9 Behavior

Learning Objectives

  • Explain principles of animal learning including use of positive and negative reinforcement
  • Describe reinforcers and punishers unique to dogs, cats, horses, and birds
  • Describe natural behaviors in birds
  • Explain how captivity alters behavior in birds
  • Describe a functional behavior assessment for birds
  • Describe enrichment strategies for birds
  • Describe various forms of restraint commonly used in horses
  • Describe how to manage horses to permit training, veterinary examinations, and loading into a trailer
  • Describe tools of the trade used in small animals
  • Explain how to housetrain a dog
  • Explain how to crate train dogs and cats
  • Explain how to choose a new puppy
  • Describe how to read body language to recognize stress or aggression in dogs, cats, and horses
  • Explain how to minimize stresses in dogs
  • Explain litter box management for cats
  • Explain how to introduce a new cat into a household

This chapter does not include information about assessing behaviors or moving and handling cattle.

General behavioral concepts

The core emotion systems that drive animal behavior, as defined by Dr. Jaak Panksepp, are seeking, rage, fear, panic, lust, care, and play. The first four occur throughout an animal’s life and will be described in greater detail.

Seeking is defined by Dr. Panksepp as “the basic impulse to search, investigate, and make sense of the environment.” This is a combination of things we tend to differentiate in humans, including curiosity, anticipation, and wishing or desiring a good thing. In animals, we see this as them investigating a new place or a novel object and as them anticipating something they find to be rewarding, such as food or attention. This is a positive emotion.

Rage is a positive thing for animals to feel because it gives them the explosive energy then need to get away if they are being attacked or restrained by a predator. Frustration is a mild form of rage. While there are positive reasons for this emotion, the experience of it can be negative. Animals in captivity or that cannot form their normal social groups may feel this emotion at a low level over time and may, therefore, be more reactive than expected to small or innocuous stimuli.

Fear is a negative emotion, felt when the animal feels threat, either physical or mental. Fear can drive aggressive behaviors or may be a component of stereotypic behaviors, which are repeated behaviors with no obvious purpose shown by animals in captivity. For example, gerbils need a burrow for safety and gerbils housed in a glass aquarium may show stereotypic digging behavior due to fear and the need to create a burrow.

Panic is a negative emotion associated with loss of social attachment. This may be overt, for example when calves are abruptly weaned from their dams, or may be more subtle as we move animals into varying groups as they move through a production system.


Parrot Icon     Behavior of Birds

The big take-home point from this chapter is that all behavior has function.

Birds physically have a different brain from mammals with a much smoother surface. Historically, people though that meant that birds had a less complex brain and were, therefore, less capable of high level thought (“bird brains”). We now know that is not true.

Research into behavior has demonstrated that behavior in birds, as in many species, is a blend of genetics and physical adaptations to environmental change. Long-term evolutionary change to adapt to the environment in birds includes physical adaptations such as wings, beaks, and vocal structures to permit communications. Long- and short-term adaptations also occur in learning. People have addressed the science of understanding learning and behavior through three models. The ethological approach is species-specific and focuses on genetic adaptations through natural selection. The medical approach considers behavior to be a symptom of something we can diagnose and potentially treat or cure. The behavioral approach looks at the interaction between the observable behavior and the observable condition and asks how this specific animal is responding to this specific environment. All three models have their place.

Birds adapted over millennia to take advantage of specific niches in the environment. Their free-ranging (natural) behaviors include foraging, social interactions, self-maintenance (grooming), and resting. Some natural behaviors are not conducive to life in captivity.

If you consider domestication, dogs have been selected by humans for years for their value as companions and part of that is their ability to “read” humans. Birds (except for chickens) are not domesticated and there are so many species that it’s difficult for any one person to know the specific set of behaviors common in that bird species. Birds will therefore show maladaptive behaviors, which are normal behaviors expressed in an abnormal setting. These may include things like calling out (birds need to call loudly to be heard in noisy tropical environments), personal space boundaries (different species of birds have widely differing natural territories), wood chewing (making nest cavities), and flinging of food (birds in the wild have abundant food and can be messy eaters). Birds also may show truly abnormal behaviors, such as feather destructive behaviors, biting, excessive vocalization, excessive egg-laying, and perch potato syndrome. Birds may show these behaviors because they have too little control or too little mental stimulation in their captive environment, in their perception, or because they are truly malfunctional, with abnormal physiology, neurochemistry, or brain development.

A brief history in aviculture may help our understanding of current behavior concerns with caged bird species. Prior to the 1970s, birds were captured in the wild and imported. Captive breeding began in the 70s and 80s and was required after the Wild Bird Importation Act was passed in 1992, which banned importation of captured wild birds. Birds can be very long-lived so you may still see some birds that were wild caught but most of the birds we see were captive bred and raised by humans. In an attempt to do the best possible for these birds, we raised them in environments with good biosecurity, and wing-clipped and weaned them early, so we could hand feed them and they would bond to humans. This was not the best strategy. Some birds are reproductive R-strategists (lay many eggs and provide little parenting) and some are reproductive K-strategists (lay few eggs and provide a lot of parenting, often in flocks) and we did not have enough information to let us know how to raise these varying types of birds. This created many birds with the equivalent of “orphanage syndrome”, which is seen in primates that fail to thrive despite having received all necessary physiological needs because of lack of emotional attachment. The current gold standard for raising birds is to choose healthy parents with good behavioral traits; leave young birds with the parents as long as possible; habituate them to humans by vocal signals, gentle massage, and light contact; allow them to develop curiosity, socialization and exploration; and allow them to develop flight.

