s easy to reward good behavior if you focus on teaching your dog to do specific things you like. Dogs can learn an impressive array of obedience skills and entertaining tricks. Deciding what you’d like your dog to learn will depend on your interests and lifestyle. If you want your dog to behave politely, you can focus on skills like sit, down, wait at doors, leave it, come when called and stay. If you want to enhance your enjoyment of outings with your dog, you can train her to walk politely on leash, without pulling. If you have a high-energy dog and would like outlets for her exuberance, you can teach her how to play fetch, play tug-of-war or participate in dog sports, such as agility, rally obedience, freestyle and flyball. If you’d like to impress your friends or just spend some quality time with your dog, you can take her to clicker training or trick-training classes. The possibilities are endless! Please see the following articles to find out more about what you and your dog can learn to do together: Clicker Training Your Pet, Teaching Your Dog to Sit, Teaching Your Dog to Lie Down, Teaching Your Dog to Stay, Teaching Your Dog to “Leave It", Teaching Your Dog Not to Jump Up on People, Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called, Teaching Your Dog Not to Pull on Leash, Teaching Your Dog to Settle, Teaching Your Dog to Wait at Doors, Teaching Your Dog to Hand Target, Teaching Your Dog to Play Tug-of-War, Teaching Your Dog to Play Fetch, Impulse Control Training and Games for Dogs and Teaching Your Dog to Play Hide-and-Seek.
After you decide on some new skills you’d like to teach your dog, you’ll be ready to start training. To maximize her learning potential and make sure you both enjoy the training experience, keep the following basic tips in mind:
An Ounce of Prevention
If your toddler was repeatedly sticking her fingers into open electrical outlets, what would you do? Would you sit her down and try to explain why that’s not a good idea? Would you smack her every time she did it? Nope, you’d probably buy some outlet covers. Voilà! Problem solved. Prevention is sometimes the best solution. When training a dog, the easiest way to deal with a behavior problem might be to simply prevent the undesired behavior from happening. If your dog raids the kitchen trash can, you could spend weeks training a perfect down-stay in another room—or you could move the trash can to a place where your dog can’t get to it. Prevention is also important if you’re trying to train your dog to do one thing instead of another. For example, if you want to house train your dog, she’ll learn fastest if you use a crate to prevent her from making mistakes inside while you focus on training her to eliminate outside.
Let Your Dog Be a Dog
Many behavior problems can be prevented by providing “legal,” acceptable ways for your dog to express her natural impulses. There are some things that dogs just need to do. So rather than trying to get your dog to stop doing things like chewing, mouthing and roughhousing altogether, channel these urges in the right direction. Increased physical activity and mental enrichment are excellent complements to training. Please see our articles, Enriching Your Dog’s Life, Exercise for Dogs and How to Stuff a KONG® Toy, to learn more.
Finding Help and More Information
If you’d like to learn how to train your dog or if your dog has a behavior problem you’d like to resolve, don’t hesitate get help from a qualified professional trainer or behaviorist. To learn more about locating the right expert for you and your dog, please see our article, Finding Professional Help. Many Certified Professional Dog Trainers (CPDTs) and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAABs or ACAABs) offer telephone consultations, in-home private consultations and training sessions, and group classes.
There are also a number of excellent books and DVDs to explore. Here are some of our favorites:
The Power of Positive Training by Pat Miller (and other books by her)
Maran Illustrated Dog Training
Dog-Friendly Dog Training by Andrea Arden
The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson
How to Teach a New Dog Old Tricks by Ian Dunbar, PhD
Take a Bow-Wow! video series by Virginia Broitman and Sherri Lippman
New Puppy, Now What? DVD by Victoria Schade
Clicker Magic DVD by Karen Pryor
Dogs are born to work for a living. They’ve worked alongside us for thousands of years, and most are bred for a particular purpose, like hunting, herding livestock or providing protection. Dogs’ wild relatives spend most of their waking hours scavenging and hunting for food, caring for offspring, defending territory and playing with each other. They lead busy, complex lives, interacting socially and solving simple problems necessary for their survival.
The most common job for our companion dogs today, however, is Couch Potato! They no longer have to earn their keep and instead have to adjust to our more sedentary lifestyles. They get their food for free in a bowl and are often confined, alone and inactive, for most of the day. This lack of purpose leaves dogs no outlet for their naturally active tendencies—physical and mental—and it contributes to the development of behavior problems.
Another problem modern dogs face because they rarely work anymore is a lack of opportunities to exercise. Some pet parents make the mistake of assuming that if a dog has access to a yard, she’s getting exercise. But your dog doesn’t run laps by herself in your yard—or do much of anything besides waiting for you to come outside or let her back inside. It’s the interaction with you that counts!
Problems That Result from Lack of Exercise and Play
Dogs can be like young children. If you don’t give them something constructive to do with their energy, they’ll find something to do on their own—and you may not like it! Some of the most common behavior problems seen in dogs who don’t get enough exercise and play are:
Benefits of Exercise and Play
The good news is that keeping your dog healthy, happy and out of trouble with daily exercise is a lot of fun and provides many benefits, including:
Before You Start Your Dog’s Exercise Program
Check with your dog’s veterinarian before starting an exercise program. He or she can check your dog for any health issues that may be aggravated by exercise and suggest safe activities. Some size, breed and age considerations are:
Breeds with short or flat noses (brachycephalic breeds) can have trouble breathing when exercised vigorously, especially in warmer climates.
