How Well Do You Know Your Four-legged Family?

Advice from Local Pet Behavior Experts

We spoke with Abigail Witthaur, founder of RoverChase, and Dr. Jenny Biehunko at Veterinary Behavior Consultants of Alabama to learn secrets of dog and cat behavior. Read on, and get to know your four-legged family better. 


Provide your kitty with multiple opportunities for marking territory with scratching posts of varying textures, heights, and locations. This both enhances kitty’s security and saves your furniture! 

Provide your cat opportunities for stalking, chasing, climbing, pouncing and dissecting, and rotate toys frequently. Schedule time to play with your cat, as play will help avoid issues like play aggression and destructive behavior, plus medical issues like obesity. 

Studies show indoor cats are healthier and live longer lives. However, indoor confinement, especially in multi-cat homes, can be stressful and is correlated with health issues such as urinary tract and gastrointestinal issues. Have these addressed by a vet, and assess the living environment, as it might be a sign your cat needs more enrichment or is being bullied by housemates.

Almost all commercial litter boxes are too small for comfort. Most cats prefer boxes with a large surface area, not enclosed in any way with a hood or cover. They also prefer non-scented, clumping litter, scooped multiple times daily. Provide multiple box locations that are quiet, well-lit and easily escaped. 

On-the-go cats will be more comfortable if they have a carrier that smells like home and doesn’t only come out for scary trips. Purchase a nice carrier that can double as a bed and leave it in the cat’s preferred rest area. When it’s time to travel, just zip on the top and go. You can also offer small treats in the carrier to create a pleasant association.


When establishing your relationship with your dog, keep in mind it’s about cooperation and family — not the “dominance theory, one of the most damaging myths in dog behavior. Dogs are responsive to people and situations that meet their needs and that they find positive and reinforcing.

Use creative solutions to prevent unwanted behavior while presenting a more desirable behavior.  For instance, if your dog is pulling on the leash, rather than putting him on a prong collar, which causes discomfort, teach him that taking one or two steps on a loose leash gets him a tasty treat and a break to sniff that cool mailbox!  

Did you know socialization in dogs happens from birth to 16 weeks? All major veterinary/training organizations recommend puppies begin socialization classes the same time they are receiving their vaccination series. Ideally, your puppy will come from a rescue or a responsible breeder that focused on socialization from birth to adoption day. 

If your trained dog suddenly begins to have new behavior problems,  the rule of thumb is “medical before behavior.”  If your adult dog suddenly begins having accidents in the house, visit the vet. If your senior dog is growling when you pet him, see a vet. Often, pain and disease are primary causes of sudden behavior changes. When in doubt, opt for a checkup. 

If your dog gets upset in a situation and cannot relax and perform tasks, they need a skilled Certified Behavior Consultant or Veterinary Behaviorist and not a trainer.  If your dog hasn’t learned basic skills such as walking on a loose leash, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer can help. 

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