Cat and Dog Training
Training Your Cat to Use the Scratching Post
Stopping Your Dog's Excessive Barking
Stopping Your Dog's Destructive Behavior
Training a cat or a dog works best with positive reinforcement. Using rewards instead of punishment encourages good behavior. Rewards can include food treats, praise, petting, or a favorite toy. When using this training method, it is important that the reward occur immediately. It is also important that the training be consistent, and that the whole family follows through. As your cat or dog offers the desired behavior, you can cut down on her treats. Over time, reward her only half the time, and eventually reward with only an occasional treat, but always praise your animal companion for good behavior. Remember not to reward an unwanted behavior. For example, if your dog is barking at an unwanted time, do not give her a treat to stop the barking.
Sometimes verbal punishment is used in training to try to stop a certain behavior. Verbal punishment must be delivered while your animal is engaged in the undesirable behavior. Like positive reinforcement, if delivered even seconds later, the cat or dog will not associate it with the behavior. Never use physical punishment. Not only is it inhumane, but it might actually result in other undesirable behaviors. For example, hitting or shaking a cat may frighten her and result in scratching or biting. This punishment also results in losing your animal companion's trust.
Follow these general pointers:
Training Your Cat Not to Bite
Most kittens only bite because they want to play. Cats are very energetic and their natural instincts involve stalking and biting, so this behavior is part of their play. To discourage this behavior, make sure your cat has enough toys. If possible, allow your cat to play with other cats. Most important, play with your kitten! Kittens need to play to develop physical and emotional health. Any time your cat nips at your ankles, just say "No!" Eventually your kitten will understand that biting your ankles will not lead to fun and games.
Litter Training Your Cat
Cats are naturally clean animals. Place your cat's litterbox in a private yet easily accessible location, away from his water and food. Your cat should know where the litterbox is, and be praised whenever he uses it.
The litter should not be very deep because many cats won't use litter that's more than 5 cm (two inches) thick. How often you clean the litter depends on the type of litter. As a general guideline, it should be cleaned daily and replaced with fresh litter every week. Washing the box with soap and water should be sufficient. Other chemicals may discourage your cat from using the litterbox, or they may be toxic. In households with many cats, provide several litterboxes. If your cat does have an accident, clean the area right away with a cleaning solution (such as white vinegar and water) and be sure to eliminate the odor. Tell your cat "No!" during the accident, and then place him in the litterbox and praise him there. Never use any highly toxic cleaning agents in areas accessible to cats.
If your cat continually refuses to use his litterbox, there could be a number of reasons. The litter may be too dirty, or it may not be the right brand of litter for your particular cat. Cats can be finicky, so experiment until you find the litter your cat likes. Your cat may be having accidents because he is under stress about a move, new furniture, a new person, or a new animal in the house. Another possible explanation for eliminating outside the litterbox is that the cat (usually male) is marking his territory. If your cat has not yet been neutered, neutering him may reduce this behavior. If your cat has always used his litterbox and has recently started having accidents, take him to the veterinarian as soon as possible to rule out any medical conditions.
Training Your Cat to Use the Scratching Post
Climbing and scratching are necessary, as well enjoyable, for all cats. However, most people do not want their cat shredding their drapes and furniture. These behaviors can be easily curbed by teaching your cat to use a scratching post (or special cat climbing furniture), usually covered with sisal rope, cardboard, or carpet. Many cats enjoy these posts, and they can be easily trained to use them instead of furniture. If one type of post doesn't work, get a second one and experiment with their locations.
During the training period, put the scratching post in a convenient area where you are able to watch your cat use it. Lavish her with praise, affection, or a treat any time she scratches or climbs the post. Remember, this reward must be done while the cat is scratching the post. For cats who need extra guidance, create a game with a string or other appealing toy by running it all around the post. As your cat digs her claws in the post to play, she will realize what a great discovery the post is. Scratch the post with your own fingernails or use the string if you need to lure your cat to the post again. Try using catnip on the post. Do not physically force your cat to scratch the post by holding her paws, as this might cause her to dislike the post.
If your cat continues to scratch the furniture, tell her "No!" Bring her to the post and demonstrate scratching again using your own fingernails. When your cat uses the post, be sure to praise and encourage. If you are consistent with this training, your cat will get the message that the furniture is "No!" while the post is "Good Kitty."