Exercise is great for energetic young dogs, but sustained jogging or running is not recommended for young dogs (under 18 months) whose bones haven’t finished growing.
Because large dogs are more prone to cruciate ligament injuries, arthritis and hip dysplasia, sustained jogging can be hard on their joints and bones, too. If you’ve got a large dog, make sure she’s well conditioned before you start jogging together.
Once a dog reaches her golden years, osteoarthritis can cause pain and lameness after strenuous exercise. It’s much better to discover that your once-sprightly dog’s joints can no longer handle long hikes, for example, before you hit the trail.
Exercising Your Dog
With today’s more sedentary lifestyles, dog parents are often challenged to find enough outlets for their pets’ considerable natural energy. Dogs are more athletic than us. But take heart—there are a variety of ways to exercise your dog, from activities that don’t demand much energy on your part to activities that exercise both you and your dog. Dogs’ need for exercise varies depending on their age, size, breed and individual traits. Most dogs benefit enormously from daily aerobic exercise (exercise that makes them pant, like fetch, tug, running and swimming), as well as at least one half-hour walk. Choose activities that suit your dog’s individual personality and natural interests. Experiment with the ideas below to see what’s most practical and enjoyable for her and for you.
Exercise That’s Easy on You
Giving your dog enough exercise doesn’t mean you have to be athletic yourself. If you’d rather not run around or take long, brisk walks, consider two approaches to exercising your dog:
Focus on brain, not brawn. Exercise your dog’s brain with food puzzle toys, hunting for dinner, obedience and trick training, and chew toys instead of excessive physical exercise. Please see our articles, Enriching Your Dog’s Life and How to Stuff a KONG® Toy, to learn more about providing mental exercise for your dog.
Focus on games that make your dog run around while you mostly stand or sit still. Games that fit the bill include fetch with balls, Frisbees or sticks, Find It, Hide-and-Seek, catching bubbles (using a special bubble-blower toy made for dogs, such as the Bubble Buddy™), chase (a toy on a rope or stick), and round-robin recalls for the whole family. If your dog enjoys the company of other dogs, other easy options include taking her to the dog park, organizing play groups with friends or neighbors who have dogs or signing her up for dog daycare a few days a week. These options give your dog a chance to experience invigorating social play with other dogs.
Exercise for Extra Playful or Active Guardians
On-leash walks Did you know that dog owners walk an average of 300 minutes per week, whereas people without dogs walk only about 168 minutes? Apparently, our dogs motivate us to stay active! On-leash walks give dogs lots of interesting sights and smells to investigate. They may provide enough exercise for some toy breeds, senior dogs and other inveterate couch potatoes. Use an extendable leash, like the Flexi retractable leash or the WalkAbout™, to give your dog more freedom to explore, and walk briskly for 30 minutes. To spice up your walks, vary your route once in a while to give your dog new smells and sights to enjoy. If your dog is old, not accustomed to exercise, overweight or has a health problems, start with a 10-minute walk each day and gradually increase the duration. For healthy young or middle-aged dogs, leashed walks alone probably won’t provide enough exercise. Keep reading for more suggestions for adding vigorous activities to your dog’s routine.
On-leash running, inline skating or bicycling These are great ways to exercise a healthy dog and keep yourself fit, too. Teaching your dog how to walk without pulling on her leash is the first essential step to creating a safe and enjoyable on-leash jogging, inline skating or bicycling companion. If your dog forges ahead, pulls to the side or lags behind you when you walk, imagine the problems that could result when you're moving faster! Constantly pulling on the leash can damage your dog’s throat, and it’s no fun for you either. (Please see our article on Teaching Your Dog Not to Pull on Leash for more information.) Here are some tips and things to consider when you and your dog try life in the fast lane:
Additional tips for on-leash inline skating and bicycling Being on wheels when attached to a galloping dog can be a bit dangerous. Squirrels, bouncing balls, the neighbor’s cat and other things that might distract your dog aren’t just slight diversions. They could have you suddenly traveling at light-speed and spilling onto your face—or worse, spinning into the path of a passing car. So, just like with running on-leash, the first step to rollerblading or bicycling with your dog is teaching her how to run beside you without pulling. Dogs often get more excited when running than they do when walking, so it will take extra training to teach your dog to stay in position at a run. If possible, first teach her this skill while running yourself, as described above, instead of skating or cycling. If you plan to cycle with your dog, it can be helpful to attach a Springer to your bike, a device that lets you attach your dog’s leash to the bike. The Springer has a coil spring designed to absorb and reduce the force of your dog’s sudden tugs if she lunges to the side, which will help you keep your balance and prevent your dog from pulling the bike over.
It’s important that you monitor your dog’s physical exertion while you’re on a bike or inline skates. It’s easy to over-exert your dog when you’re on wheels while she’s running. To avoid this, start with short distances at first and gradually increase them as your dog’s endurance increases. If your dog starts to lag behind a lot, you may be pushing her too hard or she might not be enjoying your outings. Slow down or consider taking your dog with you only when you plan to skate or cycle for short distances.