Investigating Behavior Problems in Birds

Problems in birds may develop because their captive lifestyle does not mimic their natural lifestyle in any respect. Birds reproduce, molt, migrate and then start that cycle over in the wild. These are all energy-intensive behaviors that occur due to environmental triggers and hormonal cues. With constant lighting and temperature of indoor environments, presence of potential “mates” (including humans), abundant food, and nest box availability, birds may show normal reproductive behaviors that are maladaptive in the captive environment. Examples include pair bonding, courtship regurgitation, cavity seeking, nest building, and territorial defense. Birds may also undergo hormone toxicity, which is early onset of sexual maturity or prolonged triggering of reproductive behaviors.

A multidisciplinary approach is needed where medical conditions are investigated and a functional behavior analysis is performed. Some definitions to guide this discussion are:

  • Behavior – what an animal does under certain conditions that can be observed – it is something an animal does, not something an animal is, and it can be observed and measured.
  • Construct – a label or interpretation.

It is important to separate behavior from constructs. If a bird bites, you may think he’s mean. Biting is a behavior. Being mean is a construct. Constructs are not useful because they lead to circular thinking (he bites because he’s mean and I know he’s mean because he bites), they give you a false sense of having explained the behavior and so provide an excuse to give up, they can be self-fulfilling, and they can predispose you to trying harmful strategies to change the behavior.

To promote new behaviors, you need to empower the learner and give them a choice. You need to create a situation where the good behavior is more functional for the bird.


The ABCs of Behavior


A = antecedent (environment: what makes the bird show the behavior)

B = behavior

C = consequence


Predicting Behavior

Identifying the antecedent, resultant behavior, and consequences that follow does not always allow one to predict future behavior. Here is a checklist:

  1. Define the target behavior.
  2. Does the antecedent set the occasion for the behavior to occur?
  3. Does the consequence depend on the behavior? Are they functionally related?
  4. Does the consequence maintain, increase, or decrease the behavior?
  5. Can it predict future behavior?

Evaluating and Changing Bahvior Graphic

As in other species, reinforcers increase behaviors and punishers decrease behaviors. Effective reinforcement has contingency (it always happens) and contiguity (it always happens immediately after the behavior) and is highly individual. It is the bird who decides if a reward is reinforcing (leading to an increase in that behavior) or not. Something you may think is a great reward may mean nothing to that bird. Begin by reinforcing a behavior already exhibited by the bird. Once the bird has mastered it, withhold reinforcement. This will lead to an “extinction burst”, which is an increase in behavior seen when rewards go away. Punishment decreases behaviors but may be associated with learned helplessness, generalized fear or phobias, withdrawal from the training relationship, or apathy. If you want a bird to stop a behavior, try reinforcing an acceptable substitute behavior or an incompatible behavior (for example, to stop biting, reinforce something else that occupies their beak).

When Making a Plan to Change Behavior

  1. Redesign the environment
  2. Identify alternate behaviors
  3. Develop a training plan
  4. Consider the client’s setting and skills

Six Steps to Behavior Change

  1. Describe the target behavior in clear and observable terms.
  2. Describe the antecedent events that occur and conditions that exist before the behavior happens.
  3. Describe the consequences that immediately follow the behavior.
  4. Examine the antecedents, the behavior, and the consequence in sequence.
  5. Devise new antecedents and/or consequences to teach new behaviors or change existing ones.
  6. Evaluate the outcome.

Specific Problem Behaviors

Feather destructive behavior is self-inflicted damage where birds break and/or pull out feathers. It is not a diagnosis, it is a sign and causes are multiple. It has a relationship to neurological development and to lack of enrichment. It is most common in big parrots and those species that bond most strongly to humans. It is thought to be related to syndromes in non-human primates (who, like birds, are intelligent, social, and altricial (immature) at birth) who injure themselves as a consequence of having been reared in isolation. This is similar to psittacine (parrot-like) birds that were taken from their parents at an early age, reared by humans, and individually caged at weaning or as juveniles. The self-wounding is a physiological positive reinforcer of the behavior and acts as a coping strategy. Enrichment may be beneficial (see below). Other behavioral interventions include distracting the bird from the destructive behavior, positively reinforcing for a different, non-destructive behavior, and using preventive measures by trying to identify cues that the bird is about to start picking. Drug therapies are rarely helpful.

Enrichment is about simulating activities in the wild and redirecting energy away from reproductive behaviors and toward survival behaviors. Chewing activities are good for enrichment. If food is part of enrichment, avoid high fat and high sugar foods, and refined carbohydrates.

For enrichment, provide both non-destructible and destructible items. Rotate them regularly and do not overload the cage. Examples include chew toys, climbing toys, foot toys, and puzzle toys. This may include things to shred (phone books, paperback books, catalogs, junk mail, paper cups), things to hunt for (toys filled with food), alternate perching sites, coils and ropes for climbing, play stands and gyms, an outdoor aviary,  and opportunities to forage. In one study, foraging in the wild was shown to occupy 4-6 hours per day and foraging birds in the wild ate a large variety of fruits, seeds, nuts, berries, blossoms, and leaf buds, from up to 60 plant species. Caged birds generally eat for 30-72 minutes per day and expend no energy getting the food. Foraging toys can be used to make birds “hunt” for their food as they would in the wild. Good examples of enrichment can be found in The Parrot Enrichment Activity Book by Kris Porter.

Dr. Ponder’s Myths About Bird Behavior

  • Height dominance (birds want to be higher than you no matter what and will bite if you try to get them down):

This does not occur and is actually a bad choice for birds, as they would be more likely to be attacked by aerial predators if they chose to perch very high in the wild.

  • Parrots must obey:

This is the same idea as the need to exert dominance in dogs and is equally untrue.

