Pets are a great addition to any family, but some display unwanted behaviors that disrupt your household. If your dog’s barking keeps you awake all night, or your cat refuses to use their litter box, you likely feel frustrated. Our Billings Animal Family Hospital team wants to help restore peace in your home with our advice on correcting some common pet behavior problems.

#1: My dog is a destructive chewer

Chewing is a normal dog behavior for dogs, because they explore their world with their mouth. In addition, puppies teethe for about six months, and chewing helps alleviate their discomfort from the teething process, but the chewing must be redirected toward appropriate toys so the behavior does not become a problem. Older dogs may exhibit destructive chewing behavior if they are bored or suffer from separation anxiety. Tips to address destructive chewing include:

  • Keep your home tidy — If you don’t want your puppy or dog to chew on an object, ensure the item is inaccessible. Your belongings must be appropriately stored to prevent mishaps.
  • Offer acceptable chew toys — Ensure your dog has access to appropriate chew toys, ensuring these toys don’t resemble off-limits items. 
  • Exercise your dog — Ensure your dog has enough physical and mental exercise to keep them engaged and entertained, which helps prevent boredom, and they won’t find other ways to amuse themselves.
  • Exchange inappropriate objects — If you catch your dog chewing on an inappropriate object, exchange the item with an acceptable chew toy. 

#2: My cat refuses to use the litter box

Litter box problems are a common issue for cat owners, and the cause must be identified and corrected, or the problem will become chronic. Tips to address inappropriate elimination include:

  • Schedule a veterinary visit — Inappropriate elimination can indicate your cat has a disease, such as feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD). Our veterinary team should evaluate your cat to ensure a health issue isn’t contributing to the problem.
  • Ensure you practice good litter box hygiene — Cats appreciate cleanliness. Scoop your cat’s litter box at least twice a day and change out the litter box at least once a week.
  • Provide enough litter boxes — Cats don’t like to share bathroom space. Provide one litter box for every cat in your home, plus one extra.
  • Ensure your cat’s litter box set-up is acceptable — Place your cat’s litter box in a quiet area where they won’t be interrupted, and use two to three inches of an unscented, clumpable litter. 

#3: My dog barks constantly 

Dogs bark to vocally communicate, and they use different barks for different functions. To correct your dog’s problematic barking, you must determine the reason, which may include:

  • Territorial and alarm barking — Some dogs bark when people or other dogs approach their territory or when they are startled by sights or sounds. To address these issues, teach your dog the “Quiet” command. Allow them to bark three to four times when triggered, say “Quiet,” and calmly hold their muzzle closed. Repeat the “Quiet” command, and give them a high value treat. 
  • Greeting barking — If your dog barks at people or other dogs while wagging their tail, they are saying “Hello.” To help curb this behavior, keep greetings low key, and have your dog sit when meeting new people.
  • Attention-seeking barking — Your dog may bark to alert your attention to something they want. Never reward your dog for barking. Teach your dog alternate behaviors, such as ringing a bell to let you know they need to go out, or dropping a toy at your feet when they want to play.
  • Compulsive barking — Compulsive barkers typically bark repetitively and often exhibit other behaviors, such as spinning, circling, or jumping, while barking. If your dog is a compulsive barker, ensure they receive enough mental and physical exercise, and consider consulting a veterinary behaviorist.

#4: My cat scratches my furniture and curtains

Scratching is instinctual for cats, who scratch to remove old nail tissue, stretch their muscles, and leave scent marks to communicate with other cats. Tips to prevent your cat from scratching inappropriately include:

  • Clip your cat’s nails — Clip your cat’s nails about every two to three weeks to help prevent damage to your belongings.
  • Provide appropriate scratching options — Provide several scratching posts throughout your home, so your cat has places they are allowed to scratch. Provide posts in horizontal and vertical orientations and in several materials to meet all your cat’s scratching preferences. Ensure the scratching posts are stable and won’t collapse or shift. 
  • Make the scratching post attractive — Use catnip and your cat’s favorite toys to make the post attractive.
  • Cap your cat’s claws — If your cat continues to scratch your furniture, consider placing plastic caps on your cat’s claws. The caps attach to claws with an adhesive, and typically last for about four to six weeks.

#5: My dog exhibits aggressive behavior

Dogs can exhibit aggression for several reasons, including territorial behavior, protection, possessiveness, fear, defensiveness, pain, and frustration. Tips to address dog aggression include:

  • See your veterinarian — An underlying health issue may cause aggression in your dog. Have our veterinary team evaluate them to ensure they aren’t sick or in pain.
  • Consult a professional — If a medical issue is ruled out, consult a veterinary behaviorist to help identify the cause and address the problem.
  • Avoid punishment — Raising your voice or striking your dog may escalate your dog’s aggression. 

Behavioral issues can be problematic, but you can take steps to address these issues. If your pet is exhibiting unwanted behavior, contact our Billings Animal Family Hospital team, so we can help identify the problem and correct their behavior.