10 pesky pet behaviors and how to deal with them

We all love our animal friends, but no one’s perfect, including our loved ones — and sometimes we wish our dogs, cats and other pals would stop doing that one little thing. When your pets are being pesky, there are lots of solutions at hand.

Definitely don’t surrender an animal with behavioral issues, because most are easily resolvable — and would you surrender your kid just because she occasionally doesn’t do her homework? Sadly, the answer to that question is “yes,” at least for some animals being surrendered to shelters.

When owners cited behavioral problems as the reason for giving up their pets, though, some trends started to emerge for researchers: Animals often hadn’t been spayed or neutered; many had never been to a veterinarian; in the case of dogs, many hadn’t been obedience trained; and animals that had come from friends were more likely to be surrendered. Had their guardians taken a few simple steps, behavioral issues likely wouldn’t have developed, and if one had, they could have used some easy tips to resolve it.

When you’re dealing with weird animal behavior, always call the vet if the behavior is sudden, harmful (e.g. a cat is overgrooming or a dog creates sores by scratching herself), or seems to be a sign of distress. For example, if your cat abruptly starts peeing outside the box and looks like he’s straining to urinate, he might have a urinary tract infection or kidney stones, and he needs medical attention right away. Likewise, if your dog is pooping inside and scraping at the floor, her stomach might be feeling a little unsettled. Call the vet and describe the problem to find out if you need to come in! Your vet may refer you to a behavioral specialist if she thinks you need some help, but your animal is otherwise healthy.

If you suspect your pet is fine, and is simply acting out, there are many things you can do to help minimize the annoyance. Here are 9 pesky pet behaviors and how to deal with them:

Chewing cords

Dogs, cats, ferrets and birds just love chewing cords. One cheap solution is wire loom, available at many hardware stores. You can also try using toilet paper rolls or wrapping your cords in foil. These solutions should be sitting around your house, unlike specialty products like pet deterrent spray.

Digging in garden beds

Few things are more disheartening than seeing flowers and veggies torn up by cats, dogs and other pets with a zest for life. There’s a quick fix, though: Stick some skewers into the ground. The skewers will deter probing paws and keep pets from wandering through the garden, but won’t injure them. You can also use river stones, which are a little less obtrusive. Commercial products that do effectively the same thing are available, but a pack of kebab skewers is a whole lot cheaper than a mat of spikes to keep animals out of the garden.

Chatty Cathies

Some animals are barkers, meowers, chirpers or squeakers. A little noise can be fine, but it’s not so nice when it happens in the middle of the night or becomes constant. It can be a sign that there’s something wrong, but it may also be caused by something you’re doing: Animals respond to positive reinforcement, so if you pay attention to them when they make noise, they learn to make noise to get your attention. Try ignoring those heartrending meows, and Fluffy might learn to pipe down. If an animal keeps talking, though, it might be a sign of illness, so call the vet.

Pet odors

Accidents happen. Baking soda, vinegar and a dash of dish soap will get out most smells. But deodorizing will also discourage animals from using the same spot again; otherwise, the smell can bring dogs or cats back again and again. If an animal keeps voiding in the same spot, call the vet to see if it’s time to check for signs of a medical problem. If animals consistently don’t use the provided facilities, talk to a behavior counselor about training them.

Get off the counters!

Kitties in particular love clambering onto your counters, which might be exactly where you don’t want them. Cover the counters in foil for a few weeks — annoying in the short term, but worth it in the long term. Your cats will learn that the counter isn’t a fun place to be, between the loud noise and uncomfortable sliding, and they’ll decide they have better places to be.

Food snarfers

Some animals seem convinced that if they let their food rest for even a minute, it’s going to disappear. That’s not good for their digestion, so use a trick like feeding in a muffin pan to encourage them to take bite-sized, er, bites. You can also use a food dispenser that’s partially blocked with an object like a ball so it only allows a small amount of food out at once. Scheduling meal times and rigorously sticking to that schedule helps too, because that way your animals can rest assured that they’ll always get something to eat, and they know exactly when, too.


A perennial problem cited by people when they surrender animals, scratching is an especially common behavioral problem with cats, although other animals do it too. For an effective plan of attack, recognize that you may have to spend a few weeks with your house looking a little disheveled. Try wrapping your furniture in foil or bubble wrap so it’s not appealing to sharp claws, and provide designated scratching areas and equipment — make sure the surfaces of areas you want your animals to scratch don’t resemble your own floors or furniture (i.e. don’t use carpet on a scratching post if you have carpeting!).

Redirect animals when they try to scratch. In the long term, consider tools like trimming nails regularly and using Soft Claws or similar products to blunt nails as long as possible so your pets don’t ruin your couch. Cats also scratch because they’re bored, so try mixing up their toy options with new toys and rotate toys regularly.

