Counseling new puppy and kitten owners (Proceedings)

Apr 01, 2008

Canine and feline behavior problems can be a real challenge to correct, but with a little forethought and the right information, owners can easily prevent most common problems. Many owners begin their relationship with the new pet armed with misinformation and an idealistic view of the pet-owner relationship. Individuals in the pet health care profession have many opportunities to help owners get off to a good start. You can't take for granted that the owners know how to properly shape behaviors or handle problems, you need to ask what they know so you can help them promote good behavior and a good relationship with the new family member.

Educating the New Owner

Be sure to take advantage of the young pet's initial vaccination visits to educate the new owner about behavior concerns. By attaching a checklist to each new pet's record, you can insure that no important topic is missed, even if a different doctor sees the pet for each visit. The counseling does not necessarily need to be done by the veterinarian. Another qualified staff member can meet with the owners and the pet before or after they visit with the doctor. A full explanation of elimination training, socialization and prevention of destructive behaviors should be given, booklets and other handouts should be provided as well as a reading list for those who want to learn more about shaping the pet's behavior to its full potential. As the pet owner returns for successive visits, questions should be asked about the pet's progress and whether there are any problems that need attention.


Dogs and cats both have a critical period in their lives when they learn to interact with members of the same and other species. In dogs, that period is between four to twelve weeks of age. In cats, it is between approximately two to seven weeks of age. After these periods, their ability to develop confidence in interacting with other living beings gradually decreases. During the early months of life, puppies and kittens need to have as many positive experiences as possible with members of the same species and other species with whom they will live. Puppies and kittens need to be around humans of all ages and appearances in order to reduce the likelihood of shyness and fear aggression. Be sure to counsel owners without children to provide adequate, supervised interaction with children at a young age. It is not uncommon for young couples to have problems when they start their family because the pet has never been socialized to children.

Rules for Training Young Pets:

I. Don't take good behaviors for granted

The best way for the pet to learn to do what the owner wants it to do is by rewarding it when it has done something acceptable. The owner should actively look for desired behaviors so that the pet can be praised.

II. Set the pet up to succeed

Most kittens and puppies engage in quite predictable behaviors. They are active, inquisitive and get into everything. Puppies will eliminate anywhere and chew on everything until trained. Young kittens tend to spend a good part of the time scratching things and scampering around, knocking objects off of shelves and counters. It is up to the new pet owner to prevent mistakes by moving things out of reach and providing proper training. Close supervision or appropriate confinement may constantly be necessary for some pets until they reach two years of age. The young pet has a short attention span and is easily distracted. Owner's set it up to fail if they train too long or ask it to do something in the presence of a strong distraction. Owner education concerning what behaviors to expect from young, growing pets and how they should be handled is of utmost importance.

III. Be consistent

The whole family needs to sit down and agree upon which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. It is very important that all members handle specific behaviors in the same way. If the family or an individual is inconsistent, the pet will be confused, learning will be delayed and anxiety may result in serious behavior problems.