Off-leash exercise Off-leash walking, running, hiking or bicycling in a large, safe fenced property or park or in a forest are ideal activities. Your dog can set her own pace, sniff and investigate to her heart’s content, stop when she’s tired and burst into running whenever she likes. Be sure to have your dog well-trained to reliably come when called before you give her off-leash privileges. Please see our article on Teaching Your Dog to Come When Called for training information. Dogs should be allowed off leash only in safe areas where regulations permit. As you would during on-leash activities, be careful not to overestimate your dog’s abilities. If she seems stiff, sore and exhausted for hours after exercising, you’ll want to scale back next time.
Some breeds are natural water dogs and require no training or acclimation to water, but even dogs who aren’t bred for water activities can learn to enjoy a swim now and then. Here are some tips for fun and safe swimming with your dog:
Most dogs love to jump. You can make your own jumps from materials you have around the house, like cardboard boxes or a broomstick laid across two low pieces of furniture. At first, try using treats to lure your dog over jumps that are just a few inches high. As your dog catches on, you can gradually raise the jumps a little higher. However, keep jump heights at or below the level of your dog's elbows to avoid stressing her bones and joints. Also, avoid encouraging your dog to keep jumping if she hesitates or seems tired after a few minutes. She might be a little sore, especially if she’s over six years of age, and continued exertion could cause injury.
Dog exercise balls Dog exercise balls, such as the Boomer Ball® and the Best Ball, are made for soccer-style play. They come in different sizes and are made of hard plastic. Many dogs love to play with these, using their paws and nose to play soccer—with you, of course! You can also play soccer with your dog using KONG toys, which bounce in unpredictable directions because of their shape, or soccer balls made for dogs or humans.
Sports like agility, flyball, obedience, rally obedience, musical freestyle and tracking can give you and your dog a whole new world of fun exercise and competition to explore. Activities for specific breed groups include herding, lure coursing, hunt tests and go-to-ground trials.
Cats kept exclusively indoors live longer, healthier lives than outdoor cats. If you allow your cat to go outside, he might come into contact with wild animals who carry parasites and disease, as well as other outdoor cats who may fight with him, greatly increasing his risk of getting feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Your cat might encounter predators, like dogs, foxes and coyotes, who could seriously harm or even kill him. He might be hit by a motor vehicle. He might be exposed to poisonous substances like lawn chemicals, antifreeze and rat bait.
Because of these and other dangers awaiting the outdoor cat, it's estimated that a cat allowed outdoors in the United States lives an average of one quarter as long as a cat living exclusively indoors. Keeping your cat indoors is the best way to prolong his life. Of course, cats don't understand that they're safer staying indoors, and some cats will do everything in their power to escape. This is especially true of indoor cats with a history of going outside.
Your cat can learn to be happy indoors if you provide him with an enriched environment and give him opportunities to be by himself. However, if you have a cat who keeps trying to escape, it's vital to make sure he isn't successful! Cat-proofing your exits and deterring him from hanging around the doors are essential management steps for you to take.
If you read our articles on Cats Who Play Rough and Predatory Behavior in Cats, you'll find a common theme in the treatment or management of these behavior concerns: providing environmental enrichment that lets your cat engage in natural behaviors. Here are suggestions that can fulfill your cat's need to engage in predatory behavior:
Provide toys that your cat can throw around himself and toys that require your participation, such as those you wiggle and dangle from a wand or stick. Move the toys in such a way that they mimic the movements of a rodent or bird.
Provide your cat commercially available "cat videos." The most popular ones show close-ups of birds and small rodents.
Position bird and squirrel feeders outside windows where your cat can observe animals coming and going during the day.
Please see our articles, Enriching Your Cat's Life and Cat Toys for more great ideas and information on keeping your cat busy and happy.
Another need a cat has that can affect his welfare as an indoor cat—and affect whether he attempts to escape outside—is alone time. We recognize this need in ourselves but don't always consider it when thinking of our pets. But cats actually have a greater need for personal space and alone time than people do—it's their nature. Under natural (feral) conditions, they avoid each other for the most part. Cats' territories are large, and although they often overlap with other cats' territory, cats have sophisticated chemical social signals, called pheromones. They leave these as information for the other cats so that the cats can "time-share" certain areas—meaning they can use the same area, but at different times so that they don't run into each other. These signals help inform other cats about where and when the cat was in the area. Over time the signals can even tell cats when a cat will likely be back so that others can be sure to be gone by that time.
To meet an indoor cat's social needs, you'll want to provide him enough space to be comfortable and enough perching and hiding places to be alone. If you have more than one cat, you should also have multiple feeding areas, and at least one more litter box than the total number of cats you have. (In other words, if you have three cats, you should have at minimum of four litter boxes). The boxes should be in different areas rather than lined up next to each other. Your cats should also have enough high perches so that one is always available to everyone. Perches can be purchased as indoor cat "trees," but they can also easily be created by emptying spaces on book shelves and window shelves.
Lastly, use a pheromone diffuser in an area or areas where your cat frequents. Synthetic versions of cat pheromones that are released when cats rub their faces on things (like Feliway®) can reduce your cat's anxiety. If possible, use the diffuser until your cat's escape attempts diminish.
