Animal Behavior Problems: Are You the Problem or the Solution?

dog behavior problems

Above: Should this Sign Say Beware of Dog or Beware of Owner?

Animal behavior problems are not normal, they are a sign of imbalance within a pet household.

Seriously, most animal behavior problems could be easily dealt with if people knew how important it was teach an animal what is appropriate for life in the human household.

Pet parenting is key.

Sure there are exceptions, but notice I wrote teach not train.

Coming from a wild animal training background, I was amazed and appalled at all the weird stuff I saw when I first began working with the pet owning public and even more shocked at what I encountered in the companion animal training world from the so called professionals.

It was dark ages stuff compared to what we were doing with marine mammals and wild animal actors.

What shocked me even more was how people got mad at any suggestions of better ways to do things and the resistance they had to change.

Go figure. I used to believe people really wanted the best for their animals but what I discovered is that most really want is what is easy instead.

Now I hate to tell you that I still hear and see a lot of the same crap I did when I first began working in the pet industry twenty-something years ago, but I do.

And the crap comes from both pros and average pet owners.

A lot of pros perpetuate a bunch of hooey when they should know better or refer over to those who do know better.

For instance, I recently saw bad information being shared in a forum by pet professionals. They made some poor suggestions about using outdated training tools.

So, I have to ask you–are you the problem or the solution to the animal behavior problems you see within your home, out in public, or at places such as the veterinary hospital?

I hate to break it to you but if you are not the solution, you are probably the reason for the bad behavior your pets exhibit.

Most pet owners don’t consider bad behavior as naughty either–and instead make excuses for it.

For example, I recently had someone tell me that her dogs were thieves and that it was in their nature.

I said, Are you kidding me?

Yep, I certainly did.

The problem is not that her dogs are thieves but that they were allowed to engage in the behavior and nothing has ever been done to stop it or to prevent the problem EVER.

In this case the issue is counter surfing–a behavior where the dog(s) will grab things off of the counter in the kitchen or elsewhere.

The reality of the situation is this, if animals are allowed to engage in behavior that gets reinforced (ie., get on the counter and get a tasty bit of food) the behavior is going to increase.

Plus, if that behavior is reinforced on a variable schedule (occasional success) it is more strongly reinforced and that behavior is going to continue and even escalate.

Now, the fact of the matter in this case is that these people are not consistent in how they manage their animals–nor do they consistently monitor their animals.

Diligent management of animal behavior results in consistency and good behavior patterns.

Over the years my animals would never steal from the kitchen. In fact, they all (cats, birds, dogs) knew the phrase, “out of the kitchen” quite well.

So, the owners of the counter surfers who grabbed and stole a package of plain flour tortillas (and took a big bite out of them) are in fact the cause of the behavior problems they hate simply because the humans do not deal with it and don’t prevent it.

I’d love to say that they are the exception rather than the rule but I would be telling a whopper of a lie.

In fact, dogs that bark excessively, dogs that jump on company, dogs that act unruly out in public and engage in other canine crimes are often undisciplined and uneducated animals.

Believe it or not, dogs have to be taught to bark appropriately. How about teaching a perimeter bark, a close proximity bark or to stop barking when told?

Instead of dealing with the issue, people tend to say, “Oh, it’s okay he is just a puppy” or worse, they tune it out and are oblivious to the noise.

Ask the veterinary staff who hear this excuse all the time. It certainly is not okay and a lot of aggression could be stopped at a young age if people didn’t make excuses and instead dealt with the problem.

The news is, if you engage in excuses for your pet, chances are that you are co-dependent. The reality is that teaching good manners starts the minute the animal comes into the home.

Now don’t think I am just picking on dog owners. Cat owners can sometimes be worse since they want to believe the myth of “cats are not trainable.”


ALL animals are trainable.

Why do people choose to allow cats to tromp on the counters with the same feet they use to cover their feces with litter box sand?

I will never understand that one.  Mine have never been allowed on the counters–but then I had training about zoonotic diseases way before most people knew the term.

In addition, I would never allow pets to demand I feed them by clawing, meowing or waking me up at odd hours simply because they decided it was time but a lot of people do allow it.

Perhaps it was because I started my career with big exotics and working with animals who lived in other environments such as water.

I learned how important it was to take control of behavior at early stages out of necessity. That discernment could mean the life or death of someone.

Also, it was clear to me that a tiger cub of twenty pounds was not going to be allowed to crawl onto a lap when he or she wanted.

Why? Because when that cat is 400-500 pounds that behavior will not be acceptable.

Why would I set an animal up for future failure or trouble with another trainer? I wouldn’t.

Instead I would train and manage behavior from the early stages to make sure that animal was happy, healthy and well behaved for the future.

So excuses are just that–excuses. What you need is action and perhaps guidance.

I’d encourage you to get it early and start teaching your animals at a young age.

By the way, if you start early you won’t have to untrain all the bad behavior in order to get better behavior in the future.

The reality is that if you do it right the first go around, life will be easier in the long run.

And probably more peaceful too.

Your tortillas would certainly be safer on the counter as a result.

My Cat the Forest Explorer (Subscriber Question)

cat in the forest

Inside Cat or Outside Cat: Can a cat be safe outdoors?

I recently sent out an email to my subscribers asking them to submit their questions–and I have to say that the response was overwhelming!

So, I am going to take them in the order they arrived.

The first was sent in by a local mountain resident named Laura who asked,

Is there any way to keep an outdoor loving cat out of trouble in the forest?

Laura happens to live at a camp adjacent to the national forest. (I actually have met and know her.)

Here in the mountains there are two schools of thought–those who want their pets to live long lives and those who want their pets to live as naturally as possible.

Now some people get upset when I answer so frankly because they want another type of answer but you have to make a choice.

