Undesirable behaviour: if your dog or cat doesn’t do what you want

From barking to mewing non-stop or scratching and chewing on your furniture. A pet displaying undesirable behaviour can drive us to despair. Here are some tips to help you deal with this kind of behaviour and improve the situation.

What are some potential causes of undesirable behaviour?

There are different types of undesirable behaviour that your pet may adopt, like excessive barking or mewing, food aggression, biting, begging, scratching and much more. Luckily, all of this undesirable behaviour can be unlearned given enough patience and some smart tricks. In order to get to the bottom of the behaviour, it is important to see if you can find the cause. Biting or barking in dogs may be the result of fear or stress. A common cause of excessive barking is boredom, e.g. when your dog is left alone for too long. Other potential causes of barking or spraying in cats for example, on top of fear, stress and boredom, include territorial protection and insecurity. Finding the cause of your pet’s behaviour is the first step to solving it.

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Socialising your pet

It is very important to properly socialise your pet. Socialisation essentially means: getting your pet accustomed to other people, animals and other aspects of their environment and everyday life. Socialising your kitten at a young age will help it become a confident and happy adult. Socialisation is important for your puppy as well. Socialising your puppy teaches it how to deal with its environment, avoiding anxious or aggressive behaviour later on.

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Undesirable behaviour in dogs

Dogs can display several types of undesirable behaviour, including:

  • Jumping
  • Undesirable biting (objects)
  • Begging
  • Excessive barking
  • Food aggression (aggressively protecting their food bowl)

These types of undesirable behaviour can potentially cause a lot of concerns and negative situations. But luckily they are all solvable with a good dose of patience and repetition.


Correcting your dog’s bad behaviour

There are several ways of correcting bad behaviour. The best approach is determined by the type of bad behaviour you are trying to correct. Our most important advice is to reward good behaviour and prevent bad behaviour as much as possible. Should your dog exhibit bad behaviour anyway, ignore it and correct where necessary. Show it what it can do and reward that behaviour. Keep in mind that you will have to be patient. Your dog will not understand what you want right away and you will need to repeat this over and over again.

Some examples of bad behaviour and associated tips:

Jumping up

When your dog jumps up against you, it is best to remain upright and keep your hands in front of your chest. Do not move and do not speak. Once your dog is back on all fours, give it a stroke and say in a sweet voice ‘Good boy, low!’. When it jumps back up again, say ‘No’ in a low-pitched voice and repeat the previous steps. If you have a large dog and remaining upright as it jumps up against you is not an option, you can turn away from your dog instead.


When your dog is biting an object it isn’t supposed to, take the object from the dog and say ‘No, not yours!’ in a low-pitched voice. Then give your dog a toy. Does it bite into it? Reward it by saying, in a higher-pitched, sweet voice ‘Good boy, that one is yours!’.


No matter how cute the look on their face when they do it, begging is an example of bad behaviour. You can correct it by being consistent and never giving into those begging eyes. Give in once, and your dog will now know that begging is a way of getting what it wants. Be patient and persistent.


Excessive barking can be quite disruptive, not just to the owner but to neighbours as well. Unfortunately, it isn’t always clear what is causing the barking. A dog trainer can observe your dog and help find the cause as well as the solution. You can also address this issue at puppy training. The most frequently occurring causes of barking are fear (of abandonment) when left alone, territorial behaviour and insecurity.

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Undesirable behaviour in cats

Cats can display undesirable behaviour too, with various potential causes. Examples of undesirable behaviour in cats include:

  • Urinating outside the litterbox
  • Spraying
  • Undesirable scratching or biting
  • Jumping on the kitchen counter

Of course, you would prefer for your cat not to do these things. These behaviours are unpleasant for yourself and potentially for the cat. Jumping on the kitchen counter, for example, can be dangerous. Sadly, cats regularly burn their paws on a red-hot electric stove. Luckily, these types of undesirable behaviour can be eliminated given the necessary patience. 

Correcting your cat’s bad behaviour: where to begin

If your cat is exhibiting bad behaviour, it is important to find out how the behaviour is being caused. There is always a reason behind a cat’s behaviour. We also need to keep in mind that cats are originally wild animals; nature is ruled by very different laws. There is no way for a cat to know, for example, that the condition of the couch or table matters. It is also important to note that cats are quite solitary animals and aren’t always keen on housemates, or – as they tend to see it – intruders. This is why they usually need more time to adapt to a new family than dogs, who are used to living in packs.