  • Flock dominance (one bird in the flock is at the top of the pecking order):

There is nothing to support this theory.

  • If it’s green, it’s mean:

This is a construct!

  • Punishment doesn’t work:

Punishment may cause a decrease in behavior but also may have undesirable side-effects as described earlier.

  • Positive reinforcement takes too long:

Positive reinforcement takes patience but is a good training tool.


Horse Icon    Behavior of Horses

Horses are prey animals. They are precocial, which means they are born in an advanced state and are able to feed themselves almost immediately. They are able to run within hours of birth. All horses have an extremely reactive flight response. We must learn how to help them modify this response in order to effectively and safely train the horse to offer acceptable behaviors.

Their main response is flight. If they are unable to flee, they will fight (kick, strike, run over handler). Anyone within 10 feet of a frightened horse is at risk of serious injury.

Horses have laterally placed eyes. This means that they have a panoramic field of vision with a narrow window of binocular vision and blind spots directly in front and directly behind them. They have monocular vision with poor depth perception from their nose to their hip on each side. They see few colors. They will tilt or turn their head toward an object, raise their head to see forward, and tuck their nose down to move their field of vision downward.

In horses, it previously was thought that the corpus callosum, which connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain, was underdeveloped and that horses had to learn to “see” things by looking at it with their right eye and then with their left eye. This has since been disproven by advanced imaging and behavioral studies. Some horses appear to require training to do something from both the right and left side, or will shy away from something they’ve always seen on the left as they approach it from the right. This most likely is due variations in appearance (color, shadowing, movement) that startle the horse and require them to pay more attention to that object than we might expect when we know they have seen it before.

Horses have very acute hearing, especially for higher frequency sound waves. They can independently turn their ears toward sounds so you can monitor to what a horse is paying attention by watching where it is aiming its ears. When working with a horse, you want to encourage it to keep one ear on you at all times. If a horse has its ears pinned back, do not push it further as it is already uncomfortable and/or irritated and may lash out.

Certain areas on horses are very sensitive to touch. Horses frequently groom each other (allo-grooming). They prefer a stroking motion to slapping as we approach them. The areas most sensitive to touch are the ears, girth region, flanks, perineal region, nose, and legs. They enjoy forehead rubs and scratching of the withers.


Anatomy of a Horse


Image of a horse showing the name of each body area.
“Horse Anatomy 101”, https://www.ponydreams.com/horse-anatomy-external/


Horses communicate mainly through body language and tension, not vocalization. They readily pick up on the body language of humans. It has been shown that people who are nervous when handling horses make those horses more nervous. It is important to have a calm demeanor around horses and to breathe deeply to help relax nervous horses.

Restraining Horses

Restraining frequently will be necessary when working with horses, and is used for the following reasons:

  • Safety! No matter how sweet a horse it, every horse will react to something if it is scared or painful enough. Anyone within 10 feet of a horse is at risk of injury.
  • Time is money for a veterinarian. We do not have time to train the horse so restraint often is necessary.

Be aware that all forms of restraint have pluses and minuses. There is no “one size fits all” approach to restraint as it varies with horse, procedure, and handler. Most veterinarians prefer to use the least restraint possible. You may need to complete some components of the physical examination before the horse is restrained, so you know you are seeing true responses and not those induced by the restraint used. This is especially true for sedation and other kinds of chemical restraint.

Types of Restraint

  • Twitches – Rope or chain twitches can be applied to the end of the nose. This is supposed to cause release of endorphins and calm the horse but some horses will rear as it is released. A skin twitch is pinching of the skin and can be effective just before vaccination. Ear twitching, where the base of the ear is twisted, is rarely used and may make horses head-shy.
  • Lip cords or chains – A cord (shoe-lace often is used) or chain is run across the inside of the lip. This prevents the horse from backing up or rearing.
  • Chemical restraint – A variety of sedative drugs may be used for restraint.
  • Hobbles – These join the legs together. They are uncommonly used but may be seen in mares during breeding, to prevent the mare from kicking a valuable stallion.

Training Horses

Operant conditioning is training the horse to respond consistently to signals through positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Timing of reinforcement is critical to success of the training used. Horses, as prey animals, respond well both to negative and positive reinforcement. Incorrect use of punishment can lower a horse’s motivation to try offering a response ( the horse shuts down, often seen in abused horses) or create fear or desensitize the horse to the instruments of punishment (spur or whip, for example).

Negative Reinforcement

Negative reinforcement involves the use of pressure. Pressure (tactile, visual, auditory) is applied until the horse offers the desired behavior at which point the pressure is immediately released. Start with light pressure, then slowly increase the amount and frequency of the pressure. Pressure should be firm and steady, not abrupt or harsh. This can be used to teach horses to stand still, lower their head, step forward, back up, move laterally, allow handling of sensitive areas, and accept use of clippers or other instruments. Keys to negative reinforcement are to apply pressure initially lightly, then gradually increasing with ongoing training; to hold pressure steady; to wait for the horse to respond – patience is a virtue; to release as the reward; and to praise the horse afterward.

Equine Positive vs Negative Reinforcement

Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement may involve clicker training or some other verbal marker followed by rewards as in the dog, or scratching of the withers or forehead instead of giving treats. This kind of training is difficult to do when mounted on the horse (also called being under saddle) and is better for ground work. Be wary of horses who are inclined to nip or bite – use a bucket instead of offering treats directly from your hands. This can be used to help desensitize needle-shy horses or to allow use of clippers around the head.

All horses learn best when they are relaxed. A nervous or fearful horse cannot focus attention on training. By going slowly with training, you will accomplish more in a shorter time. If you start to lose your ability to remain calm, it is time to stop the training session.