Teaching Your Cat to Walk on a Leash
Besides indoor enrichment, another approach to meeting your cat's needs while keeping him from running loose outdoors is to take him on safe outings. One option is to train your cat to walk on a leash with you. Do this by first teaching your cat to accept a harness (collars, even break-away collars, generally can create problems for cats and are less secure than cat harnesses). When teaching your cat to accept his harness, work with him once a day, or once every other day, following these general guidelines:
Buy a harness and an oversized collar for your cat. The collar should be large enough to fit over your cat's shoulders and around his chest. (The collar is just for these exercises. Your cat won't actually wear it. It's just much less scary to a cat than a harness can be.) Prepare some extra special treats for him, like tuna, chicken bits or salmon. (Vacuum sealed salmon can be purchased in small bags in the grocery store near tuna). Don't give the treats to your cat unless you are working on teaching him to accept his harness and leash.
Bring the harness, the collar and the special treats over to your cat.
Let the cat sniff the collar and harness. Offer him treats as he does this.
Lay the collar against your cat's neck, offer him a treat and, as he's sniffing the treat, remove the collar and let him eat the treat. Repeat this until you can snap the collar very loosely on your cat for just a moment while he's sniffing or eating the treat.
Next drape the collar over your cat's shoulder, across his chest and down between his front legs, diagonally like a seatbelt. Always introduce the new feel of the straps while the cat is sniffing or eating his treat, and always remove the collar immediately. Work until you can snap the collar on him diagonally over his shoulder, draping down between his front legs.
Once your cat accepts the collar, discard the collar and teach him to accept the harness using the same gradual process, always accompanied by delicious treats.
Once your cat accepts his harness, allow him to wear the harness—under your supervision—until he can wear it for five minutes at a time. Be sure to give him periodic treats during this time. Once he can tolerate five minutes happily, teach him about being on a leash.
Take him to somewhere familiar inside where he feels comfortable. Put the harness on him and then hook him to the leash. If he moves away from you, wait until he gets to the end of the lead and then quickly—before he panics—call him to you and give him a treat. Continue training for a few days until 1) he doesn't worry when on the leash, and 2) he has begun following you.
Note: If your cat doesn't like treats, is afraid of the collar strap or reacts to any part of the training with fear or attempts to leave, it's best to avoid training him to walk on a leash. On-leash outdoor excursions are not as valuable in increasing your cat's welfare as is avoidance of stress.
For more information, please see our article, Teaching Your Cat to Walk on a Leash. And to learn more about how to best teach your cat new behaviors, please see our articles,Training Your Cat and Clicker Training Your Pet.
Creating a Secure Outdoor Enclosure
A secure outdoor enclosure allows your cat access to the exciting sights, sounds and smells outdoors, enlarging his home territory. Enclosures for cats should be completely enclosed, such as a screened-in porch, or constructed so the cat can't climb up the walls and jump out. Walls should be at least seven feet high and should not be accessible to trees or climbing vines. In addition, the top of the wall should be capped with a fence ledge that angles toward the interior at least one foot, as an added deterrent for jumping and climbing cats.
Cat Proofing Your Exits
Even if you do a great job providing enrichment for your cat, if your cat has been allowed loose outdoors in the past he'll likely try to get outdoors on his own again.
First Things First: Check Windows and Doors
Check the security of your windows and doors. Check that your doors latch securely and that the springs are taut so that the doors close quickly. Be sure your window and door screens are not tattered. Tattered screens invite cats to attempt escape.
Encourage the Family to Watch for Escape Attempts
Be certain that all family members watch for your cat and any attempts he could make to escape. However, remember that children are easily distracted by friends and activities and may not be able to always keep the cat from escaping. It's helpful to practice with children and show them how to leave the house without allowing the cat out with them. Teach them to watch for the cat, to open the door slowly, and to turn back toward the house as they close the door behind them—with your cat inside!
Deterrents at Doorways
A cat who is given outlets for his natural behaviors through environmental enrichment will gradually accept and indeed enjoy his life inside his home. But before he adjusts to this lifestyle change, it can be helpful to set up humane deterrents to discourage him from trying to get out. (Keep in mind that using noise-making deterrents can be stressful for your cat.) Here are some suggestions:
Noise maker Keep a can, half full of pennies and properly sealed, in a convenient spot next to the doorway. Encourage family members to lift the can and shake it each time they leave the house regardless of where the cat may be. Your cat will learn to associate the unpleasant sound with people leaving, and so he'll stay away from the door.
Water spray bottle Keep a spray bottle in a convenient spot next to the door. Have everyone pick it up before they open the door. When the door is open, if your cat approaches, squirt or mist him, whichever seems more unpleasant to him.
A motion-activated sound alarm Radio Shack sells a variety of motion-activated alarms. The downside of using one of these is that it will go off whenever anyone goes near the door, unless they make an effort to step over the infrared beam.
SpraySentry™ Cat Deterrent System This is a device that detects movement within several feet and delivers a short burst of compressed air to deter the cat. This, too, has the pitfall of activating whenever anyone goes near the door.
ScatMat® A ScatMat delivers a startling but mild electric shock when touched. The mat can be set in front of the door as a deterrent. Many cats who have been allowed outdoors will learn to jump over the mat, so your vigilance is still necessary even when the mat is present. Placing two mats side-by-side may be more effective.
