Managing kitten and adolescent feline behavior problems (Proceedings)
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. Veterinarians have many opportunities to help owners get off to a good start, but you can't assume that the family knows 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 pet.
Educating The New Owner
Be sure to take advantage of the young pet's initial vaccination visits to educate the family about behavior concerns. By attaching a checklist of topics 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 handling 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. When 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.General Rules for Training Young Kittens:
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 engage in quite predictable behaviors. They are active, inquisitive and get into everything. 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 during the first year of life. 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.
IV. Avoid Punishment
Owners must understand that if they strike the pet, the consequences can be disastrous. Handshyness, fear-biting, avoidance of humans, aggression and submissive urination may all result from physical punishment. One of the most important things that the pet must learn is that the human hand is a friend. A sharp noise is usually adequate to interrupt an undesirable behavior by a young pet. To be effective, the noise must occur during the behavior, every time the behavior occurs, should be intense enough to stop the behavior without causing significant anxiety and should stop when the behavior stops. The owner should say nothing and should not look at the pet during the correction. A water gun, shake can, whistle or other device can be used. Anything that causes fear or avoidance of family members should be avoided. The owner should not rely on punishment alone to shape the pet's behavior. Alternate, desirable behavior should always be reinforced.
For behaviors that occur when the owner is not present, environmental devices can be used to keep a pet away from areas where undesirable behaviors might occur.