Methods for Training Horses

Positive Reinforcement The addition of a pleasant stimulus (reinforce) to reward the desired response and thus make the response more likely in the future (Skinner, 1953; McLean, 2003) Clicker training – Food treats
Negative Reinforcement The subtraction of something aversive (such as pressure) to reward the desired response and thus lower the motivational drive (Skinner, 1953) Release tension on a lead rope to reward taking a step forward
Positive Punishment The addition of an aversive stimulus to make a particular response less likely in the future Yanking on the nose chain when a horse tries to bite you
Negative Punishment The subtraction of a reinforcing stimulus to make a particular response less likely in the future Walking away from a horse that paws at a stall door to get out


Good Horsemanship and Performing Veterinary Work

As a veterinarian working with horses, you will be required to assess the general demeanor of the horse, do a complete physical examination, take a rectal temperature, auscult the heart and lungs, take a pulse rate and respiratory rate, auscult the GI tract, do a dental examination, do a lameness examination, perhaps do a rectal examination and pass a nasogastric tube (for example, if assessing a horse for colic), and know how to load a horse into a trailer so it can be transported for emergencies or referrals.

Keys to Good Horsemanship

  • Be mentally present, with no distractions.
  • Project a quiet, confident demeanor.
  • Be patient and fair in your contact with the horse.
  • Be the leader.
  • Move slowly and deliberately, with no quick or jerky movements.
  • Be firm but kind.
  • Avoid invoking the fight or flight response! Never allow the horse’s stress levels to escalate.

Performing Veterinary Work

Right or wrong, clients often equate good horsemanship with good veterinary skills where horses are concerned. Steps are:

  1. Introduce yourself to the horse. Horses communicate through body language. You must address the whole horse, not just the area of concern. Approach the shoulder at a 45 degree angle. Divert your eyes downward and have a calm, quiet demeanor. Stroke the neck and shoulder. Wait for the horse to relax – the horse’s eyes will soften, he will drop his head, he will chew, he will cock one hind leg. Stroke with the stethoscope from neck to shoulder and then down into the axilla and wait a minute to assess the heart and take the pulse rate; heart rate will increase with initial contact.
  2. To approach the head, stand off to one side, never directly in front of the horse. Rub the neck and slowly advance upwards. Retreat to a “safe zone” if the horse raises his head. Rub the forehead and withers as a reward.
  3. To do an oral examination, rub the side of the mouth and insert one finger into the interdental space. Reward the horse by removing the finger. Slowly make more contact with the mouth and tongue. Stay to one side as much as possible and do not hold him tight but instead move as he moves.
  4. To do an ocular examination, sedation may be required and local anesthesia may be required if an injury is present. Evaluate ocular reflexes (pupillary light response [PLR], menace, and dazzle) before sedating the horse. PLR is closure of both pupils in response to light in one eye. Direct PLR is in the eye in which light is being shown; indirect PLR is in the other eye. Indirect PLR testing is difficult to do without standing in front of the horse. Use an assistant if possible to help manage the horse and be cautious. Menace is flinching or blinking as the eye is approached physically. Dazzle is flinching or blinking with sudden bright illumination of the eye.
    Correct vs Incorrect Behavior Around Horses
  5. Nasogastric intubation is passing of a semi-rigid tube through the nose to access the GI tract of a horse. This can be done with minimal restraint. Desensitize the nostril to the presence of your finger in the ventral meatus about three times, releasing pressure of your finger as a reward. Then introduce the tube. The most resistance will be met in the first 3-4 inches of insertion. A nose twitch, lip cord, or sedation may be necessary in some horses.
  6. To take a rectal temperature, the handler of the horse should be on the same side of the horse as the veterinarian. Stand as close to the hip as possible. Be prepared to move quickly. Keep one hand on the hip as you approach the tail. Massage the underside of the tail; many horses will raise their tail as you do this. Gently touch the anus with the thermometer and insert with a rotating motion.
  7. Rectal palpation is a dangerous technique because you are in a danger zone for being kicked and are in the horse’s blind spot. Try to stand slightly to one side and make sure the handler is on the same side of the horse as veterinarian. Use lots of lubrication. Insert one finger at a time and do not force entry or exit.
  8. To perform limb palpation, for example for a lameness examination, make sure the handler is on the same side of the horse as the veterinarian. Stand parallel and next to the limb. Feel down the limb as the horse is standing, feeling for heat, swelling, and pain. As you approach the lower part of the leg, give a verbal cue to the horse (“ask for the limb”). Gently squeeze the flexor tendons or pinch the chestnut to get the horse to lift the leg. When the limb is elevated, gently palpate the tendons and ligaments. Hold the limb until the horse relaxes and then release it.
  9. For horses that are needle-shy, here are some things to try:
    • Have the handler cover the horse’s eyes.
    • Have the handler or assistant distract the horse with a large treat that they spend some time working on.
    • Rock the horse back-and-forth on its feet while inserting the needle.
    • Rub the skin vigorously, then pinch it, then slide the needle in.
    • Use oral sedation if the horse is truly dangerous.
    • Help the owner train (desensitize) the horse between appointments.
  10. To load a horse on a trailer, use a trailer that is as open as possible. Make sure you are in a well-lit area with no obstructions. Reward any attempt the horse makes to step forward toward the trailer, and consider use of lip cords.


Small Animal Icon     Small Animal Behavior

Dog Topics

How Dogs Learn

Dogs do what works for them! They learn by consequences; what is reinforced will occur more often and what is punished will occur less often. Reinforcers = if provided immediately at the time of behavior, make the behavior more likely – examples are food, toys, play, attention, petting, movement. Punishers = if provided immediately at the time of behavior, make the behavior less likely – examples can be physical, verbal, auditory, removal of a valued resource, removal of attention, or anything the dog finds unpleasant. Reinforcers and punishers must come within 1-2 seconds of the behavior in order to be effective. It is the animal who decides what is a reinforcer and what is a punisher.

