There's nothing like coming home after a long day away and being greeted at the door by your dog or cat. Always happy to see you, you know that he or she loves you unconditionally. Unfortunately, Spot or Fido might not feel the same way about your furniture. As destructive as your furry friend may be, its vital for every pet owner to understand that destructive animal behavior around the home is, in many cases, rooted in the natural instincts of your pet. Before you banish your beloved to the garage, or worse, out of your home altogether, lets take a look at why this kind of behavior happens, and what you, as a pet owner, can do to prevent it.
See Spot Scratch
Problem: Since kitty and puppy aren't able to verbally communicate with you, scratching is a technique often used to alert you that their needs for external stimulation and adventure aren't being met. No animal is an island - he or she may be bored, using scratching as a way to signify that they are in need of stimulation. This behavior is often exhibited in indoor cats that are home alone during the day, as well as apartment-dwelling dogs.
Solution: Try taking Fido for a walk along a different route when you get home. If you usually walk on the while out with puppy, try jogging, or vice-versa. The change in scenery or pace will help satisfy his or her need for exploration and new experiences. For kitty, especially those who stay indoors, playtime is essential. Rather than splurging on all new toys, try rotating the ones that you already have to keep things exciting. If you're away from the home all day, make sure to interact with your pet for at least thirty minutes in the evening, to break up what can possibly be an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.
Problem: Boredom aside, its perfectly natural for cats to scratch hard surfaces with a softer outer covering, such as couches and carpets. In the wild, cats use this technique, frequently on trees, to help sharpen their claws and remove dead outer layers of nail, as well as mark their territory. (Cat paws have scent glands that signal to other animals, "this is mine.")
Solution: Since indoor trees are not a common or plausible solution, invest in a good scratching post. Play with your cat near or on the post, or sprinkle a little catnip on it to arouse his or her interest in the new object. Lots of praise for using the post is key, as positive reinforcement for good behavior is much healthier for the animal, and usually more successful than scolding for misbehavior. Also, make sure the post is in an accessible area, so that it can be used when no one is home. In addition, by frequently playing and praising kitty, he or she will associate the post with their "territory," rather than the couch. If all else fails, although unsightly, temporarily covering the prime scratching targets with sticky tape or aluminum foil will help redirect the behavior to appropriate objects, like the post.
Couches As Chew Toys!
Problem: Animals, especially dogs, have a natural need to chew. Among puppies, chewing helps to alleviate the discomfort of teething. Adult dogs may also chew to soothe and massage sore gums, explore new objects, or simply out of stress and boredom.
Solution: As with cats and scratching, positive reinforcement and redirecting of the activity are key to preventing future furniture destruction. Heavy rope and bones are ideal. Playing tug o' war with puppy is a great way to reduce any pent up energy of stress. If given extra toys and attention, your dog is still chewing, check with your vet, as it may be a sign of nutritional deficiency or a dental problem. Remove and store all items that can potentially be chewed on. If a shoe is in the middle of the floor, a dog will most likely see it as fair game. If all else fails, taste-deterrent products, which make household furniture and items taste unpleasant, are available that can be placed on the offending items.
Stop The Spray
Problem: Spraying is another frequent destructive behavior among cats and dogs. Similar to scratching in cats, this is another behavior that is used to mark an animal's territory. Although female cats and dogs have the capability to spray, this behavior is mostly seen in male animals.
Solution: First, be sure to rule out any medical problems by consulting with your vet. If the animal is healthy, neutering and spaying are the best methods to reduce or eliminate this behavior (the younger the better, as long as the animal is over approximately six months of age). Clean any spots with non-ammonia based solution, to eliminate the odor for yourself and the animal. The presence of the odor may prompt an animal to spray additional areas.
Tips and Tricks
Remember that because animals can't talk to us, destructive behavior is usually a sign that either something is amiss, or the animal's needs are not being met. Is the cat or dog hungry/thirsty/exercising enough? Is there a new pet or person in the house that may be causing stress?
Scolding or other forms of negative reinforcement are destined to fail â animals have long memories and cats, especially, hold grudges. That said, never hit an animal that has done something inappropriate â it may never trust you again, or worse, retaliate against you.
Praise, treats and playtime are all excellent ways to reinforce good behavioral patterns. Higher pitched, soothing voices work well.
If all else fails, a spray bottle may be effective. A quick spritz of cold water on the animal during bad behavior will oftentimes stop it. As opposed to yelling or hitting, the animal will associate the negative consequence with the spray of water, rather than you, the owner.
A popular item these days for scratching kitties are nail caps â easy to put on, they provide a protective barrier between the nail and the item being scratched at. They can be found at most pet stores nationwide.
Having a pet is a large responsibility, and destructive behavior at some point is usually inevitable. Treating them with the respect and kindness they deserve as members of your family is the first step to not only preventing the behavior in the future, but building a trusting relationship between you and your furry friend. For additional resources or help, contact your local SPCA office, or the Animal Humane Society, at www.animalhumanesociety.org.