Reasons for a cat to pee outside the litter box

If your cat is often peeing outside the litter box, you need to find out why it is doing this. Did it start when you moved the litter box? Tried a new type of litter? Added another cat to the household? Forgot to clean the litter box? These are all very common reasons for a cat to start avoiding its litter box. There may be a medical reason too, such as a bladder infection. Keep an eye out for pain symptoms. A lot of mewing while peeing can be a sign of bladder infection. When in doubt, always visit a vet. Medical causes are especially likely if a potty-trained cat suddenly starts peeing outside the litter box. Ageing can play a role as well. A lot of senior cats suffer from arthrosis which makes it difficult to step into the litter box. A litter box with a low entry will prove a good solution.

Correcting a spraying cat

Spraying is a frequently occurring problem with cats. It is a misconception that only male cats can exhibit spraying behaviour. A cat can have several reasons for spraying. The most frequent reason is to define its territory. They spread their scent with their urine which tells other cats to keep out. As a result, spraying is a much more frequent problem when cats share a home with other cats or when a lot of other cats are in the area. But all a cat really needs to start spraying is a piece of clothing of yours that smells of another cat or someone visiting your home. Some cats are more sensitive than others.
Finally, changes in a cat’s living environment may cause persistent stress which may lead to spraying behaviour. For example, the arrival of a baby, a new partner or a relocation. Learn how to correct a cat’s spraying behaviour.

Scratching or biting

We’ve all been through it: you just bought a new couch or leather chair and within a day your cat is using it to sharpen its nails. There are many potential reasons for such behaviour. It may be to spread its scent; cats also demarcate their territory by scratching. But there may be another cause, for example the lack of a scratching post. A cat needs to sharpen its nails. If there is nowhere to do it, your couch or chair will become its scratching post. Scratching or biting can also be an invitation to play. For example, when it grabs hold of your legs as you walk by. Read more about why cats scratch and bite and how to correct them.

How to correct the bad behaviour of a cat?

To us humans, getting angry and punishment may seem like a sensible solution when correcting bad behaviour in a cat. And yet you will see that it doesn’t always work and can often cause the opposite effect. Your cat grows anxious, stress-levels increase and the bond with the human is broken. It is better to reward your cat when it does something you approve of. Or have it associate the bad behaviour with something negative. But not linked to you! For example, you can startle your cat when it’s sharpening its nails on a valuable rug by throwing your keys on the floor, but make sure the cat doesn’t notice you did it. Or cover the kitchen counter (or another place it isn’t supposed to go) with tin foil. Cats don’t like it and will prefer to stay away. Another option: spreading a scent cats don’t like in places you don’t want them to go. Lemon, for example.

Undesirable behaviour in adult pets

Poor socialisation can lead to undesirable behaviour at a young age. When you get a pup or kitten, you are largely responsible for raising your pet and you’ll be able to identify undesirable behaviour early on. This is a bit more complicated when adopting an adult dog. You don’t always know exactly what the dog has been through, which makes it more difficult to deduce the causes of any undesirable behaviour. It is recommended to get professional help for adult dogs that came with some baggage, in order to make progress and solve the problem.


Good intentions and lots of patience go a long way, but there are situations where you simply cannot solve the behavioural problems of your dog or cat on your own. In this case, it is recommended to hire a behavioural therapist for your pet. Therapy or a course will dramatically increase the odds of finding a solution to the behavioural problems.

Here are some tips at a glance to summarise all of the above. If your dog or cat is displaying undesirable behaviour and you want to do something about it, these tips will get you started:

  • Try to find the cause of the behaviour.
  • Make sure the environment isn’t causing the undesirable behaviour. Make sure your home is dog-friendly or if you’ve got a cat make your home cat-friendly.
  • Reserve enough time to raise your dog or cat. Take socialisation very seriously; it will help avoid problems later on.
  • When addressing undesirable behaviour, be extremely patient.
  • Be consistent and unambiguous, ‘yes’ means yes, ‘no’ means no.
  • Reward good behaviour and ignore bad behaviour. Use your voice to reward your pet because overfeeding is always a risk.
  • Get professional help if you can’t solve the problem on your own.
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