Courtesy of the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society

Bad pet behavior can be challenging and dangerous. The most common behavior issues are aggression, barking, and separation anxiety in dogs, and aggression or accidents outside the litter box for cats.

Many behavioral issues stem from fear. For example, dogs need to become accustomed to processing sounds such as thunder and fireworks without fear. Playing a soothing video or audio recording during snack time can help. It is also very important to get puppies socialized by exposing them to new things in a positive way, especially when they are less than four months old. Accordingly, veterinarians strongly recommend taking puppies to training classes during this period.

We often contribute to how we are training our animals without realizing it. Too often, we inadvertently ignore good behavior and reward bad behavior. For example, a barking dog may get our attention while the one sitting quietly gets ignored. It’s important to reinforce positive behaviors with food, attention, praise, or toys, whichever your pet prefers. Rather than yelling at your dog for barking, set aside their breakfast and feed them a piece of kibble whenever you notice they are lying quietly. Soon, you will have a much quieter dog!

An important step toward improving unwanted behavior, is determining why your pet is acting this way. Look for solutions sooner rather than later, as annoying behavior can quickly turn into behavior that is dangerous for you, your pet, and those with whom you are interacting. It may be “cute” for your large dog to jump up and hug you, but what about jumping on a child or elderly person and knocking them over?

Aggression is the most serious behavior, so talk to your vet and positive reinforcement trainer right away if you observe any growling, biting, or lunging behaviors. These only tend to worsen over time if ignored. As safety is the highest priority, some pets may need to be removed from the household or confined with gates to keep everyone out of harm’s way, especially children.

Biting can start with playful nipping when pets are young. It is important to teach them that touching our skin with their teeth is not appreciated by saying “oww!” loud enough to get their attention and redirecting the nipping to a toy. You should stop playing with or petting them before they get too excited and nip you.

Separation anxiety can often be helped with medication, so talk to your vet. Food puzzle toys, scavenger hunts, and leaving the TV or radio on can help.

Let your vet know if you have any concerns about your pet’s behavior. A trainer or behaviorist can help you discover triggers for why your pet is acting out, and provide you with positive reinforcement training solutions. Then, it’s up to you to follow through. Remember, be mindful of the behaviors you are reinforcing to make sure they are the ones you want!

The Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society consists of more than 75 small animal hospitals and 200 veterinarians in Erie and Niagara counties. Learn more at