Behavior Modification in dogs and cats – How to make them behave like other pets

Do you want to make your dog or cat behave like other pets? Well, this article is for you! In it, we will discuss how Behavior Modification in dogs and cats to make them behave like a regular pet. We will cover the different techniques that are available, and provide you with tips on how to use them most effectively. So whether you want to stop your pet from jumping on people, from barking excessively, or from toileting in the wrong place, this article is for you!

During Dr. Kohler’s and Dr. Beam’s careers in veterinary medicine they have answered thousands of requests for information about animal behavior, including their excellent work’s online “Ask The Vet” service.  Behavior counseling, a highly valued segment of veterinary medicine, provides great assistance to pet owners who have difficulty making their pets understand what is expected of them.  The dog or cat has to know what the owner desires; and the owner must know how to communicate on the pet’s level in order for a desired behavioral change to take place.  Sadly, many pets have been abandoned, dropped off at shelters or even euthanized because of behavioral abnormalities… many of which may have been corrected if the pet owner only knew how to communicate with their pet in a manner that the pet understands.

Behavior Modification in dogs and cats

Top Ten List of Pet Behavior Questions


My dog keeps eating his own stool.  Is something missing in his diet?  How can we get him to stop this disgusting habit?

Coprophagia is defined as the consumption of fecal material, including the ingestion of a dog’s own feces as well as the feces of other dogs and other species. Although dogs find nothing wrong with it, we humans find it rather disgusting. Nobody really knows for sure why dogs do it and an old myth was that there had to be something missing in their diet. Studies have shown, however, that even dogs on the best diets will practice Coprophagia, but, to be on the safe side, always be sure to feed a high quality meat-based diet to your dog.  Puppies tend to explore their environment with their mouths and thus many of them taste-test feces but many of these puppies outgrow this practice. If not outgrown, the best way to control or eliminate Coprophagia is to pick up the stool daily or right after they defecate so that there isn’t anything to eat. This may sound labor intensive but it really is the best remedy. If it’s not there, they can’t eat it!

Behavior Modification in dogs alternative treatments include the following: 1)  Place pineapple juice or chunks in with their food. This renders the stool distasteful to dogs. I have also heard of Adolph’s meat tenderizer being added to the food with the same effect.  These suggestions may work if the dog is eating its own feces. 2)  There are commercial products on the market such as “Forbid” and “Deter” which can also be tried. Forbid is sold by veterinarians and Deter can be purchased from PetFoodDirect.Com.(Type in “deter” in the Product Search window.)  Deter tends to be less expensive.  3.)  A quick scold when they attempt to eat the feces can be tried as well. This usually works well as long as you accompany your dog outside.  If outside alone, the dog may learn not to do it in your presence but may be more than happy to eat feces when your back is turned. (Remember CLEAN-UP!  If it isn’t there they can’t eat it.)

 Behavior Modification in DogsBarking Dog

Why does my dog bark all the time and how can I keep him quiet when I am away?

Barking certainly can be annoying but it is important to understand “why” dogs bark.  Most dogs that are considered problem barkers are not really behaving abnormally – they are responding to environmental stimuli (such as hearing a siren, seeing a squirrel run up a tree, etc.) and exhibiting alerting behavior (people or dogs approaching their “perceived” territory, etc.). Some dogs bark because they are distressed at being left alone and others bark as part of an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but the majority of barkers are just being “dogs”.  Barking is one their major modes of communication.

