Better pet ownership

Common behavioural challenges

Some behavioural challenges in pets can be resolved with basic training, while others will require the help of a professional behaviourist to resolve them. To ensure the wellbeing of your pet and other members of the household, and to prevent behavioural issues from escalating, it is very important that any issues are addressed early.

If you are experiencing a behavioural issue with your pet, book an appointment to discuss this with your vet. They will be able to assess your pet’s health and determine a plan to address the behavioural issue. In the case of a more advanced behavioural challenge, your vet may advise that your pet has a consultation with an animal behaviourist for specialist advice.

This page contains general information. For information and advice specific to your pet, please consult your vet.

Common behavioural challenges in dogs

Separation anxiety

Dogs with separation anxiety will show signs that may include trembling and compulsive behaviour, such as licking, tail chasing or self-mutilation.

Separation anxiety can be a complex issue and its treatment is often involved and time consuming. Generally it requires a combination of training or desensitising measures, coupled with medication to help reduce anxiety. The management of separation anxiety requires veterinary and often specialist supervision.

One key tip is not to make a fuss about leaving or arriving home, and to reward your dog for being calm. Put your dog outside for 15 minutes before you leave so that they can settle with you at home. Just before you leave, give them something really nice or fun to occupy them while you are away.

Please consult your vet for specialist advice if you suspect your pet may have separation anxiety.


Barking is often a result of boredom, but there are other possible causes, including separation anxiety, aggression, and territorial behaviour. It is important to address this issue, not only for the wellbeing of your dog, but also to maintain the harmony in your neighbourhood! Your vet can provide advice specific to your dog.

It is essential to ensure your dog receives enough physical and mental stimulation for their breed and energy levels in order to prevent boredom. This can include exercise, games, training, agility, and enrichment toys.

Scolding your dog may seem like a temporary solution, but this can actually do more harm than good. If you scold your dog when they bark, you are rewarding this behaviour by giving them attention. The unpleasantness of the scolding may also cause anxiety, which can result in further barking. Remember that training and learning should always be a positive experience for you dog, so focus on praising your dog and giving them attention when they are calm and quiet.

Destructive behaviour

Destructive behaviour is often a result of boredom, but there may be other causes, so consult your vet for advice specific to your dog.

Ensure you provide sufficient physical and mental stimulation to suit your dog’s breed and energy levels in order to prevent boredom. Exercise, games, training, agility, and enrichment toys are great ways to keep your dog occupied and expend some of their energy. If they have fun things to do and play with, they will be less inclined to create their own entertainment at the expense of your belongings!

Keep in mind that puppies will go through a teething stage, where they will always be looking for something to chew on. Be sure to provide a variety of firm, strong toys so your puppy always has access to something appropriate to chew on.


Common behavioural challenges in cats

Scratching furniture

Scratching is a natural behaviour for cats. For them, it is a form of exercise and a great way to keep their claws in good shape. Cats need to scratch, so the key is to provide something appropriate for them to scratch so they do not do it to your furniture.

Purchase or make at least one scratching post for your cat. Choose a scratching post that is as tall as your cat when it stands on its hind legs and ensure it is sturdy. Make sure the post is made from rough, coarse material, such as fiber rope, as this mimics tree bark, which is the cat’s natural scratching element.

Place the post next to the furniture that they have already been scratching. You can also make it a bit more inviting by rubbing some catnip on the post, or spraying it with catnip oil. Encourage your cat to use the post by sitting them in front of it and giving lots of praise whenever your cat reaches out and uses the post.

If you catch your cat scratching your furniture, give a sharp “No!” and pick them up and place them next to the scratching post. They should soon get the idea that your furniture is a no-go zone and to scratch the post instead.

House soiling

House soiling is when a cat goes to the toilet where they are not supposed to. It is different to urine spraying or marking, which generally occur against walls or doors in relation to anxiety. House soiling has three main causes:

  • Primary medical diseases that affect urgency, quantity or frequency of urination
  • Separation anxiety
  • Litter box problems

If house soiling is an issue with your cat, it is very important that you take them to the vet. Your vet will need to examine your cat, which may involve taking blood and urine samples to rule out medical causes for house soiling.

If your vet rules out the first two causes, the likely issue may be litter box aversion/rejection. Your cat may reject the litter box for any number of reasons, including the type of litter or litter box, its location or odour, or the inadequate number of litter boxes.

The best tips to follow to prevent house soiling are:

    • Provide separate litter boxes for each cat in the household, plus one extra
    • Litter boxes should be easily accessible and not noisy (not in laundries or basements, but instead hallways and closets)
    • Use large, over sized boxes – bigger than the standard size
    • Scoop the box at least once daily
    • Clean the box with warm water only

Do not punish or frighten your cat when they are near their litter box

  • Avoid citrus and pine scents, which are aversive to cats. Cats are attracted to fish, cedar and bleach scents.
  • Provide your cats with a finely granular sand-like material in their litter box
  • Use enzyme acting stain and odour removers for the cleaning of house soiled areas


Where to seek help

If your pet has a behavioural challenge, please consult your vet for information and advice tailored to your pet’s individual needs. You can book a behavioural consultation with a member of our team by phoning The Lost Dogs’ Home Frank Samways Veterinary Clinic on (03) 8379 4498.