It's possible that even if your cat uses the post, she will also have a favorite scratching site on the furniture. Try securing a smooth sheet or tablecloth or even double-sided tape over the area. Above all, do not consider having your cat declawed, it is an unnecessary and inhumane procedure. See Declawing Your Cat.
Walking Your Cat
Allowing your cat to roam outside freely would be irresponsible in most cases. Unsupervised, your cat faces the very real dangers of road traffic, disease, and other animals who may be aggressive. If you live in a house with a yard, you can put up a fence designed to be completely secure for cats. If this is not a possibility, you might consider teaching your cat to go for walks with you on a harness and leash. If taken out at approximately the same time every day, your cat will learn that this is the only time he can go out.
Remember that grass and woods are very interesting to your cat, so have patience and let her set the pace.
The ultimate goal of dog training is to build a bond between your dog and his or her new family and to enjoy the process. Follow the positive reinforcement method to ensure a happy relationship.
Training Puppies Not to Bite
Like kittens, puppies love to play! Unfortunately, much of playtime includes using their sharp teeth to investigate. A puppy chewing on your fingers may seem relatively harmless, but it will not be so harmless in another two years. Nipping tends to diminish as the puppy matures, but you should discourage it from the start. Establish that biting is not an acceptable form of play. When the puppy tries to chew on your fingers or toes, try substituting a toy or a safe bone. While you are petting your young dog, distract him by feeding him a little treat. This will familiarize the dog with being petted and not nipping.
Another approach is to yell every time your puppy nips you. This will startle the puppy and stop him from biting. Then praise the puppy for stopping. One effective method is to ignore your puppy after he bites you. After yelling, walk away for about a minute.
Your Dog and Aggression
The best way to prevent aggression is to thoroughly socialize your dog as a young puppy. Introduce her to many other people and situations. She needs to experience positive interactions with other dogs and other animals, and the sights and sounds of everyday life. Take her out with you often and make new experiences fun. Make sure she understands that strangers can be her friends; she should enjoy being petted and handled.
Sometimes adult dogs will bite people or other dogs out of fear or to protect their territory. Unaltered dogs are more likely to display aggressive behaviors. If your dog has not been spayed or neutered, that surgery alone may lessen aggressive behavior.
Dogs who spend a lot of time alone in the backyard or tied on a chain often become dangerous. Always remember to make your dog feel like a member of the family. However, if you are unsure of how your dog will react in crowds, leave her at home. If your dog overreacts to visitors, keep her in another room. Dogs who are socialized, supervised, and loved rarely bite. Be reasonable in your expectations: an otherwise very well socialized dog may growl when another dog approaches her food bowl.
If your dog does have an aggression problem, work with professionals to develop a special training program.
House Training Your Dog
Usually dogs will prefer to eliminate away from their eating, sleeping, and playing areas. Puppies need a little more training and enticing to properly housebreak them. Because they can hold their waste for only a few hours, they should have a chance to go outside many times throughout the day. House training takes an investment of time, effort, and a lot of patience.
First of all, keep your dog on a regular feeding schedule and know where he is at all times. If you see any signs that he needs to eliminate, such as leaving the room, pacing, whining, circling, or sniffing, take him outside immediately. Reward him with praise or treats whenever he eliminates outside. Your puppy should be taken out almost every hour. All dogs need to go out on a consistent schedule, usually once in the morning, after meals, before being left alone, and at night. If you take your puppy outside, don't go back inside until he eliminates.
If you catch your dog in the act of defecating or urinating in the house, yell "NO!" loudly and immediately take the dog outside. If you startle your dog, he should stop. Allow the dog to finish outside and reward him. Never hit your dog if he has an accident inside. Never "rub his nose in it." If you do not catch the dog in the act, there is really nothing you can do. The dog needs to associate the act of eliminating inside with wrong, and the act of going outside with right. Be sure to clean all accidents with a nontoxic odor remover so the dog will not be attracted to the same spot.
