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Ain’t Misbehavin’

by John C. Wright, Judi Wright Lashnits
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Rodale Press; (September 2001)
ISBN: 1-579-54519-X

"John C. Wright has drawn from 20 years of experience as a renowned pet-behavior consultant to write yet another excellent book. Pet lovers with questions about their cat's or dog's behavior and those who need help in changing it will find the answers in Ain't Misbehavin'. Readers will be fascinated to learn about how their pets communicate, learn, and think, and will thank Dr. Wright over and over again for first-rate, humane advice that really works for dealing with common behavior problems."

--Wayne Hunthausen, D.V.M., director of Animal Behavior Consultations and coauthor of
The Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat

Excerpt from Ain’t Misbehavin’:

11 Steps to a Well-Behaved Pet

I've met hundreds of cats and dogs during the last two decades. Most of them had owners who tried different approaches without success. That's because they didn't know what questions to ask themselves or what the answers meant in terms of behavior.

However, with a basic understanding of what their pet's needs are and how they can go about helping their dog or cat fulfill them, clients are nearly always able to help resolve the situation or improve it to the point where everyone is coping nicely again. We still have much to learn about what our domesticated animals are like; I learn something new almost weekly.

The important thing is that you know your pet better than any outside expert can. Together, we can make a great team for improving the daily lives of both your family and your dogs and cats.

So, if talking them out of their bad habits doesn't work, bullying them into shape is wrong, and treating the family like a wolf pack turns out to be misguided, how do we effectively deal with these sometimes naughty dogs and cats of ours? What tools, tactics, and procedures can a certified applied animal behaviorist like me use to help owners like you with their pets so that problems don't crop up? What resources can I give you to handle any problems that should arise? Here are 11 basic steps for you to take when a problem comes up. Within the chapters of Ain't Misbehavin', you'll learn the rest of the story.

Step 1
Figure out what the dog or cat is doing wrong. This suggestion may seem obvious, but sometimes owners focus on what they think their pet is feeling, or why it is punishing them, instead of concentrating on the actual behavior. You need to think about what actually happens in terms that are objective and verifiable. "Spike chews up my shoes" is more tangible than "he gets upset." The dog chewing on the shoes is the behavior you will be documenting in Step 2. We'll get to his "feelings" later!

Step 2
Record the "bad" behavior. Put down the rolled-up newspaper or the bottle of migraine tablets, and get a piece of paper and a pencil or open up a file on the computer called "Muffy's Mistakes." Write down how many times the unwanted behavior has occurred in the past seven days, so that you will have a baseline from which to work. That's really the only legitimate way to see if the treatment program is reducing the problem. The numbers, week to week, will tell the tale!

Step 3
Note when "bad" things happen. You will need more tracking than just the number of times the dog or cat is misbehaving. The time of day things go wrong is another thing to note. With this information, gathered over the course of a week, you'll find out whether you need to work on changing things that are happening only from dinnertime to bedtime, from sunup to sundown, during every waking minute, or at random times 24 hours a day. (You have my sympathies if it's the last!)

Most behavior problems fall into a rather predictable pattern of time and place, so you'll be able to focus your energies accordingly. I remember one cat whose owner was going berserk because the feline was "constantly" spraying the walls. That rather general timeframe didn't really help me get to the root of the problem. I asked for his help in trying to pinpoint the time of day when the problem occurred.

After some thought and observation, he realized that the cat was actually spraying only within the first hour after everyone went to bed. It turned out that a rival tom was coming around outside at that same time each night! After we isolated the problematical time, both the cause of the misbehavior and the likely cures became quickly apparent.

Step 4
Jot down the circumstances. Going hand in hand with the second and third steps is the question, "In what situations does it occur?" Does the dog bite only when you walk toward his food bowl, or does he bite anytime he's holding a toy or other object? Is the cat missing the box all the time, or just when you're in the same room?

Perhaps she only scratches you when you try to get her out from under the bed. Or possibly the dog tears up the furniture every time you come home from work and then go out again but never touches it when you're at work. Follow these first four steps carefully; they'll give you the clues you need to solve your pet's problem as we begin our detective work.