You can either keep your cat safe and sound so you can spend a long life sharing a relationship together or you allow your cat to face more risks and so take the chance that you pet will not live a long life.

People tend to want the best of both worlds but in the animal world that just doesn’t happen and you have to make a choice.

For instance a few of my neighbors let their cats outside–and last week three went missing.


Predators–when you live in the woods there are predators and pets are easy, plump pickings.

I don’t mean that in a funny or disrespectful way but I found it really odd that they were so upset when they know it is a calculated risk to let a pet roam when you live adjacent to the woods or have predators such as hawks and eagles, coyotes, bobcats, and cougar in the neighborhood.

Personally I have done both and the last notes I came across on this topic indicated that indoor cats live five times longer than those who are outdoor cats.

At one time I lived in the Redwoods and my cat loved to hunt and roam in the meadow adjacent to my cabin.

He adopted me and was a bit unusual in that he loved to travel and was fully trained–which blew a lot of minds.

The cabin was set in a unique location where few predators roamed and under heavy cover near the cabin which did not provide good viewing for birds of prey.

However, I ran a wild animal collection across the street and was gone for long hours.

When he began seeking me out–and crossing the highway, I confined him to the life of a house cat unless he was under my direct supervision.

Here are the risks that face a cat when you let it roam:

  • Fights
  • Abcesses
  • Disease
  • Parasites
  • Predators
  • Cars
  • Abduction
  • Hostile People

Felines run into other animals which can be other cats from the local area or wild residents. Depending on the sex and personality or territory boundaries, these encounters can become short little spats or vicious fights. A cat came become a meal for a predator or be seriously injured in a fight.

In a fight or other altercation, scratches or bites can become infected, festering wounds. Abbesses can be very serious for cats and the popular saying, “cat scratch fever” refers to a problem that can also impact people with symptoms such as swollen lymph glands and temperature.

Contact or exposure to diseases is another concern. They can be transmitted to local wildlife or picked up from the forest environment and wild critters. Viral, bacterial, or parasitic problems are some of the risks and those problems are best identified at your local veterinary clinic. These are definitely motivators to keep animals in.

Other problems could include:

  • Campylobacteria enteritis which effects the small intestine, and can be caused by contact with contaminated cat feces.
  • Conjunctivitis, caused by contact with the discharges from the eyes and nose of a cat infected with feline chlamydiosis
  • Salmonella, which can be contracted from mouth, eye, and fecal discharges.
  • Toxoplasmosis, through exposure to the fecal matter of an infected cat.
  • Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), which is a virus which has symptoms of a breakdown in the immune system and biting or fighting are the more common methods of contracting it.
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP), which effects the abdomen and/or chest filling them with fluid.
  • Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) another immune system virus.
  • Then there are things such as Feline Enteric Coronavirus, Feline herpesvirus, Feline calicivirus, etc.
  • An encounter with a wild animal infected with rabies (which is an infectious disease of the central nervous system) is another.

Bites and scratches from cats can transmit a bacteria, called pasteurella, that can cause pain and swelling and then there is the danger of tetanus.

Other dangers include those nasty little parasites that can be picked up from the soil, other animals, and contact with fecal matter. Some are contractible by humans too. These include fleas, ticks, mites, hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms.

Parasites like ticks, can expose both humans and animals to Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Hawks, coyotes, cougar, snakes and a variety of other animals, including dogs, can prey upon a cat unattended and out in the open. Some predators are bold enough to swipe animals straight from under an owner’s nose.

Many animals seem to have no fear of mechanical objects and, without proper training or exposure, many met their death from close-encounters-of-the-motor-vehicle-kind. This can result in a painful death if a cat is near heavy equipment, local cars, or decides to head toward the main road or highway.

People will often assume roaming animals do not have a home or someone to care for them. Some animals who disappear will find a new home with a sympathetic person concerned for their welfare.

Hostile People
There are people who do not appreciate unattended animals invading their realm or interfering with their animals. Sometimes actions taken by these people against animal wanderers include poisoned bait, pellet guns, or other such devices which will wreck havoc on a dear pet, or even kill it.

So, are there options?

So, from a professional standpoint I usually recommend that people keep their cats confined for the above listed reasons.

This does not mean they cannot go outside, however, just that there are safer ways to keep a feline occupied and happy outside.

I would suggest that each cat has identification no matter what choice you make concerning confinement.

These can be tags, microchips, tattoos, and other methods.

If you want to have your cat out safely there are a few things to consider such as providing a cat house, leash training, and cat proofing.

Cat House
My favorite alternative is a “cat house.” These are often outside cages (adapted aviaries) with a catdoor into the house. Much like a playhouse, I have seen these constructed in various ways to allow tree access, grass or garden wandering, scratchpost access, with beds, sunshine, shelter or what ever creative thing the owner came up with.

These are a kitty wonderland with protection from all the dangers listed above. (I listed options in Cat Outdoor Run.)

Leash Training
This is best done in a harness, although collars can work. Once trained to accept this, a cat can be taken out into the yard, sometimes hooked outside while the owner works close by. Trips and visits to the Veterinarian are other little jaunts are some things that benefit from this type of training and supervision.

Cat Proofing
This is a debatable subject, since most animals find ways to foil our best efforts but net fencing where the cat cannot exit over by climbing or going under might be considered. Care must be taken that no climbing plants or trees are accessible to use for escape.

Thanks for the question Laura and I hope this helps you make an informed decision.

Personally, I would advise that you keep the cat out of the forest but ultimately you have to make a decision that works for you.

Try some of the pet product options to give your cat the best of both worlds. (Read more in cat outdoor run.)

Want to chime in on this topic? Leave your comment below!

Photo Credit: Carulmare