Dr. Weissberg studied veterinary medicine , zoology and entomology in Pretoria South Africa and has worked with exotic and domestic animals for 32 years-very knowledgeable regarding mind/body connection and believes strongly in the mind/body connection. He believes that enrichment helps maintain emotional and behavioral health which in turn balances physical health.
Jamie's in the cyber security field and a NASA contractor who became involved in rescuing dogs, and subsequently interested in animal behavior.
The word "compulsive" describes the repetitive, irresistible urge to perform a behavior. Most compulsive behaviors are normal activities, such as eating, grooming, moving around or sexual behaviors, but they occur in the wrong contexts and to such an extent that they interfere with normal functioning. The most common compulsive behaviors in cats are wool sucking or fabric eating (a form of pica) and excessive licking, hair chewing or hair pulling (called psychogenic alopecia). When performed compulsively, these behaviors can be harmful to a cat. Cats who eat fabric can suffer intestinal obstruction, and cats who over-groom can develop skin wounds. Sometimes a cat becomes so compelled to engage in a compulsive behavior that it interferes with her ability to lead a normal life and impairs her relationship with her pet parent.
What Causes Compulsive Disorders?
Compulsive behaviors often develop when a sensitive cat is frustrated or stressed. Initially, the cat performs a displacement behavior. She wants to do one thing but she can't, so she gets frustrated and does something else. For example, when a cat sees another cat outside the window, she might want to attack—but she can't get out, so she performs a seemingly irrelevant behavior instead, like licking herself. If stressful situations like this happen repeatedly, the cat may continue to engage in the displacement behavior. At first, she'll do it only in stressful situations, but she may eventually do it even when there's nothing frustrating going on. At this stage, the behavior has become repetitive and compulsive.
While it's not been confirmed, some experts believe that kittens who were weaned too early might be susceptible to developing compulsive disorder later in life.
Facts About Compulsive Disorders in Cats
Cats are usually less than two years of age when they develop compulsive disorders. Kittens may be as young as three to four months old when they start wool sucking, for example.
Although any cat can develop a compulsive disorder, Oriental breeds, such as the Siamese, are particularly prone to developing them. It's likely that the breeding practices necessary to create and maintain these purebred cats also concentrate genes associated with compulsive disorders.
Female cats are more commonly affected with psychogenic alopecia. There is no known sex bias for other compulsive disorders.
Compulsive disorders occur most often in cats who live exclusively indoors, presumably because indoor cats get less mental stimulation and physical exercise. Indoor cats are also more likely to face stressful situations, like fighting with other cats in the home.
Significant disruptions in a cat's life, like moving to a new house, home remodeling, or the addition of a new pet or family member to the household, can cause stress and trigger the development of compulsive behavior.
Check with Your Veterinarian First
Don't assume that your cat has a compulsive disorder just because she's licking herself or eating non-food items. Some medical conditions can cause these behaviors, so it's crucial to have your cat thoroughly examined by her veterinarian before doing anything else. A cat who licks herself excessively might be suffering from allergies or fungal infections, or she could be experiencing pain in the area she licks. A cat who eats non-food items, such as fabrics, could be suffering from a nutritional deficiency. If you have more than one cat and they all share a food bowl, it's also possible that your cat simply isn't getting enough to eat.
It's important to understand that behaviors originally caused by medical problems can become compulsive. Your cat might continue performing a behavior, even after you've resolved its medical cause.
Identifying the Cause
Once you've ruled out medical issues, the next step is to figure out what's causing your cat to feel stressed and, if possible, get rid of it. Some of the most common factors that contribute to the development of compulsive disorders include the following:
1.Separation anxiety, particularly if someone in the family is absent for a lengthy period of time, or if a person or pet in the family has died or left the home
2. A new person or pet in the household
3. A move to a new home
4. Restricted access to the outdoors
5. Inadequate social or environmental stimulation due to an exclusively indoor life
6. The presence of cats outside the windows of the home
7. Loud or high-pitched noises
8. Attention seeking
Obviously, some of these factors can't be eliminated or avoided. However, if you can't remove the source of your cat's stress, there are still ways to help her cope.
Helping Your Compulsive Cat
If your cat reacts to a specific sight or sound, you can expose her to the thing that upsets her at such low levels that she remains calm. At the same time, you'll be associating the thing with something your cat enjoys, like treats or play. For instance, if she gets stressed when you play the piano, start by teaching her that she gets tasty salmon every time you play a very quiet tune. As she demonstrates that she's comfortable with this, take several weeks to gradually expose her to louder music. Each music session should be accompanied by her favorite foods. For more information about this kind of procedure, please see our article, Desensitization and Counterconditioning.
Cats who are stressed by the presence of other cats outside the home can be discouraged from watching out windows. Remove your cat's favorite resting spots by windows, and make other places more appealing. If necessary, cover the windows with curtains, blinds or even an opaque material like cardboard. Please see our article, Keeping Cats Out of Your Yard, to learn about ways to deter outside cats from coming around.
If your cat lives exclusively indoors, enrich her environment so that she has plenty of things to do. Make sure you have structures for climbing and perching, bird feeders, fish tanks or Kitty TV for watching, and interesting toys for playing. Spend 10 to 15 minutes at least once a day playing interactive games with your cat. Some cats even enjoy a daily walk outdoors on a harness and leash. (Please see our article, Enriching Your Cat's Life.
