This page is currently under construction.
*Make sure all pets are healthy before attempting a
behavioral solution. Many pet problems occur because of
illness or injury, and are not behavioral. Have your pet
checked by their vet before training to fix a problem.
Read Karen Pryor's book "Don't Shoot the Dog."
Teach your pet a bridge.
What is a bridge? A bridge is a link (typically audible)
between the behavior the animal does and the
presentation of a reward (e.g., food, praise, petting). A
bridge is typically a clicker, but it can be a whistle, a stomp,
a touch, a tap, a pat, or a word, to name a few. A bridge
should always be short and easily identifiable by the pet,
and not easy to confuse with anything else. For example,
if you choose to use a word as a bridge, it should be a
one-syllable word. If you say it quickly and sharply, it can
even be a common word, because then your pet won't get
confused when you use the word in general conversation
or when talking to your pet outside of training. Jennifer
Hurley at Moss Landing Research Laboratories uses the
word "good" as a bridge instead of a clicker or a whistle,
and she says it so quickly and so high-pitched, it's barely
recognizable as the word "good." This is an excellent
example of using a non-clicker bridge.
When to use a bridge? Timing is everything. You will need to practice this. You want to
deliver the bridge at the precise moment that the animal does the behavior you want. For
example, if you were training a dog to sit, you would bridge the dog the moment its bottom
hit the ground. Not before, and not after. Animals are very much "in the now," so if you
consistently bridge beforehand, the dog might think you want it to squat rather than sit,
and if you consistently bridge too late, the dog might be doing something else, like looking
to his left, and then think that's what you wanted it to do. When you first start to train a
behavior, you will want to bridge any movement in the direction of the desired behavior.
For example, the dog doesn't know what "Sit" means yet, so you will want to bridge the
dog when his bottom moves slightly towards the ground. How you get this to happen in
the first place is up to you, or you can hire me to give you training advice, but once it
starts moving in that direction, bridge and follow up with a reward. On subsequent
sessions, don't bridge until the bottom moves even closer to the floor than last time.
Eventually, the dog will plant its bottom on the ground, and you can bridge that. Once it
gets to that point, you don't want to regress (except in certain circumstances), and you
want to avoid bridging too soon.
How do I train the animal to recognize the bridge? This is the easiest part of training for
your pet, and one of the most fun and rewarding for it. This is your animal's first step
towards understanding human language! Here's what you do: use your bridge (e.g., click
your clicker), and then immediately give your pet a treat it loves. You can also use praise
or some other type of reward, but most animals will learn faster with a food reward
because it is a primary reinforcer (something that is inherently reinforcing to the animal).
Just use a few treats (say, 5-10, or thereabouts) for each session, and do this two or
three times a day for a couple of days. Most dogs will actually pick up on what the bridge
means in just one or two sessions, however. You know that the animal has learned that
the bridge=food (or reward) as soon as they prick up their ears and look at you when you
use the bridge. The bridge then becomes a secondary reinforcer. It acquires reinforcing
qualities, and also tells the animal that a reward is coming soon.
Cat Behavior Problems
My cat pees outside the litter box. What can I do?
You need to nip this behavior in the bud, or it will recur.
Do you keep your litter boxes clean? How often do you clean them? Try cleaning them
Do you have enough litter boxes? Cats need to have a choice. You should have one
litter box per cat, +1. So, if you have one cat, you should have 2 litter boxes. If you have
three cats, you should have 4 litter boxes. This way, even if all the other boxes are
occupied, the cat still has a choice about which one is used.
Are the litter boxes always accessible? Are they easily accessible? Is there anything
stressful in the surrounding area? Is it in a high traffic area? You want to make it as easy
and stress-free as possible for the cat so it always feels comfortable using the litter box.
Make sure it's fairly open and away from high-traffic areas. It should also be easy to get
to and not be accessible to other types of pets, such as dogs.
Did you recently change the litter? Did you recently switch to a LitterMaid or other
automatic litter cleaning device? Cats don't like change. Try reverting back to your old
litter, or making the litter change much more gradual (mixing it with your old litter). Some
cats just won't accept new devices, either. Try switching back to a regular litter box. It's
less convenient, but it's better than your house smelling like cat urine.
Are your litter boxes covered? This can concentrate the odor, and cause your cat to not
want to use the litter box. Change the filter, or better yet, get rid of the cover altogether.
Sometimes filters just aren't strong enough to remove the odors. Your cat may find the
smell too strong even if you do not. Their sense of smell is much more acute than ours.
Can you catch your cat in the act? If you catch your cat in the act, use negative
reinforcement quickly. Shake a can of pennies, yell, squirt them with water. Do not harm
them physically. Startling them will go a long way toward eliminating the behavior, but it
will typically only help if you can catch them in the act every single time.
Use a hormone spray like Feliway, or an organic spray like Bitter Apple to deter the animal
from marking that area. These sprays need to be reapplied frequently, but they can be
Another way to prevent recurrence, or at least control it better, you can switch from
carpeting to hardwood or vinyl floors, or use a clear plastic rug, available at most
hardware and office supply stores, to cover the spot on the carpet where the cat
Getting rid of the odor: Some people swear by Nature's Miracle, but I've never found it to
help. You need to get a professional carpet or upholstery cleaning service to clean the
carpet or upholstery. You may need to replace it if the smell returns. It may be advisable
to replace the soiled carpet or furniture right away, because cats can smell urine even
when people can't, and if they can smell it, it may encourage them to urinate on the spot
again and again. For clothing and bedding, wash it immediately and thoroughly. Never
leave your clothing or bedding on the floor, and don't leave fabrics on the floor near a
litter box. If your mattress gets soiled, you will probably have to replace it. If your cat
urinates on your mattress, this is too expensive an item to continue replacing, so consider
locking your cat out of any room that it consistently violates. If that doesn't stop the
problem, consider purchasing a large indoor cage for your cat and keeping the cat in
there whenever it would be unsupervised. Cats will be perfectly fine in a cage habitat,
and it is not cruel. Just be sure to provide it with plenty of food, water, and enrichment,
and don't forget a litter box. Finally, if you can't solve the problem, and a cage isn't a
solution you want to use, consider making your cat an indoor/outdoor cat. Most
indoor/outdoor cats prefer to urinate outside in order to mark their territory.
My cat scratches up my furniture. How can I stop this?
My cat scratches me when I pet her. What can I do?
Dog Behavior Problems
My dog jumps up on people. How can I stop this?
My dog won't stop barking! What can I do?
My puppy nips me, and it hurts! How can I stop this behavior?
My dog pulls on the leash. How can I get him to walk with a loose leash?
My dog is afraid of everything! How can I get him to be more confident?
My dog digs in the yard. How can I stop this?
My puppy pees in the house. How do I get him to go outside?