(Family Features) Bad behavior by your four-legged family members can create disruptions that range from a minor nuisance to full-out frustration. In fact, leading veterinary organizations report that behavior problems are the leading cause of pet euthanasia and account for as much as 80 percent of pet abandonment.
Warmer weather fosters many of the activities and situations that can bring out the worst in pets such as family travel, loud noises from increased activity in the neighborhood or fireworks, and ceaseless barking in the yard or on a walk.
Fear and stress are common triggers for behavior problems in pets, so taking steps to reduce the impact of scary and stressful situations can make a big difference.
Signs of Stress in Dogs and Cats
Like people, pets respond differently to stressful situations, and circumstances that one pet copes with easily can create extreme duress for another.
Pet care author and blogger Sandy Robins suggests watching for these signs of canine stress:
* Destructive behavior such as chewing furniture and other items in the home
* Excessive barking, both inside and outside the home
* Urinating and defecating around the house
* Sudden displays of growling, snarling and even biting family members that your dog is normally affectionate toward
* Physical signs of illness such as vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, skin allergies, excessive licking and pulling out clumps of fur
When it comes to cats, Robins says it can be more difficult to pick up signs of stress because signals such as hiding or sleeping out of sight are normal behaviors. Sometimes the escalating level of feline stress is gradual. Be aware that these situations can cause cats to feel stressed:
* Loud music
* Strangers in the home, such as repairmen
* A barking dog or new pets
* New family members, such as a baby and even visitors
* New furniture
* A change of food or litter type
* A dirty litter box
In some cases, the fix is simple – turn down loud music or move pets to a different part of the house when guests visit, for example. Other times, more significant behavior training or tools such as pheromone therapy are necessary to ease your pet’s distress.
While some pets can’t wait to hop in the car and take off, others experience stress and fear from travel. For some, it is the motion of the vehicle, and for others it may be the fear of unfamiliar environments. With a grasp of basic commands, as well as a little planning on the part of the owner, your pet can enjoy a more comfortable travel environment.
* Keep your pet in a carrier during the journey or invest in a harness that includes a seatbelt strap so he or she can ride comfortably. Include a favorite blanket or toy to increase comfort and provide reassurance.
* Set the carrier out several days in advance, leaving the door open to allow your pet to explore it without fear of immediate departure.
* During the journey, allow your dog to exercise and relieve themselves every two hours. For cats, put a litter tray in the car, along with some water, and allow them to roam free in the car every few hours.
* The calming effects of pheromones can help reduce the fear that traveling can cause in dogs and cats. This is especially important if the journey is longer than three hours.
* Do not leave pets unattended in the car as it increases their fear and can affect their safety.
Loud noises such as thunder or fireworks can create extreme stress and fear that cause not only emotional distress, but also dangerous behaviors like trying to escape or becoming destructive. Avoid forcing your pet to stay with you and “get used to” the loud noises that are terrifying him. Instead, try a few of these recommendations:
* Create a safe place for your pet to come and go freely based on the area that he tries to go when he becomes frightened, such as the basement, your bedroom or behind the sofa.
* Run a fan or radio to help distract from the noise he fears.
* Try distracting your dog with favorite toys or activities just as he becomes anxious about the approach of a storm or sporadic firework sounds.
There are many reasons a dog might bark incessantly, preventing you from enjoying the company of guests, annoying your neighbors and leaving you feeling irritated. While it’s unreasonable to expect a dog to never bark again, there are ways to help your dog change behavior and reduce barking.
* Tell your dog to stop barking and wait to make sure he completely accepts this command.
* Give your dog plenty of exercise through active play, walking or running to ensure pent-up energy isn’t driving your dog to bark. After correcting the behavior, activity can also help redirect a barking dog’s attention.
* If your dog is barking for attention, ignore him until he quiets, then give a treat or reward to reinforce the “no barking” behavior.
More tips for addressing common pet behavior problems can be found at www.sentrypetcare.com. Also remember to consult your veterinarian, who can help identify the right combination of training and therapy for your pet’s unique needs.