Exercise, toys and training keep pets delightful, not destructive

By: Brendan Losinski | C&G Newspapers | Published May 1, 2019

METRO DETROIT — People love their pets, but that love can get somewhat strained when that fur baby scratches up the couch or mangles a new pair of shoes. Animal experts can offer hope, however, with some tips to keep that dog or cat well-mannered.

Many experts say the most important tip for keeping animals from damaging the home is the simplest: Keep them busy.

“The most ideal thing is to make sure you are recognizing the dogs and cats are utilizing energy they have, so you need to keep them exercised,” said Mike Palmer, the owner of the Premier Pet Supply pet store in Beverly Hills. “Take them for walks or play with them; there’s many interactive toys you can use to keep them occupied. You need to look at them like rambunctious children.”

“A tired dog is a good dog. Exercise is critical,” added Christine Fox, the owner of Wag ‘N’ Tails dog trainers in Shelby Township. “It’s stress relieving, and chewing is a stress reliever as well. If a dog is chewing, digging or destroying property — even jumping up on people or on furniture — those can all be signs of stress. There’s a big difference between an obedience issue and an anxiety issue. Exercise can reduce both.”

Giving a pet a toy they are allowed to chew or scratch up can be a good way to ensure they aren’t taking that energy out on their owner’s belongings.

“It’s like when you have a baby; you have your tools and your bag of goodies. You need to have your collection of tools or goodies for a dog,” said Fox. “KONG products, which are hollow and can be filled up with meals or treats, are things they are allowed to chew on. People can leave a dog with all their toys, but sometimes the dog won’t touch them. The dogs will chew on things that have your scent because they miss you. If chewing is happening when you’re not there, it’s probably because of that. If it’s happening while you are in the room, it’s because they are trying to get your attention.”

Palmer said pet owners should fold positive reinforcement into this habit. He said not to punish pets for chewing on things they’re not supposed to, for example, but reward them for chewing on things they are supposed to.

“Be consistent, and make sure everyone in the household is consistent, with training,” he explained. “Use positive reinforcement. Tell a dog ‘no,’ but don’t yell at it. If they’re chewing on something they’re not supposed to chew, put something they can chew in their mouth and then reward them for chewing on what they are supposed to.”

Giving pets toys that stimulate their minds is particularly effective at deterring them from destroying other items.

“There’s lots of great toys out there which are good intelligence builders,” Fox remarked. “Giving them a rawhide can reinforce them chewing, while there are other products like ‘dog puzzles,’ which are toys which occupy dogs in a productive way that builds intelligence.”

“More recently, there’s been a lot of enrichment toys, which are more mentally stimulating, that keep the dog or cat occupied,” Palmer added. “These are fun for the owner and does what you hope for with the animal, which is use their energy for something nondestructive. Cats, especially, have that instinctual hunting drive where if that drive isn’t brought out, it can come out in more destructive ways.”

Palmer also said there are old home remedies to keep pets away from certain areas, such as spraying an area they’re not supposed to touch with something that smells spicy. However, there are products specifically made for this use that he said are even more effective.

“If they keep getting into areas they shouldn’t be, there are sprays that don’t smell that bad to humans, but can keep pets away. These are usually effective, but nothing is completely foolproof,” he said. “There’s also transparent, double-sided tape, which you can put on a piece of furniture they are scratching, and the animals don’t like that. It can condition them from keeping their paws off of that surface. Also, keep scratch pads in the house because cats will always have that instinct to scratch and sharpen their claws. Sprinkle some catnip on where you do want them to scratch to draw them to it.”

Training is important, but experts warn pet owners not to become abusive. Animals have to learn via methods that are effective.

“Don’t scream at them. Don’t react by chasing them; they will think it’s a game,” Palmer said. “You can fill a soda can with change and throw it near — not at, but near — the animal if they are doing something they’re not supposed to. This will startle them and show them you don’t want them to do it without turning it into a game.”

“Make sure you aren’t correcting them when you come in and see what they did. When you come in and ask them what they did, when they did it hours earlier, they don’t understand what they’re being corrected for. It won’t correct that behavior,” said Fox. “It’s a matter of education. Pets don’t come into the world knowing the world. It’s up to us to teach them.”