Understanding Pet Behavior
& Behavioral Problems
from Science Prof Online
Our pets share so many aspects of our lives, and their behavior often does seem almost human. But treating pets like miniature versions of people can detract from our relationship with them and even, in some cases, be hazardous to their health. To make the most of the pet-owner relationship, you'll need to learn some animal-speak. To better understand the language of pets, lets first explore an example of pet-owner miscommunication.
Article Summary: Treating pets like miniature versions of people can detract from our relationship with them and even, in some cases, be hazardous to their health. Learn what to avoid with your pet.
Anthropomorphism Shortchanges Relationship with Companion Animals
Dogs and cats are two of the most common pets. This is an 11-year old tabby cat and a mixed breed dog.
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Portions of this article originally appeared on Suite101 online magazine.
Page last updated 5/2013
A Scenario of Misunderstanding
You're dressed for work, coffee in hand and getting ready to head out the door. After quickly slipping your foot into the bright, shiny loafers that perfectly compliment your ensemble, you discover that Fluffy has decided to use your shoe as a new litter box.
She's obviously angry. You must be at fault. Could her misbehavior be due to the fact that you failed to let her lick the dregs from the can of tuna yesterday? Her deposit seems an obvious expression of her anger and disappointment. You clean off your foot, find a different pair of shoes (careful to inspect the interior before slipping them on) and dash out the door after patting Fido on the head and giving Fluffy an entire can of tuna.
When you arrive home, you find the floor of your living room peppered with the remains of what used to be the television remote control. Fido must be upset about yesterday's trip to the vet. Meanwhile, the cat has vomited on the carpet, leaving an alarmingly large pile of half-digested tuna. What have you done to deserve this?
Are Pets Vengeful Creatures?
Revenge is one of the motives that we most commonly, and mistakenly, attribute to our companion animals, but the dog that dismantles the remote or the cat that organically defaces our personal items are not retaliating, but reacting.
Pets are smart and social domestic versions of their ancestors; wild animals that led a busy life securing food and mates. Many of the behaviors that we may mistakenly interpret as vengeful are typically the product of a bored, stressed animal.
The Stress of Separation Anxiety
Some dogs are particularly prone to separation anxiety, and, when left for long periods of time without suitable, sturdy sources of entertainment, they will chew. If you're lucky, you come home and find a shredded sock. If you are not so lucky, you may find that your canine friend has done some major structural renovations to your home. Invest some time and money in creating activities or purchasing toys that can help give your pet something less destructive to do in your absence.
Pets stressed by changes in their environment, such as a relocation, baby, or altered routine, will often relieve this stress by engaging in marking behavior. Urinating and defecating at various points throughout the house helps to relieve the pet's stress, while sending the owner's stress level skyrocketing. Inappropriate urination can also go beyond merely being an inconvenience to the owner, but can be an acute threat to your pet's health if it has medical rather than merely behavioral causes. Bladder infections and urinary crystals and stones are serious health issues that can cause a pet to urinate indoors. So first get your pet's urine analyzed to rule out any medical problems.
Understand What Motivates Pet Behavior
Misinterpreting a pet's behavior often interferes with solving behavioral problems and may even mask serious health issues. We can get the most out of our relationship with companion animals by seeking to understand what truly motivates their behavior.
Helpful Animal Behavior Links