Dogs don’t understand the concept of being punished for past behavior, as is described below under house-training. Behavior that happens when the owner is absent frequently is misinterpreted as spite. Usually this occurs when the owner has accidentally trained the dog to perform the behavior when the owner is not present. The dog looks “guilty” but is actually exhibiting behavior meant to “cut off” aggressive behaviors from other members of their pack or group. He looks guilty to you but really he’s just frightened of being punished for no apparent reason.

For many years, people adhered to a theory that all dogs were vying for the “top” or “alpha” position, and must be lowered in rank to eliminate problem behavior. Traditional suggestions were for humans to exert their dominance by rolling the dog on its back, shaking its scruff, going through doors first, eating first, and not allowing dogs on the furniture. We now know that dominance describes a relationship that sorts out who gets what and at what time. It is about resources and is a fluid trait, not a fixed or personality trait. It is not necessarily related to social status and depends on the resources and individuals in question. For us, this means that dogs are looking for a clear, humane, fair leader, not an alpha wolf. Most of the behaviors we consider to be problem behaviors have nothing to do with status or dominance and are just normal dog behaviors. Our goal is to teach our dogs how to behave rather than to dominate them.

Training the Dog to Do What You Want

Training generally is done with positive reinforcement. Make it fun for the dog do things correctly. The goal is to prevent wrong behaviors from starting and to keep the dog from practicing wrong behaviors. Try to avoid fear and pain when training. These may cause aggression, anxiety, creation of new problem behaviors, and confusion, and are hard to use appropriately. It is impossible to predict how dogs will respond to fear and pain when training and punishment doesn’t tell dogs what they should do. Dogs naturally repeat behaviors that benefit them, just like people. It is easier, faster, and less stressful to reward what we want instead of punishing what we don’t want.

Responding to Unwanted Behavior

  • Ignore (turn your back, look away, walk away)
  • Redirect (offer the puppy a toy to chew instead of the table leg)
  • Give an instructive command (“sit” or another obedience command generally is better than “no”)
  • Remove any reinforcement (stop the game, walk away, remove the treat, take away the toy, etc.)
  • Use training tools to interrupt the behavior (use a Gentle Leader to close the dog’s mouth, hold a mouthing puppy away from you with a leash, put a puppy in a crate or away from you for a time out)
  • Make sure you’re not unintentionally rewarding a wrong behavior – allow a 4-5 second delay between wrong and right behavior before rewarding the right behavior


Tools of the Trade IconTools of the Trade

  • Rewards – Examples of rewards include clickers and food rewards (chicken, cheese, lamb lung, hot dogs, food rolls, all cut into small pieces). With clicker training, the dog is taught to associate the “click” sound with a food reward. The handler clicks when the desired behavior occurs, then gives the dog a treat. Timing is important – the click marks the behavior and the treat comes after the click. The click must immediately follow the behavior and then the treat appears up to several seconds later. When the behavior is solid, the click is phased out and a verbal cue replaces the click.
  • Collars – Head halters include the Gentle Leader and Halti collars. Both allow control of the dog’s entire head. The Gentle Leader permits the handler to gently close the dog’s mouth and reduces pulling, barking, mouthing, and jumping. This is a great tool to prevent puppy biting but these are not muzzles and cannot be used to control all biting behaviors in dogs. Use of these collars depends on the user recognizing when the dog is doing what you want and leaving some slack in the leash; it is release of pressure from around the nose and behind the neck that is the reward for good behavior. Martingales are wide collars that connect to a leash in a way that tightens the collar to prevent it from slipping over the head. These are commonly used in sighthounds (for example Greyhounds), which often have a neck that is wider than the head. This performs the same function as a choke collar but with pressure spread out over the neck by the width of the collar. The limited slip design prevents escape and the collar can be fitted so as not to fully close. Buckle collars are those that are most commonly used. They may have a quick-release clip or an actual buckle. Dogs can back out of these if they are fitted too loosely. Prong or pinch collars, choke collars, shock collars, and citronella collars generally are not recommended by behaviorists. These can be used by experienced people in appropriate situations.
  • Harnesses – Easy-Walk and Halti are some brand names for harnesses. These fit around the chest of the dog and clip in the front, which makes pulling by the dog less efficient. These give handlers more control over the dog. These should be removed when not in use. The Freedom harness is a halter that clips over the back and can have two leashes attached; this harness also is used to control pulling when walking a dog.
  • Leashes – Leashes that are 4-6 feet in length are recommended for training. They may be made of nylon or leather. A lightweight leash with a small clip is recommended for use with the Gentle Leader. If a dog chews the leash, one can be made of tie-out material covered in rubber or made of small-link chain. Leashes can be used as drag lines, as described below for housetraining. If the puppy / dog is wearing a leash in the house, the owner can walk the dog off furniture or through doorways without physically touching them, which the dog may perceive as a reward.
    • Retractable leads generally are not recommended. They can be useful in wide-open areas with little to no traffic but are not recommended for use in crowded venues, near bike paths, for dogs not yet trained to walk well on a loose leash, for children to walk dogs, or for people to walk dogs while multi-tasking (for example, while texting). Retractable leads offer too little control and too much freedom of movement for the dog and are difficult to hold onto if the dog is out of control. The lock can fail and fingers can be severely injured if they become entangled in the leash cord.
  • Crates and kennels – Crates / kennels are described below, under housetraining. To train a dog to enter a crate, toss treats into the crate and let the dog eat and exit at will. Then feed meals in the kennel and put in things that teach the dog that spending time in the kennel is good, for example Kong or food puzzle treats that the dog has to work at to get the reward. Gradually increase the time the dog spends in the kennel. If the dog does not want to be in the crate and is making noise, wait until the noise stops before opening the door.
  • Gates – Gates can be made of plastic, metal, or wood. They are great for multi-dog households and households with dogs and children. They can be used to prevent dogs from dashing through open doors but must be properly installed (or they can be knocked over) and of an appropriate height (or they can jump or crawl over them).

