Churchill magazine

Tips to improve your pet's behaviour

Updated on: 30 March 2022

pet behaviour

Is your pet being deliberately disobedient? Whether it’s on the lead or around the house, we have some tips to improve your pet’s behaviour.

Tips for good lead behaviour

It’s worth saying up front that there’s a right and a wrong approach to using a lead. If you try to use the lead solely to hold your dog in check, or hold them back, then you’re not really going to enjoy a walk together.

The main purpose of the lead is to link the dog to the owner, to aid communication, as well as to help to keep the animal safe in dangerous situations, such as coming up to busy roads.

Don’t be pulled along

The lead is not designed for the dog to pull the owner along behind them, as you often see in cartoons. If you allow your dog to pull you around, you are signalling that you accept this behaviour. But by the same token, the lead doesn’t exist for the owner to drag their dog along either.

Instead, the lead is a means to have a constant influence over your dog, to communicate when to walk alongside you, when to hold back, and when to run ahead. A long enough lead still allows the dog to explore a lane, stop and have a sniff, or wander off course and have adventures.

The walk

Going for a walk with your dog should be a pleasant and fun experience. But the dog must understand that you are in charge of the situation, not them, and this is the basis of it being pleasant for you both.

As the owner, you need to communicate that walking with you should be a privilege, but that acting out of control is unacceptable. Remember to praise your dog when they respond correctly to your leading, so that they'll learn more quickly. 

Slack lead

Firstly, by maintaining a slack lead while you're out walking, you're giving your dog a degree of freedom. Not only this, you're giving yourself an extra foot or so of lead, and an extra second to react to your dog’s forward lunges. As a result, when your dog lunges forward, he or she will go from having a comfortable loose lead to a tight one, which will give them some discomfort. This in itself might be enough to discourage the behaviour. 

Bent arm

Make sure your lead arm is bent rather than straight, as this will reduce the stress on your arm and give you an arm length of lead to use when reacting to unwanted actions from your dog.

If the loose lead/tight lead doesn’t work and your dog continues to pull you, put your bent arm to work. Straighten your arm as you back up and the lead will go taut, meaning the dog is arrested abruptly and prevented from behaving badly.

Turn around

When unacceptable behaviour needs to be corrected with a stronger message still, you can turn and walk in the opposite direction (again straightening your arm). This time the correction will be continual, stopping only when your dog complies and walks with you again.

What you are saying to your dog here is that you do not think their behaviour is acceptable, and you will not tolerate it.

As always, you should make a point to praise and reward your dog when they behave well, because it will strengthen their understanding that good behaviour leads to good results, and strengthen your relationship with them.

What about destruction in the house?

The answer is to set the house rules as early as possible and train your pet consistently. If you want to keep your dog off the sofa, for example, you have to catch them going on it and then issue a stern ‘No!’ or ‘Off!’ to make your view clear.

Make sure you pick one of the commands and stick to it, and that you persevere over a few weeks if necessary. As you train them not to go on to the sofa, you could also try to give them a treat when they do the right thing.

If you need to keep them out of certain areas, for example the living room, then try closing the room off when you go out. If that’s not possible, try putting newspaper on the furniture when you leave. Some dogs don’t like the noise of the paper when they go to climb on it.

Clever climbers

Cat training is probably more difficult. Cats also take to furniture, and they have a phenomenal ability to climb. But the principles are the same. Make it clear what your wishes are, and stay consistent.

If you need to keep cats off your kitchen counters or tables, some owners have found that if they cover specific pieces of furniture or locations with aluminium foil, their cats will leave them alone. But perseverance is once again the key: leave the foil in place for a month, whether you’re in or out.

Other tips to keep your pets off the furniture are:

  • Using animal repellent sprays that don’t damage the furniture.
  • Putting double-sided sticky tape on the furniture in question.
  • Covering your furniture with plastic.
  • Giving your pet their own pet furniture to lie on.

Cats and carpets

An age-old problem is the cat ripping up the carpets on the floor or stairs, leaving unsightly patches.

The answer is to have plenty of other items around that the cat can scratch. Remember that your ‘official’ scratching post might be made of carpet, and this is confusing your cat, who will then think that any carpet is fair game. 

Try swapping to scratching materials that don’t use carpet. Alternatives include sisal rope, corrugated cardboard, or carpet turned the wrong way out. If you retrain your cat with these alternatives, you could just save your carpet.

Other options include covering a particular carpeted area with a thick plastic covering and securing it with nails if needed; or eradicating a particular odour that may be attracting your cat, by cleaning the area thoroughly with an enzyme-based cleaner.

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