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Teach Your Pet Good Manners

Put an end to disorderly conduct. Proper pet manners are easy to teach.

Martha Stewart Living, January 2011

A polite pet isn't one that keeps its elbows off the table (though what a fun party trick!). But trainers have started referring to the skills they teach to family pets as "manners" instead of obedience. Rather than learning how to walk circles in a show ring, pets are taught things that help them in everyday life.

"Manners teach them how to communicate with a completely different species -- humans," says Mychelle Blake, a certified dog behavior consultant. Repetition, consistency, and reinforcement are the keys to making good behavior stick.


Problem: Jumping on people

An excited dog often pounces with joy when someone walks in the door. Besides being obnoxious, the dog could easily hurt a child or an elderly person.

Solution: Positive reinforcement

Ignore the dog if it jumps; when it has all four feet on the floor, reward it with a treat and praise it profusely using its name --"Good Francesca!" --says Nicholas Dodman, a veterinary behaviorist at Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine. Or use a command such as "sit," which gives the dog a specific action to maintain. Start by using a leash to practice with family several times each day, and then introduce visitors until the pet sits automatically for everyone.

Problem: Not coming

Dogs ignore you when frightened or distracted by something (such as a squirrel) that competes for their attention. They can get lost, or worse, injured by cars or other animals.

Solution: A short leash

Keep your dog on a short leash and say "Francesca, come!" Each time your pet listens, praise and reward it, Dodman says. Advance to a longer leash with intermittent treats, and then drop the treats and leash altogether. Blake suggests saying "come" every time your dog comes voluntarily --for food, walks, car rides --so the command is associated with all the great things in life.

Problem: Begging

Dogs love food and are likely to whine, jump, and look at you longingly whenever it's present. This behavior disrupts meals, and paws can knock over dinnerware and spread germs.

Solution: Discipline

Never feed the dog from your plate, and ignore begging. Combine this with teaching the dog a "go to your place" command when you eat. Assign a spot, such as a dog bed or under the table, and move the dog there each time it approaches. Then reward it. You can also feed it when you eat or put the dog in another room until dinner is over.


Problem: Scratching

Cats instinctively scratch in order to groom their claws, but it can destroy your furniture.

Solution: A scratching post

Cats gravitate to scratching posts if they're easy to see. Make sure they're at least two feet tall and that there are more posts than cats. Put one in front of the spot where the cat scratches, gently redirect it from the furniture to the post, and reward it with treats and affection. If scratching continues, try trimming your cat's nails regularly and protecting your furniture with a product such as Sticky Paws, which resembles doublesided tape and deters scratching (cats dislike the tacky feeling). Never declaw, since this painful amputation can cause other behavior issues.

Problem: Waking you in the wee hours

Cats are more active at dawn and dusk, but they will meow, pace, and rub against you at night if they're hungry or crave attention.

Solution: Don't respond

Dodman says the more you cater to cats that wake you, the more they will do it. Don't feed or play with a cat first thing in the morning (use an automatic feeder instead), and turn off all radios, televisions, and nightlights. "Keeping your bedroom very dark and quiet keeps the cat calm," Dodman says.

Problem: Jumping on counters

Cats are descended from wild animals that climbed trees to hunt and rest, so they love exploring high places. Aside from being unsanitary, cats can break valuables, burn themselves on a hot stove, or step in something toxic and then lick their paws.

Solution: A cat tree

Provide cats with something to climb besides the furniture. Cat trees allow the animals to follow their instincts safely. Rub the tree with catnip to make it more enticing. Play with the cat when it's in the tree, and then reward it with a treat.

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