 Behavior Modification in Dogs controlling barking

The key to controlling the barking is in identifying and treating the underlying stimulus. For instance, if the dogs are being teased by neighborhood children, the dogs should be removed from that environment. (And a few phone calls to some parents will help, too.)  The next step is to teach the dog a more appropriate behavior with which to replace the barking. According to Dr. Karen Overall, Board Certified Animal Behavior Specialist, most dogs that bark continue to do so because they become more stimulated and, generally, more anxious. Dogs cannot learn another behavior to replace the barking unless you are present. Several things will help make bark control possible including obedience training, plenty of play and exercise (to use up excess energy that may otherwise be used for needless barking), and head halter training (two brands are Promise Halter and Gentle Leader).  These halters look a bit like a horse halter and can be purchased through many veterinary offices. You can use this halter with a lead to correct the dog by closing its mouth and then encouraging the dog to sit (this is where the obedience training comes in handy) and relax every time they start to try to bark. The dog must sit until it is calm, and then it can be petted, rewarded, or told that it is “okay” only when calm and relaxed.   Rewarding “good” behavior is more successful than just reprimanding inappropriate behavior.  It is important to respond to the dog within the first 30-60 seconds of the onset of the barking so you will have to pay close attention.  Other items which you can use to interrupt the barking include water sprayers, shake can (an empty soda can with coins or pebbles sealed inside), ultrasonic trainers set appropriately, etc.   These devices will work to interrupt the barking and then you can redirect the dog’s behavior to something more appropriate such as playing fetch or other kinds of play. This is a simplistic description of how to handle this situation since each dog presents its own unique personal tendencies.

 Behavior Modification in Dogs-Housetraining

We just got a new puppy.  She is just the sweetest little thing and I don’t want to be harsh with her but what is the best way to housetrain her?  What about pushing her nose into any mess she makes?

Housetraining 101!  The following information relates to housetraining a puppy but the same information applies to housetraining an adult dog.  The best strategy is to teach her that she should only eliminate outside and not in the house. With this in mind, puppy pads and paper training probably should be avoided since this actually allows her to eliminate in the house.   Instead, opt for a combination of close supervision, encouragement and some type of confinement such as crate training. 

The size of the crate is very important. It should be big enough for her to stand up and turn around in, even as an adult.  Portable dog kennels work great for crate training and they come in a variety of sizes. (PetFoodDirect.Com has a great selection of quality crates and wire cages.)  They can also be used for travel (i.e. on an airplane, etc).  Other dogs prefer a larger area such as an exercise pen or small room.   A crate can become a positive place to be if the pup is conditioned to the crate with such things as treats and toys.  It is also a positive place to be if it is not placed in an isolated area such as a laundry room or garage.  Instead place it in a frequented area of the house such as the kitchen or den since dogs are social animals.   She should be in her crate whenever you are not able to watch her such as when you are sleeping, at work, or even when you are too busy around the house to watch her closely.  A puppy should not be expected to spend more than about four hours in the crate, however.  If you are unable to let her out of the crate after about four hours to eliminate outside and get some exercise, then a larger confinement area is necessary.  This way she can eliminate if necessary and be allowed to rest away from any soiled area.

When she is let out of her crate, she should be taken directly outside to eliminate if needed.  Make it fun to be outside, not a punishment.  A puppy should also be allowed to eliminate just prior to being placed in her crate. When she is out of the crate, you will need to watch her VERY closely so that you can take her outside every hour or two or if you notice any body language which might indicate that she is about to eliminate in the house. Such body language includes sniffing the ground, turning in a circle, starting to squat, sniffing at the outside door, looking at the outside door, etc. All dogs are different so you will have to learn what her cues are.  There are critical times when a dog should be taken outside and these include immediately after waking (even if just from a nap), after playing, and within 15-30 minutes of eating.

Behavior Modification in Dogs and Cats-Feline Elimination Disorders

We have three cats and one or more of them keeps missing the litterbox… urine and stool  Our house is starting to really smell.  What can we do?

Inappropriate elimination encompasses all problems associated with not using the litter box (urine spraying, urinating on horizontal surfaces and defecating out of the box).  You are not alone… this is the number one behavior problem among cats.  This is a complicated subject with many different factors to consider.  The following information will serve as a general overview of the subject but I encourage you to work closely with your veterinarian on this matter in order to figure out “why” your cat or cats are eliminating inappropriately and then to create an effective treatment plan. Each individual and its health status and environment is unique; so there is no standard answer to these questions of inappropriate urinating and defecating.

It is instinctive for cats to want to dig and bury their waste (urine and feces) in a litter box, but many factors can play into a cat abandoning their litter box (whether it is occasionally or full-time).  There are issues to address concerning the litter box itself, including:  1)  the location (cats like a quiet, low traffic area); 2) the type of litter (some cats prefer certain litter types, usually unscented); 3) the cleanliness of the box (it is best to scoop the box daily and then dump the entire contents and clean with soap and water on a regular basis such as every 10-14 days); 4)  the number of boxes (it is best to have one box per cat but some cats also prefer having separate boxes for urination and defecation); 5)  changing the location of the box.  If you ever need to change the location of a litter box it is best to leave the original box in its regular location and add another box in the “new” location.  Eventually, you will be able to eliminate the original litterbox once the cat is using the box in the new location.  For a wonderful selection of types and brands of kitty litter, including some natural products, look here.

Behavior Modification in Dogs and Cats-Use the litterbox

The next step is to retrain your cat to use the litterbox. This is best accomplished by locking the cat in a small room (such as a bathroom) with all throw rugs removed.  The cat’s food and water and litter box are kept in the room as well, but the food and water dishes should not be kept right next to the litter box.  You may want to experiment by placing two boxes in the room to see if they prefer to urinate in one box and defecate in the other.  You may also want to try two different types of litter in each box to see which one it prefers.  There are many litter types to choose from so you may want to experiment with different brands including ones made from newspaper, etc.  Many cats prefer only a small layer of litter in the bottom of the box so that they can dig to the bottom.  Try using just enough litter so that the cat will easily dig through the litter to the bottom of the box.  Keep the cat in this room for several days (at least a week or so) and give the cat a lot of attention while they are locked in this room.  If they are routinely using the litter box, as they should, then you can test them in the house again but only under close supervision at first.  If you catch them attempting to soil an area in the house again, quickly startle them with a spray bottle or loud clap of the hands to cause them to cease their current activity.   It is not wise to punish your cat such as with a swat or by rubbing their nose in the mess since this only serves to make things worse and may result in the cat fearing and avoiding you (more stress!).  If a mishap does occur, the cat should be locked back up again for a few more days.  In some cases, especially those concerning social structure, behavior modification medication may be needed.  These medications are typically given for a set period of time (for example, 2 to 3 months or more) before weaning the patient off of them.  Some cats needs to be placed back onto the medication from time to time.  I encourage you to work closely with your veterinarian to solve any behavior problem, especially to rule out any medical causes first

 Behavior Modification in Dogs and Cats- Feline Aggressive Behavior

I don’t want my new kitty to bite at my hands and scratch me as if it is fun play.  My last cat did that and it was very annoying.  What did I do wrong and how can I make my new kitty less likely to bite and scratch?

Kittens that are weaned early never learn how to temper their play responses and it is often these kittens that exhibit play aggression. The mother cat teaches her kittens what is appropriate and what is inappropriate play behavior but if she is not present during the early time periods when kittens learn about play, kittens miss out on this very important information. 

The best approach is to use behavior modification in dogs and cats that interrupts the inappropriate behavior and replaces it with a more appropriate one. For instance, when the kitten bites during play, it can be surprised with a water pistol or a hissing  compressed air canister at close range. The point is to startle the kitten so that the biting or scratching stops immediately. This goal is best accomplished if the startle occurs as the kitty is commencing the biting, not after he has been biting you for several seconds. Then, when the kitty seeks out your company, you can stroke, massage, and provide food treats whenever he is acting calm. It is very important to reward “good” behavior since this will accomplish more than just correcting inappropriate behavior. You must be vigilant and watch for the first signs of play aggression including dilated pupils, claws unsheathed, ears back, tail twitching.  Correct the kitten immediately by using the above-mentioned startle technique as early in the aggression sequence as possible. Say a firm “No!” so that the kitty will learn to associate that voice command with an unpleasant event and eventually all you will have to do to correct is to say “No!” and the kitten will respond.  The startle or correction should be humane and so should be at the lowest level of stimulus that achieves the desired effect of aborting the behavior.  We don’t want to terrify the kitten. 


I have a 13 year old neutered male named Herm.  I have noticed over the past 4-6 months that he is acting differently.  He yowls a lot, sometimes wonders around aimlessly, and even picking him up does not always console him.  I have also noticed that his appetite has been picking up as well.  It is almost like he can not get enough food and seems to becoming thinner in the process despite feeding him more food.

From what you have shared, the first stop should be to your veterinarian.  In older cats, there can be so many things going on that can result in behavior changes.  It is even possible that he is just becoming a little senile.  As we are finding out in people, senility is often a label we put on behavior changes when an animal grows older and we cannot find physical causes.  Some cats do have cognitive dysfunction but your vet would need to help you in evaluating this.  The first step will be to do a complete physical examination, blood chemistry and cell analysis, and check a fresh urine sample.  This will do much to narrow down the list of possibilities of what is going on.  Some of those possibilities are:
1.)  A reduction in hearing and/or eyesight makes them perceive their world differently, hence they become more vocal almost to reassure themselves.
2.) Kidney failure, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism.
3.) Cognitive Dysfunction and senility are considered probable when everything else proves to be normal.

As you can tell from what I have shared there are a wide range of causes for the changes you are seeing in your older kitty’s behavior.  The first step is to call your veterinarian and take Herm in for a geriatric cat evaluation.   Usually this includes a thorough physical examination, checking a fresh urine sample, and drawing blood.  The blood work most commonly includes a CBC and a Chemistry Profile.  A CBC is a complete blood count to check for anemia, white blood cell levels, etc.  A Profile basically checks out the kidney and liver function along with the glucose and various electrolyte levels such as Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, etc. and helps to see how the rest of the body is working.    With what you have shared above, Thyroid hormone levels would definitely be run as well since Hyperthyroidism is common in older cats and can cause all of what you have described. As you can see there are a variety of different things that may be causing Herm’s difficulties so the first step is to work with your veterinarian and do a thorough medical evaluation. 

Behavior Modification in Dogs and Cats, Adding a New One

I have one spayed female kitty that is about 6 years old and we are thinking about adding another cat to our household.  How do I go about it?

One thing to keep in mind is to evaluate why you are adding a new cat.  Is it for you or the cat?  The key to this question is to realize that cats are, in general, solitary creatures and enjoy their own personal space and may not like the addition of another feline.  Take your current kitty’s personality into consideration first, then proceed.  This does not mean to not add another cat, just go in with your eyes open.  Very dominant cats seem to have a harder time adjusting to new “family” members which can result in behavioral issues. 

With this said, even though cats are solitary creatures by nature, they can become the best of friends over time.  If you haven’t already picked out the “newcomer”, keep in mind that many times it works best to add a kitten or cat of the opposite gender.  That is not to say that two males or two females can’t get along just fine and be friends though. It all depends on their individual personalities.  Adding a younger cat or kitten to a home with a resident cat usually works out best.  The younger they are the better they adjust since cats don’t reach social maturity until about three years of age.  Make sure to take the new cat or kitten to your veterinarian right away for a check-up.  Your veterinarian can test for diseases such as Feline Leukemia Virus and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus if this hasn’t already been done.  The new cat can also be tested for parasites and dewormed if needed before coming to your house, as well as getting updated on any vaccinations.  

Separation Anxiety

My six month old Springer Spaniel seems very destructive while I am gone from the house for more than a few minutes.  He tears up things and even has dug up our carpeting.  He never does that sort of thing when we are there.  What’s going on?

What you are describing sounds like a case of Separation Anxiety.  Many dogs are uncomfortable and fearful when separated from their “people”, or in a dog’s mind, their pack leaders since dogs are pack animals.  There are a lot of social interactions that can play into a dog’s ability to be content and peaceful when left alone.  During a dog’s life there are many times they can become susceptible to impressions.  One of the dog’s critical learning times is around the age of 6 to 13 weeks of age when they make solid and lasting impressions of the world around them. They learn about the environment and what happens in certain situations.  For some pups this critical period of socialization is filled with all sorts of interesting stimuli, including having to be left alone for a time.  If nothing stressful happens while alone, the pup will grow up accepting being alone as normal and “no big deal”.   In other cases, the pup may experience something fearful while left alone during the critical period of socialization.  For example a thunder storm experienced while all alone during the critical period of socialization may imprint in the dog for life the fear of loud noises; if someone ring the door bell or knocks loudly on the door, the pup may grow up with excessive responses to anyone at any door.

Behavior Modification in Dogs-Experiences Separation Anxiety

The next question is, what can you do about a dog that experiences separation anxiety?  If it is mild, you may be able to desensitize your dog on your own.  If the anxiety is strong behavior, you would benefit most by finding a trained veterinary behaviorist to help you come up with a plan of behavior modification.  This usually involves a veterinarian who has taken postgraduate training and specializes in the study and treatment of animal behavior.  They will examine your dog, take a good history, and talk with you and then come up with a method to desensitize your dog.  Part of this plan will often incorporate the use of various anti-anxiety drugs along with methods of behavior modification created from this history.  No matter what you do, it will take patience, persistence and some creativity to come up with a way that will work for each animal. Remember, you are trying to change the dog’s solid perception of cause and effect relationships.  Often when these dogs are secretly videotaped it has been found that they exhibit their anxiety within 30 minutes of the owners leaving and again within 30 minutes of the owners arriving back home again.

If you think your dog’s separation anxiety is mild, there are some things that you can try on your own.    A few of these things are:  Having a room or area that is dedicated to a safe area for your dog while you are gone.  It may help to have this be their special room at night as well.  This is a time when they know you are there but they are still in their special room and they can learn to feel safe even if they are not in the same room with you.  Decide what you think might work best and then start getting your dog used to this room or area.  Many times leaving the TV or radio on at a good level will help them to not feel so alone.  Also have the safe place in an area, if possible, that is more insulated from outside sounds.  Dog’s that are crate trained can be much easier to work with; it just depends on the dog.  (See a selection of crates at PetFoodDirect.Com.)  Most dogs initially become anxious in crates so you would need to crate train them first while you are at home, then move on to the separation anxiety.  Some dogs become anxious at confinement if they are not used to it.  

As a final note, some people recommend getting another pet to help solve the problem.  It really depends on the circumstances.  If it works according to plan, then you now have two happy, interactive pets that don’t need you to “baby sit” them.  Be aware, though, that if your first dog is so upset at you leaving, the new puppy may learn this behavior too!  In some cases the new dog displays no anxiety but the anxiety of the other dog persists.  Each case is unique.  The goal is to find a way to modify, eliminate, or at least alleviate the anxiety.  Begin your plan with your veterinarian, then consider the animal behaviorist.  Most of the teaching veterinary schools have certified animal behaviorists on staff.   


I have a cat that once she has been old enough to jump up there, she gets on our kitchen counters.  I have tried to tell her no, sprayed her with a water bottle after saying no, and now what she does is just wait until I am out of the room or away and still gets on the counters.  I am exasperated and don’t know what to do.  

I know that this can be very frustrating.  Cats definitely have their own code when it involves certain types of things they like to do.  I would suspect that sitting up high is somewhat instinctual and the counters seem like a great vantage point to them so you are fighting a bit of instinct along with curiosity.  That means it takes more persistence and creativity on your part. 

You have already tried my first recommendation which is to (if possible) restrict their access to counters. Using a squirt bottle with water and saying a stern “No!” can be effective IF you are present consistently enough to really make an impression.  In your situation, that hasn’t worked, though.  There are a couple of other things that you can do.  This will work for anything they are getting on that you do not approve.  Place crinkly aluminum foil on the area.  Cats do not like foil and usually will jump right back off of the counter.  It can become a pain for you to keep foil on the counters all the time but eventually the cat will believe the foil is there and they will stop jumping up because they expect that darned tin foil to rattle them a bit!  The couch can be harder since they can actually check to see if it is there first.  Another option is to look for one of the small devices that detects any kind of movement and then emits an irritating audible beep until movement stops.  This will work well on anything whether it is counters or a piece of furniture.   Look for it at pet food and supply stores.  These sonic devices really do work.

 Behavior Modification in dogs-Fear & Aggression  

I have a young, medium sized, mixed breed male dog that is neutered and is about 2 years old.  He has always been a little scared of people when they come to the house or when we go for walks.  Lately his reactions to people have seemed to get much worse.  The other day when someone came to our house he was cowering beside me.  The person, trying to soothe him, crouched down to reassure him and my dog growled and snapped at her.  Since then I have seen more and more times that now he is becoming more aggressive in these situations. What do I do?

From what you are describing, your dog is exhibiting the animal instinctive response of fear/aggression.  Fear is one of the strongest emotions that can be felt and when something triggers the transition from fear to aggression, the switch to aggression seems to come more quickly each time it occurs.  From my observations, it seems that the animal feels more in control (which they are) in the aggressive mode so once they make the transition from fear and then to aggression the incidence of aggression will continue to increase.  Much of this is tempered by the dog’s personality as well.  You can almost tell by the dog’s demeanor when in the aggressive mode their type of personality.  

I surmise from what you have described that your dog is still more in the fear stage than in total aggression.  If possible, back out of the situation and avoid these situations in the future until you can get help.  Advise people right up front to not try to pet your dog.  The dog should be ignored, and do not look them in the eye or try to pet them.  You need to be very aware of your dog at all times.   The next step would be to work with your veterinarian and get a referral to a veterinary behaviorist to help you work through the behavior and then come up with ways to Behavior Modification in dogs and also to desensitize the dog to the situations that are inducing the fear.The earlier you seek this help the better.  From what you have shared, your dog is just now socially maturing and this is often when they start to assert themselves.  This is the age when we start to see the big change from the pure fear response to the fear – aggression type of response.  Animal behaviorists are veterinarians who have specialized in animal behavior.  They are usually Board Certified in Internal Medicine in animal behavior.  Their studies have included the study and treatment of animal behavior issues.  Most of the teaching veterinary schools have them now and they are becoming more common in private practice such as a visiting doctor to a local specialist clinic.  Your veterinarian should be able to suggest a local animal behaviorist because a case such as this really needs individualized, hands-on, consistent work.  In the meantime, be very observant of what situations seem to trigger the fear versus the fear-aggression response.  Your notes regarding the “what and when” activities will assist the behaviorist in understanding your particular dog’s personality.  To give you more specific information is impossible, since like in people, every situation is unique and has to be evaluated one at a time.  Your dog’s age, personality, breed, demeanor, and environment as well as a history of past experiences are evaluated in order to devise a method of desensitization.   The success of the desensitization depends on all of these factors and is best handled as soon as possible with the help of a professional.  I would recommend strongly handling it sooner rather than later.

In this blog, we discuss the behavioral modification in dogs and cats how to make them behave like other pets. By understanding the basics of how these techniques work, you can help your furry friends learn new behaviors in a fun and effective way. So, whether you’re looking to potty train your dog, get your cat to stop scratching furniture, or just want them to stay out of the kitchen while you’re cooking, read on to learn more about how to get them behaving the way you want them to!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is dog behavior modification?

Behavior modification in dogs is a treatment technique for modifying your dog’s undesired behavior. Behavior modification in dogs can help with a variety of issues and is tailored to the needs of individual dog and household.

Does behavior modification in dogs work?

As long as the owner is able to be consistent with the training, private lesson behavior modification in dogs is a solid alternative for resolving undesirable behaviors. Those with significant shyness or hostility may face further charges.

What are behavior modification techniques?

The tactics used to try to reduce or improve a specific type of behaviour or reaction are referred to as behaviour modification.

Leave a Comment