It is preferable that your dog be taught right away that eliminating inside the house is wrong. Paper training is advisable only if there are specific restrictions. When paper training a dog, use the same methods as house training a dog. If you start off restricting the dog to a smaller area around the paper, this will decrease any chance of having an accident. Gradually increase your dog's access to the entire house and this inclination to return to the paper will stay. You can also start off with a very large area covered with paper, and then gradually decrease that area. Be sure the papers are changed frequently so the dog is not forced to move off the paper.
Stopping Your Dog's Excessive Barking
Dogs bark for many reasons: when they are having fun, when greeting you, when alarmed, when frustrated, when defending their territory, and when they hear other dogs barking. Some dogs are more prone to barking than others. If your dog is barking excessively and disturbing you and your neighbors, something should be done about it.
If you want to reduce your dog's barking, it is important to understand why she is barking. Try to identify the triggers that make your dog bark, and prevent her exposure to them. For example, if she barks at everyone walking by the window, block access to the window or cover it up so your dog cannot see out. One way to curb barking at visitors is to put a favorite toy near the front door. If your dog picks up the toy before she greats guests, she will be less likely to bark. Don't encourage barking at certain sounds, such as saying "Who's there?"
If your dog barks at other people and dogs during walks, distract her by giving her special treats before she barks. Be sure to praise your dog every time you pass a trigger and she does not bark.
Teach your dog that she cannot bark once you have said (not yelled) "Quiet." After your dog barks a few times, gently hold her muzzle closed and say "Quiet." If she stops barking, give her a treat.
If your dog is constantly barking for attention, instead of rewarding her with attention, ignore her. Once the barking stops, you can give her what she wants, whether it is to be petted, played with, or taken outside.
Some dogs are compulsive barkers. They bark repeatedly for a long time at nothing in particular. They might also spin, circle, or jump while barking. If this is the case, your dog may need more exercise, mental stimulation, and social contact. Never leave your dog tied up for more than very brief periods of time. See Tethering. If you suspect your dog is a compulsive barker, contact a veterinarian or an animal behaviorist for more information.
Stopping Your Dog's Destructive Behavior
Chewing is normal for dogs, especially teething puppies. Puppies will chew almost anything available. If your dog has plenty of his own toys to chew on, he will be less likely to chew your favorite pair of shoes. Puppies require close supervision. If you see your puppy chewing an item he shouldn't, say "No!" and take it away. Some dog trainers recommend commercial taste deterrents for dogs to discourage chewing.
Destroying objects may be a sign of separation anxiety. If your dog chews objects, howls, barks, or soils the house when you leave, he may not have been properly socialized as a puppy. Prevent separation anxiety by practicing "leaving" for short periods of time to accustom your dog to the fact that although you will leave, you will be back.
Stealing food can be considered destructive behavior. There are many methods for stopping a dog from jumping up on counters or tables to steal food. Some people suggest placing stacks of empty soda cans on the counter that will fall down when the dog touches them. Be consistent and discourage the jumping up behavior anytime it is done in your presence. A sharp "No!" and "Get down!" should work.
After a couple of weeks with your puppy or dog, if you are still having a difficult time training him, read some books on dog training or attend obedience classes. If you think your dog's behavior is becoming aggressive or angry, or if he is not able to overcome his separation anxiety, you should seek additional help from a professional dog trainer.
Teaching Your Dog to Sit
This basic obedience command will help establish good communication. It will also help stop your dog from jumping up on people.
Start by showing your dog a treat. As you say "Sit," move the treat up and back over the dog's nose. Many dogs will follow the treat with their eyes, lift their heads, and lower their rear end to the floor. Practice this command against a wall so your dog cannot back up. Pressing lightly on your dog's lower back will encourage her to sit. After a couple of successful repetitions, do not show the dog the treat first. This way, he will be less reliant on seeing a treat to perform the behavior. Eventually, you can get her used to the treats being on a table or in your pocket while you say "Sit." This teaches your dog patience. With practice and perseverance, any dog can learn this basic command.
The key is to be patient. Keep in mind that your animal companion is learning a human language! Most important, be sure never to resort to abusive methods.
Animals are not the only ones who need to be taught how to interact in a socially acceptable and safe manner. Human children need to learn how to behave around animals – your own dogs and cats and those belonging to others. Here are some points to teach your children: