New Pet Owner

5 Good Habits to Teach Your Pet

Dog being Groomed

It's never too late for your cat or dog to be on their best behavior. When a pet knows and follows the rules, it makes living together more pleasant for everyone.

It's never too late for your cat or dog to be on their best behavior. When a pet knows and follows the rules, it makes living together more pleasant for everyone.

If you believe your pet could benefit from etiquette lessons, know that it's not difficult to teach a dog or cat to behave better. To make the most of your relationship with your pet, teach good habits using:

  • Practice – Once you decide on a behavior to focus on, give your pet plenty of opportunities to practice it. Try it at different times of day, in different situations, even in different locations around the house.
  • Praise – Animals love to be adored and told how good they are. When yours masters a new habit, praise him or her in an enthusiastic voice. Use the pet's name and say how wonderful they are. Pat them on the head or scratch your pupil behind the ears as you praise.
  • Rewards– Who doesn't like a cookie (even if it's in the form of a dried fish morsel, for a cat)? Accompany your praise with a treat. Even a small piece communicates how proud you are.

Important Habits to Learn

1. Come

The best time to teach a cat is before mealtime. Call her name right before you reach for the kibble or can opener. With repetition, she'll start to believe that hearing her name means to make a beeline for you. Away from the kitchen, call her name and have a reward like a sliver of tuna or chicken. Repeat. Similarly, with a dog you can use food and practice, praise and reward.

2. Go

When placed in a clean litter box, most cats figure out what to do. With a kitten, gently take her paw and use it to scrape the litter. If instinct doesn't take over, keep her in a confined space with the box until she uses it. Clean and repeat. With dogs, it's all about timing (and crate training helps, too!) And remember to praise and reward good behavior with enthusiasm.

3. Be a Good Traveler

Whether you need to take your pet to the veterinarian down the street, or on a trip around the world, good behavior can make travel less stressful for everyone. To keep your pet and others safe, make sure that you have an appropriate restraint or carrier for your pet. Make test runs to get your pet accustomed to leaving the house. On a trip, allow time to stop and provide water and a bathroom break.

4. Leave It

Pets are naturally curious, and dogs in particular are scavengers. To convince yours to give up something he finds that's toxic or potentially dangerous, teach him that the "Leave it" command is always followed by a tastier reward.

5. Don't Pull

Walking even a small dog can pull you off balance, so it's important to control your pet rather than the other way around. With the dog on your left, walk quickly, talking to the dog as you go. Stop, treat, and go—and make every walk a training session until your dog consistently keeps pace with you. For more detailed advice on training your pet, visit the ASPCA Web site and consider contacting a professional animal behaviorist.

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