Management Techniques

Puppies are always learning, even if we’re not present. It is better not to let them practice doing things incorrectly, because they will get really good at whatever they practice. It is easier to prevent problem behaviors than to eliminate them once the animal is showing them. Management is about setting puppies and adult dogs up for success and requires us to be thinking about how best to keep the animal on track when it is not being supervised. Often, this involves changing behavior of the owners to ensure good behaviors on the part of the dog.


Housetraining is a necessity for all dogs, young and old. Young dogs need to be trained if they are to live inside as house pets and older dogs should be re-trained every time they move to a new home location. It is unrealistic to expect dogs of any age to readily understand our expectations of them regarding housetraining as we travel with them or move to new residences. When training, proper and consistent management is crucial to success and expectations must be age-appropriate.

Basics of Housetraining

  • Take the puppy / dog out every hour on a leash – Do not let them run free outside until after they have urinated or defecated.
  • Take the puppy / dog out immediately after it finishes eating, after it has been playing, and after it wakes up.
  • Reward the puppy / dog immediately after it urinates or defecates, not after they get back in the house – you want them to learn that the reward is for eliminating, not for going back in the house.
  • Keep the puppy / dog on a leash when indoors and use it to keep the animal physically attached to someone at all times.
  • Confine the puppy / dog to a crate or enclosure (ex-pen (see below) or small room) when supervision isn’t possible.
Image of a dog in a ex-pen.
“Precision Pet Ultimate ExPen”, https://www.amazon.com/Precision-Pet-Ultimate-ExPen-Black/dp/B00028IX7M

If you’re going to use a crate, crate-training requires use of a crate that is big enough for the dog to stand up and move around and to lie down comfortably, but not so big that the animal can urinate or defecate in the back of the crate and lie in a dry spot away from that area. You may, therefore, need to purchase more than one crate as your puppy grows, or to put something in the back of a large crate to decrease the usable space for a time. You may or may not choose to put something on the floor of the crate. Newspapers may stain dogs, especially if they get wet, and dogs may chew on towels or other soft bedding. The maximum number of hours a puppy should be in the crate is its age in months plus one – for example, a 2-month-old puppy should not be left in the crate for more than 3 hours at a time. For adult dogs, start with shorter durations (for example, 3-4 hours) and gradually increase duration. People are often eager to get puppies to sleep through the night very quickly but that is not a realistic goal; their urinary bladder is only so big. If they do sleep through the night, you should not expect them also to be able to hold their urine for that same length of time during the day. The crate should not be used as a punishment. It is a safe place for the dog and can be used not just for housetraining but also to control chewing; to manage multiple animals in a household, especially as they’re first being introduced; and when traveling.

Accidents will happen while you’re housetraining a dog. All should be cleaned with an enzyme-based cleaner, which will biologically break down the urine and feces and remove the smell. Smell is a strong indicator to animals that they should use that spot for elimination again. Remember that their sense of smell is much stronger than ours; just because you can’t smell it, that doesn’t mean they can’t smell it. If you are worried you’re not seeing all of the places where the dog has urinated, a blacklight flashlight can be used to help locate stains. Be aware that the blacklight is picking up protein so it also will identify places where the dog has drooled.

Puppies / dogs should not be punished for accidents you find after the fact. Punishment at that point is not associated in their mind with having urinated or defecated. If you catch them in the act, scoop them up and hurry them outside and if they do even one drop out there, heavily reward them. Do not punish them if you catch them in the act; it may teach them to urinate or defecate where no one can see them and it does not help them learn what we want them to do.

Other tools that may be used for housetraining are potty pads and belly bands. Potty pads are useful for those dogs that have limited mobility or live in places where it is hard to get outside (for example, high-rise apartments or houseboats). The puppy / dog is taken to the potty pad instead of being taken outside and is rewarded for urinating or defecating on that surface. All other aspects of housetraining are the same as above. Owners can purchase commercial potty pads or use newspaper; if you use newspaper, you need many layers to keep urine from soaking through. Belly bands wrap around the prepuce and penis of male dogs and are intended to prevent leg-lifting accidents and marking with urine on vertical surfaces. They should only be used when the dog is supervised and must be removed when the dog is taken outside or placed in a crate.

Choosing a New Puppy

Recommended sources for new puppies are shelters or humane societies, rescue organizations, and reputable breeders. You will see below that it is not recommended to purchase puppies from pet stores; this does not include pet stores holding adoption days for local humane or rescue organizations. Reputable breeders do genetic and infectious disease testing on their bitches and stud dogs before breeding, use best practices for socialization and care of young pups, and screen prospective owners to ensure the new owners understand the personality and adult size of the chosen breed. The American Kennel Club has a quiz available to help perspective owners understand various dog breeds and which breed is best for them and their situation. In general, it is not recommended to get a new puppy from a pet store, which may be receiving their animals from puppy mills and other unregulated breeders, or from “backyard breeders” and from those offering puppies “free to good home”, who often do not do genetic and infectious disease testing of sires and dams and may, therefore, produce pups with significant congenital defects and/or disease.