Some cats engage in compulsive behaviors because they get attention from their pet parents. It's important that you don't unintentionally reward your cat with attention when she's engaging in a compulsive behavior. If you do, she might learn that eating fabric, for example, makes you follow her around everywhere, or that licking herself makes you come over and stroke her. It's best to interrupt your cat without interacting with her. Simply remove the item she's chewing, or clap your hands to distract her from licking.
If your cat is having a hard time adjusting to a dramatic change in her life, such as a move or the loss of a family member, medication might help her. Anti-anxiety medications, such as fluoxetine (Prozac®) or clomipramine (Clomicalm®), are often helpful in treating compulsive disorders. Please see Behavioral Medications for Cats for more information and Finding Professional Help for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist.
Specific Tips for Fabric Eating and Wool Sucking:
1. Keep desirable items out of reach, and prevent your cat from going into rooms where she can access bedspreads or curtains. If she sucks or chews specific items, spray them with a deterrent to make them taste bad. Please see our article, Using Taste Deterrents, for information about products designed for cats.
2. If your cat sucks or chews but doesn't ingest fabric, provide furry mice and soft toys as acceptable alternatives. If your cat eats fabric, provide toys made of rubber or plastic. Scatter the toys in areas where your cat would normally go to look for fabric items.
3. Some cats will chew on fresh catnip and cat grass as safe alternatives to fabric. A few even like to eat lettuce and green beans.
4. Some cats enjoy chewing pieces of thin rawhide lightly coated with fish oil or cheese spread. Others prefer to chew on raw chicken wings. Make sure they're raw—cooked bones can splinter and choke or injure your cat. Only give your cat rawhide or chicken wings when you're able to closely supervise her.
5. Use your cat's feeding times as enrichment opportunities. Hide small dishes of her food around the house so she has to hunt for them. You can also see if she'll eat from a food puzzle toy. You can use toys made for small dogs, such as the KONG® or the Tricky Treat™ Ball. Alternatively, you can make a toy by punching holes in an empty toilet paper roll. Make the holes large enough for the pieces of kibble to fit through. Cover one end of the roll with tape, dump some kibble or other semi-hard treats inside, and then cover the other end, too. Set the toy down in front of your cat and roll it so that she sees the food fall out of the holes.
6. Speak with your cat's veterinarian about feeding her a high-fiber, low-calorie diet. She'll be able to eat more of this kind of food, which will keep her occupied for longer periods of time.
Can a Compulsive Cat Be Cured?
It's often not possible to completely cure compulsive disorders in cats. However, behavior modification, drug therapy and changes to your cat's environment can be effective in reducing the frequency and intensity of her compulsive behavior, making it more tolerable for you and for her. It may help you to keep a daily diary of your cat's behavior so that you can see whether your efforts are helping. If they are, seeing it on paper will encourage you to continue with the treatment program.
What NOT to Do
Do not punish your cat for engaging in compulsive behavior. Punishing her will increase her stress, and she'll probably do even more compulsive licking, sucking or chewing as a result.
It's usually not helpful to physically prevent your cat from engaging in compulsive behavior. For example, making her wear an Elizabethan collar probably won't work. While restraint can be helpful in the short term to keep your cat from harming herself, it's important to find a long-term solution to address the source of the underlying anxiety.
Boredom and excess energy are two common reasons for behavior problems in dogs. This makes sense because they’re meant to lead active lives. Wild dogs spend about 80% of their waking hours hunting and scavenging for food. Domestic dogs have been helping and working alongside us for thousands of years, and most are bred for a specific purpose, such as hunting, farming or protection. For example, retrievers and pointers were bred to locate and fetch game and water birds. Scent hounds, like coonhounds and beagles, were bred to find rabbits, foxes and other small prey. Dogs like German shepherds, collies, cattle dogs and sheepdogs were bred to herd livestock.
Whether dogs were working for us or scavenging on their own, their survival once depended on lots of exercise and problem solving. But what about now?
Today’s Job Description: Couch Potato
Today that’s all changed. Now the most common job description for dogs is Couch Potato! While we’re away at work all day, they sleep. And when we come home, we serve them free food in a bowl—no effort required from them. They eat more calories than they can use. The result is dogs who are bored silly, often overweight and have too much energy. It’s a perfect recipe for behavior problems.
What Does Your Dog Need?
It’s not necessary to quit your job, take up duck hunting or get yourself a bunch of sheep to keep your dog out of trouble.
However, we encourage you to find ways to exercise her brain and body. Read on for some fun, practical ways to enrich your dog’s life, both when you’re around and when you’re not. You’ll find that these ideas go a long way toward keeping your dog happy and easier to live with. Try out a few and see what you and your dog enjoy most.
Tips for Alone Time
Because we all lead busy lives, our dogs often end up spending a good portion of their day home alone. If you give your dog “jobs” to do when she’s by herself, she’ll be less likely to come up with her own ways to occupy her time, like unstuffing your couch, raiding the trash or chewing on your favorite pair of shoes. Plus, she’ll be less likely to enthusiastically tackle you when you come home, after she’s spent a day doing nothing but recharging her batteries!
