Inviting a companion animal to be a part of your family is a joy and wonder for most. However, after a short while, it can be easy to get to comfortable and forget that animals need a consistent environment even when the novelty of their company wears off! It can be very easy to slip into habits that may not be beneficial to you, your family and your animals. Here are 8 of many ways that you may be unintentionally encouraging your animals’ bad behaviour:

1)      Tug of war-By playing tug of war with your dog, you are encouraging a dominance struggle. What’s more, if you let him win, he will believe that he is the boss of you!

2)      Coddling-Many animals are fearful of loud noises. It is natural for us, as compassionate beings, to run over to them, take them in our arms and sing them to sleep on a stormy night. In reality what we are doing is showing our animal friends that they will receive positive reinforcement for getting scared. This will encourage them to remain scared of loud noises instead of realizing that the loud noises can’t hurt them and there’s really nothing to fear at all!

3)      Chasing your animal during playtime, or having your animal chase you- More often seen in herding dogs, when playtime involves a lot of chasing and fun related to chasing, you are indirectly encouraging your dog to act on his prey and/or herding drive. This could cause a regression in any behaviour training you have done to have your dog stop pulling on the leash when she sees a squirrel.

4)      Ignoring your animal’s warning signs, especially around children- While children are still learning about boundaries with companion animals, it is imperative to take note of your animal’s warning signs. Despite their best efforts to warn you that your children’s behaviour s becoming too much for them, they can often get spooked and lash out at your children. Obviously this is a terrible situation for everyone in the home as well as visitors! By paying CLOSE attention to how your animals respond to the way children are treating them, you can easily prevent unwanted behaviour. Housing both animals and children can be a tenuous balance that often results in an animal needing to be re-homed. This is a traumatic experience for you, your children and your animals. It is completely preventable if you understand how your animal communicates that he has had enough play time with your children. Remember that animals are “people” too and are not toys, dolls, climbing structures or stuffed animals. They will respond negatively to being poked, prodded, climbed on, shoved, jumped on, etc… wouldn’t you? It is our responsibility as household leaders to encourage respect of boundaries between our children and our animal friends.

5)      Feeding animal from table- By sneaking your animal table scraps, you are encouraging your animal to beg. You are encouraging him to eat human food which can be highly detrimental to his health. You are also opening the door for you animal to want to jump on the dinner table and kitchen counters, as he will believe that he has been given permission to eat alongside you in the same places you do.

6)      Yelling at your animals when they are doing something unacceptable- Your animal will see this as getting your attention, especially if you only show attention when she is doing something “negative”. Therefore, the behaviour will have positive consequences in your animal’s mind. On the opposite end of the spectrum, your animal may quickly become frightened of you if you yell! To stop undesired behaviour correctly, we must show her, not tell her. If your cat jumps on the counter and you wish for her to stop, place a cookie tray with coins on it. The noise of the coins on the metal will allow her to become afraid of the countertop, NOT you!

7)      Not giving your dog enough exercise- When dogs are not adequately exercised they will almost definitely act out. This is because dogs have a lot of natural energy. It is ALWAYS imperative that if you plan to bring a dog- especially a larger breed- into your family, that you plan your schedule around the dog’s need to exercise. If this is not something that your family can adapt to, do not get a dog. Being the human companion of a dog who is not exercised properly becomes a serious problem for the dog and subsequently the whole family.

8)      You don’t enforce the rules around other people/Inconsistency in training and rules between members of the household- Your animal will not understand why it’s ok to jump on you when you get home and it’s not ok to jump on visitors. Your animal will not understand why it’s ok to bark at passers-by when you have no visitors over and it’s not ok to bark when you do. Bottom line? Consistency, consistency, consistency of training!

9)      Holding the leash improperly- Your dog is sensitive to how you and the other members of your family hold her leash. You always want to come to a point with your dog where you are holding the leash in a relaxed way. You want to avoid clenching the leash to your body, or not giving your dog enough slack on the leash. If you are holding the leash in the above two ways, your dog is interpreting this as you not feeling safe. Your dog will bark at other dogs and people on your walks as she will believe she needs to step up to alpha position. Your dog will feel that she needs to protect you, and will do so by lashing out at oncoming dogs and people. In order to avoid all of this undesirable behaviour, you will want to implement an obedience plan with the other human members of your family so that you can all walk confidently together. The plan will be consistent and will train you and your dog to walk in a healthy and enjoyable way!

Any way you look at it, companion animals are a blessing to call part of the family. They provide comfort, joy, loyalty and relentless love. However because human nature is secondary to them, they do need a little extra training, understanding and patience!

Before we get upset with our animals about their behaviour, it’s important to examine whether we are the underlying cause. What can we do to set our animals up to succeed?  Setting our animals up to succeed is a key component to a happy home for all involved!

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