The average family wants a dog who:

  • Likes men, women and children
  • Enjoys being petted and touched
  • Is relatively easy to walk and train
  • Will settle down during family downtime

Red flag phrases do not describe bad dogs but dogs that may be the wrong fit for the average dog owner or families with children, as it suggests it may be a dog that is anxious around strange people or new situations, has far more energy than the owner is ready for, or may require extensive work and training to prevent problem behavior. Red flag phrases for many family pets are:

Choosing a New Puppy Red Flags Graphic

  • Takes a while to warm up to people
  • A one-person dog
  • Very protective of me – Dogs with any of the above designations may be fearful or shy, may be reactive or aggressive, or simply may be a less social breed.
  • Field bred or working lines – These suggest dogs that are very focused on having a job (herding, for example) and who will be bored and likely destructive in many home settings.

Should I get a dog for protection? The answer is “no”. Dogs are already hard-wired for caution toward strangers and will spend more time with our friends and families than with intruders. The dog decides what is scary and that can be unpredictable. Aggression brings a lot of liability and can be difficult (if not impossible) to resolve. A watch dog is not the same as a guard dog – watch dogs, also called alarm dogs, warn their owner that something is not right, usually by barking, but do not engage with the threat.

Socialization Guidelines

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior states the following: “The primary and most important time for puppy socialization is the first three months of life. During this time puppies should be exposed to as many new people, animals, stimuli and environments as can be achieved safely and without causing overstimulation manifested as excessive fear, withdrawal or avoidance behavior. For this reason, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated”.

Good socialization venues for puppies are “puppy kindergarten” classes, often held at training facilities and humane organizations; “puppy parties”; supervised play groups; trips to safe and approved human environments (family and friend’s homes for example); and places where puppies can be introduced to gentle, socially appropriate dogs. Socialization venues to be avoided include dog parks, which can be unsanitary and contain uncontrolled and untrained dogs; anywhere the pup would be roughly handled, for example by young children; anywhere the pup would get too much exercise, for example on a long hike; anywhere the pup would be overstimulated and stressed; and anywhere the pup would find frightening.

Preventing Dog Bites

To prevent dog bites and to be able to teach people how to prevent dog bites, you must know the following:

  • What dog should I choose? What are you looking for in a dog? Remember that a dog cannot be trained automatically to know who is a “good” person and who is a “suspicious” person – people may believe they need a “protection” dog without knowing what that might mean.
  • Learn behavior basics. Can I identify warning signs (body language)? Can I recognize signs of aggression?
  • Learn and teach others how to greet a dog and what to avoid.

Aggression is a behavior, not a personality trait. Any dog or cat will show aggression if sufficiently stressed. Approaching a dog can be a source of serious stress and danger, so it’s important to know how to properly greet a dog. Determining the dog’s triggers is key to maintaining safety.  Finally, no dog is guaranteed not to bite, just as no human is guaranteed never to yell at or shove another person.


Dog Body Language

Colleen Pelar has created a simple system to help us all remember what some body language of dogs means:

  • “Enjoyment” is associated with the dog having a loose body, open mouth, and squinty eyes – there is no need to intervene.
  • “Tolerance” is associated with the dog having a closed mouth, still body, ears back, and the whites of the eyes showing – try to improve the situation to calm the dog and you may need to intervene if a human is threatened.
  • “Enough already” is associated with stiff body, teeth displayed, staring, freezing, growling, snapping, and trying to flee – the dog must be removed from the situation immediately without punishment. If the dog has reached this point, we have already missed several warning signs and we do not want to punish the dog and teach it not to show us those warning signs.

Canine Behavior

Helping Dogs Cope with Stressful Events

  • Keep the environment as predictable as possible. If the dog is crate-trained, bring the crate. Bring familiar chew toys and items with family members’ scent. Limit unnecessary handling and stress.
  • Pair new or frightening things with good things. If it is a noise, try introducing it at a low volume or at a distance (for example, thunder). If it is a new place, do it in stages (first is the car ride, then the ride and walk in the parking lot, then the ride and through the parking lot into the vet clinic). Pair any new experience with a high-value reward and remove the reward when the trigger is not present.
  • Prevent stress as much as possible. Use medications if necessary. Do not try anything new when the dog is already stressed (for example, training procedures).
  • Comfort the animal as necessary. Comforting dogs and cats does not reward fear! Fear is an emotion, not a volitional behavior. Soothing will either reduce the fear or do nothing; it will not increase it. The comforter’s body language and stress levels are key – the dog can sense if you’re saying it’s okay with your mouth but your body is tense.

Cat Topics

Litterbox Management

Most behaviorists will recommend uncovered litter boxes that are of a size appropriate for the cat(s) – they should be able to easily get in and out and to scratch to cover whatever they produce. Uncovered boxes are preferred by many cats because they can easily escape them if feeling threatened and foul odors are not readily trapped within the area of the box. There are many types of litter available. Most behaviorists will recommend unscented clumping litter that is deep enough that the cat can scratch and not expose the bottom of the box. Cats will definitely have preferences for the type and amount of litter they want to use and the size and placement of the box.

Number of cat boxes in the household should be number of cats plus one. So if you have one cat, you should have two boxes and if you have four cats, you should have five boxes. People may complain that they don’t have enough room for multiple boxes. Cats are particular about how they use the box and some will want to urinate in one box and defecate in another. Cats also may guard boxes and prevent other cats in the household from using them, so there have to be enough boxes so everyone can use one.

Boxes should be placed away from where food and water are provided, in a semi-private location away from disturbances and high traffic, in an area that is somewhat open so the cat does not feel cornered or trapped (do not put litterboxes in a closet, for example), and should be spaced out into different parts of the home to prevent the guarding problem described earlier. It is not valuable to have three boxes if they are all placed right next to each other.