K-9 to 5: Will Work for Food
Food puzzle toys Food puzzle toys are sturdy containers, usually made of hard rubber or plastic, that hold food or treats inside but don’t give dogs easy access to the food. They usually have holes on each end or on the sides, and dogs must work by shaking, pawing, rolling, nibbling or licking the toy to get the food to come out. Food puzzle toys require time, patience and problem-solving—all skills that are good for your dog and will help her enjoy quiet time alone. Since our dogs’ wild counterparts spend much of their time scavenging for food, food puzzle toys offer a natural solution to pet-dog boredom. Puzzle toys also encourage chewing and licking, which can have a calming effect on dogs. Examples of food puzzle toys include KONG® Toy, the Buster® Cube, the Tricky Treat™ Ball, the Tug-a-Jug™, the Twist ‘n Treat™, the Atomic Treat Ball™ and the TreatStik®. You can find these toys online or at most major pet stores. Feed your dog at least one meal a day in a food puzzle toy to give her brain and jaws a great workout. You can also stuff these toys with your dog’s favorite treats or a little peanut butter, cottage cheese, cooked oatmeal or yogurt.
When you first introduce your dog to a food puzzle toy, make it really easy for her to empty it. She’s probably accustomed to getting her food served in a bowl, so she has some learning to do! Choose a toy with a large dispensing hole and make sure the goodies you put inside the toy are small enough to come out easily. As your dog becomes an expert, you can make it harder and harder for her to get food out of her toys. Use bigger pieces or food or, to provide an extra challenge, freeze the toys after stuffing them. You can also place the frozen toys inside a cardboard box or oatmeal tub so that your dog has to rip through the cardboard container to get to her meal. For recipes and detailed pointers on how to stuff a KONG® food puzzle toy, please see our article, How to Stuff a KONG® Toy. Hunting for dinner You can make your dog hunt for her meals by hiding stuffed food puzzle toys or small piles of her kibble around your house. Hide one of your dog’s meals right before you leave her home alone, and she’ll have great fun hunting her chow while you’re away. To try a variation on this activity, scatter a couple handfuls of kibble around your yard so your dog can search for the pieces in the grass. Most dogs love this game!
Dogs of all ages need to chew. Both wild and domestic dogs spend hours chewing to keep their jaws strong and their teeth clean. They also chew for fun, for stimulation and to relieve anxiety. Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, it’s important to provide a variety of appropriate and attractive chew toys, like Nylabones® and hard rubber toys, natural marrow bones, rawhide and pig ears. Although chewing behavior is normal, dogs sometimes chew on things we don’t want them to. Giving your dog plenty of her own toys and chewies will help prevent her from gnawing on your things.
Just like people, dogs are social animals, and many enjoy spending time with members of their own species. Off-leash play with other dogs serves multiple purposes. It can give your dog opportunities to practice her social skills with other dogs, wear her out mentally and tire her physically. If your dog enjoys romping with dog buddies, give her regular opportunities to do so. Try taking her to a local dog park or doggie daycare. If you have friends or family with dogs, you can also arrange “play dates” at your respective houses. For more information about these activities, please see our articles, Dog Parks, Daycare for Dogs and Choosing Playmates for Your Dog.
Things to Do Together
In addition to fun activities when you’re not around, your dog also benefits from spending plenty of quality time with you. There are many fun and exciting things you and your dog can do together. Read on for some suggestions.
Don’t underestimate the value of a good walk or jog with your dog. Taking at least one outing per day will help keep your dog physically fit and give her opportunities to explore the world. Follow different routes and visit new places whenever you can so that your dog can experience novel smells and sights.
Games to Play
Learning how to play with your dog in ways that are enjoyable and safe for you both will greatly enhance your relationship. The games listed below will exercise your dog’s body and satisfy her deeply rooted instincts to search, chase, grab and tug. Tug-of-war Playing tug with your dog can provide a wonderful outlet for her natural canine urges to grab and pull on things with her mouth. You can also use this game to exercise your dog and teach her important lessons, such as how to listen to you when she’s excited.
Teaching your dog to play fetch is great for a number of reasons. It requires your dog to exert a lot of physical effort—but you don’t have to! You can also use the game of fetch to teach your dog useful skills, like how to drop things when you ask her to. Show your dog a toy and then toss it a short distance. (If she doesn’t follow the toy, try a different one.)
Praise her as she follows the toy. When she picks it up and starts to return to you, praise her. (If she doesn’t return to you, don’t chase her. Just encourage her or play with another toy yourself.) When your dog reaches you, position your left hand under her mouth to catch the toy. Say “Give” or “Drop it” and then put a delicious treat very close to her nose with your right hand. When she drops the toy into your left hand, give her your treat and praise her! When she’s good at fetching in the hallway, you can practice outdoors. After many repetitions your dog will learn the “Drop it” cue. Then you can stop using the treat. When you give the cue and she drops the toy, reward her by throwing the toy again.
