Training Tip: How to Keep Your Cool

Yelling at pets for misbehavior is not a successful strategy and nearly always makes behavior problems worse by instilling fear and fracturing the bond between you and your pet. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior agrees that punishment should not be used as a first-line or early-use behavior strategy (see blog).  

Pet owners are often frustrated by their pet’s behavior.  Sometimes the pet owner’s expectations are too high, either due to the pet’s developmental stage or to inadequate training.  Pet owners may not realize that the pet does not understand the expected behavior or does not realize which behaviors are unacceptable.

I tell my clients that the only behavior you can change is your own behavior. Our behavior changes will lead to a change in our interactions with our pets, thereby improving pet behaviors. But how can you change your own behavior?

You can start by noticing when you are most likely to yell at your pet. What time of day is it? What did your pet do? What else might be bothering you? This can bring self-awareness to your own behavior and may help you prevent those circumstances in the future.

If you are about to lose your cool, use some proven strategies to calm down. Focus on your breathing, making your exhale longer than your inhale. Give yourself a time out by leaving the room and focusing on something else (or nothing) for a while. Play some relaxing music. Try categorizing items by color to engage a different part of your brain. Use your own favorite technique to restore calm. As long as your pet is safe, do not interact with your pet when you are upset.

Once those feelings of frustration and anger have passed, you can reflect upon why your pet’s misbehavior occurred and make a plan for how to avoid it, or how to handle it next time. Remember to have compassion both for yourself and for your pet. Think of ways to help improve the situation, rather than simply reacting to the circumstances.  

If you need help determining how to best help your pet, you can always start with a free 30 minute phone consultation.