Destructive behavior

Cats and dogs alike can tear things up, dig holes, and make a mess. While urban legend cites spite for such behaviors, the usual cause is actually often stress or separation anxiety. Consider any changes you’ve recently made to the household or whether you’re gone more than usual — if you can get to the root cause, you might be able to address it and make your animal feel more comfortable. If you have a hole-digging dog, she might be trying to make a comfortable bed, or she might be bored. Make sure your dogs have both shady and warm spots to rest, along with toys for enrichment, like rubber toys with objects hidden inside that force them to solve puzzles. Cats can also be destructive when they’re bored, so many sure they have some entertainment too.

Knocking things off the table

Aaaah! So cute but also so annoying. We've covered this in This is why your cat won’t stop knocking shit off the table.


Animals that won’t get along are totally frustrating, right? One common reason is the perception of resource scarcity. All cats should have their own litterboxes, creatures of all species should have their own bowls, beds and toys, and you should make sure to hand out equal attention. When animals get aggressive, don’t give them too much attention — they’ll consider it a reward for bad behavior — but step in if someone is in danger. Use a squirt bottle to break up a fight, because hopping in can make it worse and will also endanger you.

Remember that one of the most important things you can do to address behavior problems is to remain calm and consistent. Don’t punish animals, who don’t understand what you’re doing and won’t respond well. If you’re frustrated or angry, leave the room and take a walk around the block to calm down. Make sure to praise animals for good behavior, while consistently ignoring those who are behaving badly or begging for attention. While it can be frustrating to listen to a dog whine at the table throughout a meal, for example, the minute you give in, the dog learns that whining works. Make sure everyone in the household is consistent, and your animals will thank you in the long term.

If any negative behavior persists, call your veterinarian — animals can’t talk, so sometimes weird behavior is their way of asking for help.

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  1. 8 years ago
    Cheryl Mallon-Bond

    Thanks for this article. It reallly blows my mind how easily people give up of their pet's. People who think animals will be or should be perfect, really should never get one in the first place. Are any of us perfect?, or our human kids?...NO! so, then why would anyone expect animals to be perfect either!. There is a reason for everything & a commitment is a commitment in my eyes, & it is our responsibility to figure out what is wrong with out pet's & the solution to the problem & NOT give up on them! Like the article said, many times a health issue is what the problem is & the unwanted behavior comes from that. Either way, besides consulting your vet, contact the organization where you adopted your pet from & ask them for guidance... & PLEASE do this at the onset of the issue & NOT waiting till the problem becomes an ingrained behavioral issue. Leave no stone unturned to help your pet, whether medical intervention is needed or behavioral intervention is needed, it is our responsibilities as their guardian's to keep our commitment to them for their lifetime.

  2. 8 years ago
    Marion Friedl

    If you educate your cats (if possible from the kitten age on, even if I´d only always adopt adult cats) with praising or treats they should stay off the counter etc., and if you can´t help yourself and your cat at all you can contact a cat behaviourist like Jackson Galaxy if necessary, you should find them in almost every country, but "surrendering"´s never a solution, you can also try to train your cat yourself first, with or without a clicker, and if you play enough with your cats and give them good alternatives to scratch on they also won´t scratch on your furniture, and about odors: if you keep the litter boxes clean (take out the clumps twice the day, and the poops as soon as the cat has left the bathroom) nobody will ever smell that you have pets at all!!! It often happens to me that people who visit me and don´t know I have 3 cats say: "Oh, you have cats? (because of the cat trees etc. in the living room) I smell nothing at all, where are they?", and I say they must be below the bed or so because they´re very shy, and sometimes I already heard: "You really have 3 cats? Why don´t I smell anything?", yeah, that´s how it is, in most of the cases when cats are dumped because of strange behaviour it´s the humans´ fault, not the cats´!!!

  3. 9 years ago
    Sherri S.

    My pets are well-behaved about 85% of the time. I have 7 cats and one dog. The cats occasionally have a tiff....hissing and throwing a few hooks, but never any knock-down drag out fights. They mostly get in trouble for trying to seal each others food! This is usually done by staring down the meek ones until they walk away from the dinner plate. The dog occasionally gets into the cat food and the cats get into the dog food. Minor issues compared to what some people have. I'm lucky.

  4. 9 years ago
    Michael L.

    We have two female neutered cats and my message to owners is simple - feed them ONLY the recommended dry pellets with fresh water (changed frequently) - innoculate as and when required - no stressful habitat to roam in and our experience so far is two healthy animals who purr a lot and rarely see the local vet!

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