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Stop Your Pet From Peeving You Off

Each new year, we make resolutions to break bad habits, but what about our furry family members?

Sometimes their behavior can be destructive and annoying. So what can you do?

The Early Show's resident veterinarian, Dr. Debbye Turner Bell, shared tips Friday to help you correct a few pet bad behaviors or, as they could be called, pet peeves!

We all love our dogs and cats and think they are the smartest creatures on earth. But veterinarians and trainers hear a daily list of "pet peeves" they commit that we really wish they wouldn't. So what do you do when your cat won't stop using your expensive sofa as a scratching post or your dog nearly knocks you to the ground every time you come home from work?

The first step is to understand the behavior, then institute some simple steps designed to discourage your pet from committing those deeds.

It's important to note that, often, our pets develop bad habits out of boredom, and lack of training. Spending quality time with your pet daily, walking, playing, exercising, etc., will go a long way toward keeping Fido or Fifi on their best behavior.

Also, cats and dogs tend to be territorial. So any perceived "intrusion" by another animal, even a new human, can trigger some mischief.

Of course, remember to always consult with your veterinarian first when addressing a behavioral issues. Many times, a change in behavior is related to physiological or health concern.

Cats: Scratching

Scratching is a natural and healthy behavior in cats. The problem is, they often choose our best furniture or rugs to display this behavior. The point is to redirect your cat's scratching, not eliminate it. It's nearly impossible to get a cat to stop scratching altogether. Cats scratch for a number of reasons, including "marking" their territory with their scent, stretching their agile muscles, and removing the outer dry layer of their nails. You want to provide an alternative surface for your kitty to claw. Place a scratching post next to or near the furniture that your cat is scratching. Rubbing a little catnip on the scratching post will help attract your cat to the post. Also you may want to take some steps to discourage the cat from returning to the object that you don't want them to scratch. Affixing double-sided tape or contact paper (with the sticky side facing outward) to the furniture will deter the cat. Cats do not like the sticky feeling on their paws and will stay away. Noxious scents can also be used to keep a cat away from a chair or curtains. Just place dried orange or lemon peels around the base. Cat's won't come near. Cottonballs soaked with orange juice concentrate or nail polish remover usually does the trick too. Cat's also don't like the smell of bitter apple. So a few sprays of bitter apple will usually keep the cat away.

If you happen to be nearby when you cat starts scratching your valuables, a quick squirt of water from a spray bottle will usually send her running away. Or put a few coins in an empty soda can and tape the opening shut. A shake of the can (makes a loud rattling noise) is enough to startle the poor kitty into forgetting all about the scratching.

If you just can't get your cat to stop scratching your valuables, a product called "Soft Paws" can be applied your cat's nails. They are dull plastic tips that are glued to your cat's nail tips that prevents the damage done by scratching.

Cats: Not Using Litter Box

This is a fairly common, really frustrating cat behavior. Most cat owners have had to deal with an "accident" that the cat made outside the litter box. It's no fun. The most likely reason your cat stops using the litter box is you're not keeping it clean enough for them. Cat's are very fastidious creatures. If the litter box is too full or smelly, they just simply will find another spot to go. So if this happens with your kitty, the first order of business is to keep the litter box cleaner. Scoop out the "goodies" at least twice daily and change the whole box 2-3 times a week. Your cat will be most grateful. (and hopefully will stop using the living room carpet as a toilet!) It is also important to have multiple litter boxes with multiple cats. There should be at least one box for each cat. And if you live in a multi-story home, there should be at least one litter box on every floor of the house.

There are some important health reason that can cause a cat to start having "accidents" like urinary tract infection, kidney or bladder stones, diabetes, and hormonal imbalance. So it is important to take your cat to the veterinarian to rule out health problems first if you see inappropriate elimination.

Finally, if your cat has found a new place to do her business, it is imperative that you thoroughly clean the area to prevent her from returning to the scene of the crime. Often, cat will urinate as a way of marking territory. Once she has marked it, it's her mind. So she will keep coming back to that spot unless you remove the "mark." (smell) It may require discarding the soiled pillow, piece of carpet, etc. There are cleaners on the market that have enzymes and disinfectant in the ingredients. These can help but don't always get out all the scent.

Dogs: Jumping

Some dogs just get really excited to see people. So they will rear up on their back feet and place their front feet on your chest to say hello. Of course, this always happens when the paws are caked with mud and you're wearing your best silk blouse! A dog that jumps on his owner is really just an untrained dog. Proper behavior training during puppyhood will prevent this basic bad behavior. But if your pooch is a big, slobbering adult who nearly knocks you over when you come home, there are some things you can do to minimize or even stop this behavior.

First, when you arrive home, ignore your dog. This will be hard! Don't talk to him. Don't make eye contact with him. Just go about your business, open mail, grab a snack, whatever. Eventually, your dog will settle down and stop bouncing around (if only out of pure confusion!). When your dog has calmed down, THEN greet him and give him a treat for being so calm. When you greet your dog while he is going nuts, it only reinforces the behavior. If your dog jumps at other times, here's a few tips. First, give a firm "no." Then give a sit command. If he sits, reward him with a pat on the head or a small treat. If he continues to jump, say "no!" again and ignore him. Continue this pattern or "no" and ignore until he keeps his paws to himself. As soon as he's on all fours, reward him. He will soon learn that good things happen when he's firmly planted on all four feet.

Just a side note, many times dogs are so exuberant because they have loads of pent up energy from being left alone all day. A good walk or brisk play session may be all he needs to use up that excess energy and calm down.

Dogs: Walking on a Leash

There are some dogs that just don't like to be restrained by a leash. The moment you put one on, they do one of two things: 1) stubbornly sit or lie down and refuse to move or 2) take off like a racehorse, dragging you along behind. Teaching a dog how to heel properly on a leash is not just good canine behavior, it's a safety issue. You don't want your pooch taking off down the street and into traffic. Your dogs needs to know how to walk calmly and obediently by your side, on a leash.

Of course, it easiest to teach heeling to your dog while she's young. Any good obedience class will cover the topic. First make sure you have a collar or harness that is the right size for your dog. Too big, and she'll slip right out of it. Too small, and it may cause damage or just be so uncomfortable that your dog is less likely to comply with your wishes. I recommend body harnesses for very large dogs and very small dogs. It may be easier to control a large dog with a body harness. And small dogs tend to be susceptible neck injury by a ill-fitting collar that is too tight.

Start by getting your pooch to simply stand on your left side. Each time he comes to your left leg and stays, reward him (a pat on the head is fine or a small treat). Then walk a few steps, telling your dog to come. If he tracks right along with you, reward him with lots of praise. If he stays in the same place, coaxing him forward with a treat. When he joins you, reward him. If he lunges ahead of you, stop abruptly. Say "no!" Tell him to come back to your left side. As soon as he does, reward him. It's important to praise or reward your dog every time he successfully performs what you are asking. For some dogs (especially the rambunctious ones), this may be a long, tedious process. You will have to be patient and consistent. But if you continue the pattern of giving the command to come to the left side, then walk, then praise, he will eventually get it.