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Ain't misbehavin'... or are they?

Dog Pulling on LeashAs "people-like" as pets can be, they're not human. And as intelligent as they are, they don't speak the same language, nor do they problem solve the way you do. It's extremely important – for your pet's well-being as well as your own – that you communicate to them what the family "rules" are.

Kittens can be easily conditioned not to jump on tables and counters. Early and consistent obedience training for dogs, or a firm "no" with a cat, can establish an understanding between you and your pet to avoid future problems.

What do you do when, despite your best efforts, your pet is misbehaving? Biting? Tearing up the carpet while you're gone? Remember that your pet can't speak to you in your language – if they're frustrated, confused or simply anxious and can't make you understand, it can come out in the form of undesirable behavior.

What are examples of behavioral problems?

Common behavioral problems include biting, aggression (towards humans or other animals), urine spraying/marking, and separation anxiety.

Are behavioral problems common?

Actually, yes. But most problems are easily preventable if diagnosed and treated early. Do be prepared to try different approaches to the problem – not every pet is the same!

If it's a behavior problem, don't I need a trainer? How can a veterinarian help me?

Some behavior problems like obedience issues are best solved with a professional trainer or behaviorist. Other more complicated problems like aggression may need a combination of veterinary intervention and obedience training.

A veterinarian is professionally trained in assessing behavior problems. We can help diagnose the specific problem and recommend appropriate action. Most importantly, if your pet has developed a bad behavior, the first thing we need to do is rule out underlying health issues. Your cat is missing the litter box? This could mean a urinary tract infection. Sudden change in personality? Perhaps it's related to abnormal thyroid hormone levels.

In many cases, a behavior problem will be one we've seen before. And for many problems, there are tried and true remedies. For example, a different litter type or an extra pan in the house may help with cases of inappropriate elimination in cats.

Do some behavior problems require medication?

We will always try behavior modification first. However, there are some cases where medication, used in conjunction with behavior modification, can help to manage a problem. Of course, we'll discuss the pros and cons of any treatment with you so you can better choose what's best for your pet.

Can you solve all problems?

If we don't feel we can solve the problem, we can refer you to area animal trainers/behaviorists or veterinarians who specialize in behavioral issues.

Local Animal Trainers & Veterinary Behaviorists

  • Janet Harris, Sherborn, MA – (508) 655-5366 –
  • Ray McSoley, Westwood, MA – (781) 769 1883 –
  • Doggie Dave's Daycare and Training, Hopkinton, MA – (508) 435-5748 –
  • Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic, Grafton, MA – (508) 887-4640 – (behavior liaison)
    • Dr. Nicholas Dodman, ACVB (board certified veterinary behaviorist)
    • Dr. Alice Moon-Fanelli, PhD
  • Animal Rescue League of Boston
    • Dr. Marder, CAAB
    • Dr. Segurson, DACVB

Additional Resources