Giving your dog a chance to use her powerful nose can really wear her out! It’s easy to teach your dog to find hidden treats. Just put her in another room, out of sight, while you hide a few treats. When you introduce the Find It game, start out by choosing hiding spots that allow your dog to find the “hidden” treats easily. Try placing treats behind the legs of furniture, partially in view. After you’ve hidden the treats, go get your dog and say “Find it!” right before letting her into the room. Encourage her to look around for the treats. (You might have to point them out the first few times you play the Find It game.) As your dog becomes better and better at finding the treats, you can hide them in more difficult places, like behind pillows or underneath objects. You can also play Find It with your dog’s favorite toy. Follow the directions above, but hide the toy instead of treats. When your dog finds it, you can play a game of tug or fetch as a reward. Hide-and-Seek This game is similar to Find It—but instead of teaching your dog to hunt her favorite treats or toys, you’ll train her to search for you! Like Find It, Hide-and-Seek will exercise your dog’s mind and give her an opportunity to use her amazing sense of smell. It can also help her learn to love coming when called.
Dogs were born to chase! Try tying one of your dog’s favorite toys to the end of a sturdy rope. You can attach the other end of the rope to a stick or plastic PVC pipe. Then use the stick or pipe to drag the toy around on the ground or twirl it in the air around you so that your dog can chase it. Many dogs find this game exciting and will chase the fast-moving toy until they’re exhausted. Of course, you want to let your dog catch it at times! If you’d rather not make a toy on your own, you can purchase one, such as the DogFisher™ made by Bamboo or the Chase It® Pet Toy. You can also buy an inexpensive lunge whip from a horse tack or feed store and tie a ball or other toy to the end of the whip. Tennis balls you can buy on a rope are good for this—or put a squeaky toy in a sock and tie the sock to the end of the whip. Then twirl the whip in a big circle and let your dog chase it. Your dog can get a good workout in a relatively small space. When playing outdoors with you, your dog may enjoy chasing a stream of water from a hose. Use a sprayer attachment for maximum enjoyment. Try spraying the ground a few feet away from your dog and then rapidly moving the stream of water away from her, along the ground. Many dogs can’t resist chasing and trying to bite the water. Another unique way to satisfy your dog’s desire to chase is to purchase a bubble-blowing toy made for dogs, such as the Fetch a Bubble Big Bubble Blaster or the Bubble Buddy™. These toys produce bubbles that taste like bacon, chicken, peanut butter or barbeque!
This is a fun obedience game you can play with the whole family. Have everyone spread out around your living room. Take turns calling your dog to you, and treating and happily praising her when she reaches you. Make her earn her entire dinner in a game of Round-Robin.
With family members at least 20 feet apart, have one person happily say your dog’s name and then give the cue “Come!”
If your dog hesitates, don’t say “Come” again (nagging just teaches dogs to ignore you) but encourage her with clapping, slapping your thighs or making high-pitched noises. When your dog gets to you, gently grab her collar, say “Good girl!” and treat her. So that she’s ready to focus on the next person when she’s done eating, look away from your dog, and put your hands and treats behind your back. Then it’s the next person’s turn to call. Whenever one person is calling your dog, the other(s) should remain quiet and boring (treats behind back and looking away) so your dog isn’t confused about whom to go to. When your dog’s good at recalls in your living room, spread out further around the house, even where you can’t see each other. When she’s a champ at that, take the game outside into your yard or a fenced area.
Enroll in a reward-based training class to increase your dog’s mental activity, enhance the bond between you and your dog, and help her understand your expectations of her. Contact a CPDT (Certified Professional Dog Trainer) for group or private classes that can give you and your dog lots of great skills to learn and games to play together. Please see our Finding Professional Help article to locate a CPDT in your area. There are many kinds of training to investigate, such as basic obedience training, clicker training and trick training. To learn more, please see our articles, Training Your Dog and Clicker Training Your Pet.
If you’ve got a competitive streak, you and your dog can participate in competition obedience or Rally Obedience (Rally-O), an exciting new sport in which dogs navigate a numbered course with their handlers and perform a series of heeling patterns and obedience exercises. If you have a mixed breed dog, please see www.apdt.com/po/rally, http://www.ukcdogs.com/WebSite.nsf/WebPages/Home or http://www.ambor.us/ for more information. If you have a purebred dog, please see www.akc.org/events/obedience or www.akc.org/events/rally.
No Free Lunch
When you and your dog have learned some new training skills, you can start a No Free Lunch program. Here’s how it works. You control all the valuable resources in your dog’s life, such as food, water, affection, toys, walks, petting and playtime. Instead of giving these things for free, ask your dog to work for them! The work will exercise her brain and help her become more obedient. Just give your dog what she needs and wants after she does something you ask her to do. For example, if your dog wants to go on a walk, ask her to sit before you clip on her leash and open the door. If your dog wants dinner, ask her to sit-stay while you put down her bowl. If your dog wants to play a game of tug, ask her to lie down before you start the game. Your dog will happily learn to work for everything she loves in life.
Short on Time?
It’s often difficult to work time with your dog into your hectic daily routine. But if you’ve got a busy schedule, you can find help.
Consider the following time-saving ways to add some excitement to your dog’s life:
Look into the possibility of taking your dog to a dog daycare at least once or twice a week.
If you live close enough to work, consider going home to spend your lunch break with your dog.
If you can’t make it home during the day, hire a dog walker to take your dog out for a stroll instead.
If you have friends or family members who don’t work during the day, ask if they’d be willing to let your dog visit them while you’re at work.