Feces and clumped urine should be scooped out at least once daily. Avoid use of deodorizers, cat box liners, and perfumed litter – this is designed for humans, not for the cats. Use of these products can mask the smell of the box but may lead to owners cleaning less frequently. Cats also may be bothered by these smells and textures. All litter should be dumped out, the box completely cleaned with warm water and mild detergent, and new litter placed in the box every 2 weeks. Do not add new litter to a dirty box. A good way to remind clients of the need to clean the box is to let them know that cats don’t like a dirty toilet any more than we do, and we certainly would not be content if toilets only flushed every couple of days.

So what causes litterbox problems?

  • Insufficient cleaning
  • Not enough boxes
  • Wrong size (too small or too large)
  • Tension between pets
  • Substrate preference (clay, sand, newspaper, etc.)
  • Stress (change in routine, new furniture)
  • Medical problem (constipation, urinary tract infection)
  • Litterbox location suddenly changed
  • Not enough privacy and/or escape routes
  • Stress, outdoor intruders

What doesn’t cause litterbox problems?

  • Spite
  • Anger
  • Jealousy
  • Stupidity

If a cat is presented for the problem of inappropriate urination / defecation (not using the box), it is valuable to take a very detailed history about the number and size of the box(es), where they’re placed, what kind of litter is used,  how the box(es) are cleaned, and if any changes have been made in the litterbox routine. Empathize with the client and then educate.

Introducing a New Cat

A single indoor cat generally enjoys only about ¼ of what would be its natural territory if it lived outside. Each addition of a new cat increases the likelihood of stress and behavior problems. Before you get that second (or third or fourth) cat, ask yourself if you’re getting the cat to be a buddy for your current pet(s) or if you’re getting it for yourself – are you grieving the loss of a pet, or are you bored or lonely? Those are not bad reasons to get a cat but you have to consider how your needs may impact stress levels in your current pets. You also need to be ready for the extra time, energy, and money required, and to be prepared for all outcomes, including possibly having to find a new home or to permanently separate the cats within your home if they can’t learn to get along.

Make sure you have enough litterboxes for the new number of cats, toys, bowls, beds and perches, and maybe a calming spray, such as Feliway. Make sure you have some hiding places. These will reduce stress, prevent conflicts, and allow escape from other pets. Examples are cat condos, tunnels, paper shopping bags, and visual barriers, such as screens.

When selecting a new cat, don’t worry too much about the gender of the cats involved. Age and temperament are the most important factors. Adult cats will usually accept a new kitten much more easily than they will accept a new adult cat. Cats are territorial, and your cat may resent an adult feline intruder. If you’re able to choose from a group of kittens, avoid a kitten that’s hissing, growling or engaged in serious battle with his mates. If owners prefer to adopt an adult cat, success depends largely on the personality of your present cat; if he’s easygoing and the new cat is also laid back, you may have little trouble if you introduce them slowly and correctly.

When introducing a new cat, first impressions are really important. Keep them separated for about one week and make sure the new cat has been examined by a veterinarian before being brought into the home. Feed the cats on opposite sides of a door. Slowly move the bowls closer to the door over the week and gradually crack the door open for a moment while they’re eating. In the second week, switch which room each cat is in or swap their bedding. In the second to third week, supervise time when they’re together for 15-30 minutes. During that time, give them equal attention and create good associations with them being together and getting play time and affection. Giving them this gradual introduction sets the tone for the relationship (letting them “work it out” or “fight it out” can seriously damage the relationship). They may be wary of each other at first and it will take time to determine if they’re going to be best buddies, roommates, or enemies. As they’re working this out, they may be stressed and stop using the litterbox or may do territorial spraying, which is spraying of urine on vertical surfaces. If they really hate each other, try re-introducing them gradually, seek help from a professional, permanently separate them in the home, or find a new home for the new cat.

When introducing cats to dogs, do not force interactions. Keep the dog leashed whenever the cat is in the area and let the cat approach the dog at its own pace. Reward the dog with treats whenever the cat is visible. Always make sure the cat has plenty of escape routes. If the dog attempts to chase the cat, move him further away. Keep them separate if they cannot be supervised.

Dogs vs. Cats

Similarities between dogs and cats are that they both:

  • Attach strongly to their human families
  • Enjoy interactive play with humans
  • Primarily use body language to communicate with those around them
  • Are natural predators
  • Respond to the laws of learning (behavior that is rewarded gets stronger)

Dissimilarities between dogs and cats are:

  • Cats generally tolerate less physical contact than dogs
  • Cats receive far less socialization and environmental stimulation than dogs
  • Cats are carnivores, dogs are omnivores
  • Cats are nocturnal, dogs are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk)
  • Cats climb and perch in high places to feel safe
  • Body language – see below


Small Animal Body Language

Tail Wagging tail usually indicates pleasure Lashing tail indicates arousal and aggression
Exposed Belly Cut-off or calming signal Social discomfort, potential defensive aggression (can use claws on all four feet) – if a cat’s belly is exposed while it’s sleeping, that is a sign of relaxation
Self-Licking Anxiety or physical discomfort Normal grooming behavior


Carrier Training

To train a cat to enter a carrier, first place the carrier next to the cat’s food dish. Leave it in this location for a few days. When the cat no longer appears afraid of the presence of the crate, feed the cat inside the crate with the door open. You can also throw treats for the cat into the carrier and let the cat run in and out. Once the cat is comfortable doing that, add a verbal cue (for example, “kennel up”). When the cat is very comfortable, close the door and feed treats or the regular diet through a gap.

Ch. 2-17 End of Chapter Checkpoint



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