A new leash
Learn how to understand your pet's behavior and body language with veterinary technician and certified behavior consultant, Tabitha Kucera.
We partnered with Tabitha to empower pet parents to strengthen the bond between animals and humans through education and behavior modification. Our common goal: to help pets live happier, healthier lives.Always contact your veterinarian to rule out medical issues before contacting a certified behavior specialist.**
Your pet communicates through their body language. They'll tell you what makes them scared, anxious, happy, and relaxed. Being aware of your pet's normal behavior in different contexts will help you detect changes in body language as well as any associated changes in the way your pet may be feeling.
Understanding pet behavior
Relaxed & happy
- Loose and wiggly body
- Soft, gentle eyes
- Ears neutral
- Out-of-context behaviors like lip licking when they didn’t just eat
- Pacing and hypervigilance
- Tension throughout face and body
- Eyes wide and dilated, averting gaze
- Tail is down and tucked, ears are back
- Eyes become rounded
- Tail is up and straight
- Ears may go forward
Common pet myth #1
"You should punish a growl or hiss."
These reactions are a way for your pet to express fear or discomfort. We need to show our pets that we hear them and should adjust their environment as needed.
The most common behavior issues Tabitha sees are aggression, reactivity, house soiling, and separation anxiety.
The good news is, understanding what your pet is trying to communicate through their body language and behavior can help address the root cause and improve the situation.
For more information, our friends at the ASPCA® have provided additional resources on common dog and cat behavior issues.
Aggressive behavior in cats and dogs can be caused by fear or pain. When the pet is afraid of something coming closer to them, they may retreat, growl or hiss, or even bite. When aggression is caused by pain from an underlying medical condition, touch, restraint or a reaching hand could make it worse. Overstimulation through playing and petting may trigger biting or swatting in cats while rough play with dogs can trigger behaviors like hard mouthing and jumping up.
Reactivity is a label Tabitha uses to describe a high-arousal emotional response to a stimulus such as excitement or frustration. Generally, these behaviors are not ideal. A reactive dog's behavior could be barking excessively, lunging, pulling, and not being able to focus.
House soiling is a common issue in dogs and cats. There is a key difference between house soiling and marking. Marking presents itself as urinating small amounts, often on vertical surfaces (especially in cats and male dogs). House soiling is urinating or defecating anywhere outside the potty areas. In dogs, house soiling can be caused by lack of house training or excitement. In cats, it is often caused by an aversion to some aspect of the litter box (size, placement, dirtiness, type, number of boxes, etc.).
When dogs and cats experience separation from their attachment figure, this may cause some degree of anxiety. Reactions to this anxiety can include destructive behavior, house soiling, pacing, panting, stress vocalizing, and excessive salivation.
Common pet myth #2
"Aggression can be cured."
Aggression is normal behavior for cats and dogs. For this reason, it cannot be "cured." Pet parents can instead take steps to prevent, manage and treat it with the help of a well-qualified animal behaviorist.
Understanding your dog's or cat's body language will help you know when they're comfortable, fearful, excited, or scared, and it's important for recognizing, preventing, managing and treating behavior problems. When additional help is needed, pet parents should always seek a well-qualified, credentialed behavioral expert.
Addressing behavior issues
Create an enriched environment
Give enrichment items and activities that stimulate all of your pet's senses and provide outlets for your pet's natural behavior, like scratching posts for cats and chew toys for dogs. Exercise is important to expend energy, but rest is a priority, too. Provide comfort items for resting times, like beds for dogs and perches for cats.
Ask when, where, why, who, and how to determine what caused the behavior and work to prevent triggers when possible.
Intervene early and get help sooner to keep everyone safe.
Use positive reinforcement to teach your pet alternative behaviors.
Talk to your vet
Prioritize annual vet wellness visits and rule out possible medical conditions. Record your pet's behaviors and share this information with a vet or a well-qualified behavioral expert to help find solutions.
Common pet myth #3
"You can reinforce fear."
Fear is an emotional state. Rewarding it doesn't make it worse. If you notice your pet showing this behavior, it is best to comfort them if that makes them feel better—and get help from a behavior expert if your dog or cat seems fearful often.
Become an empowered pet parent
The ASPCA Pet Health Insurance program can help support pet parents financially and emotionally with their pets' behavior concerns. Discover how our behavioral coverage* can help with behavior issues like excessive vocalization, phobias, and destructive behavior in the home.
Find a plan that fits your pet's needs and your budget today.Fetch your Quote
Our enrichment mission
All animals need enrichment tools for their mental health to bloom. Because of this, we partnered with Ohio-based company, Jolly Pets to donate 900 of their toys to three of The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®’s (ASPCA®) rehabilitation facilities.
The team at Jolly Pets has seen the difference their toys make for animals working through behavioral issues and the role they can play in helping prepare them for adoption. Their vision is not just to make a toy, it’s to create one that will enrich a pet's life.
To snag your own Jolly Pets toy, visit their site and use our special discount code, ENRICH15, for 15% off* at checkout.
As the ASPCA®'s only strategic partner for pet insurance, we are proud to take opportunities like this to aid in their efforts to change the mindset that all animals with behavioral issues are "unadoptable."
*Discount available September 1 - October 31, 2022
for pet parents
What to Know About Mental Health Care and Dogs
Like people, dogs can suffer from mental health issues.
What to Know About Mental Health Care and Cats
Like people, cats can suffer from depression.
Adopting a "Problem Pet": Behavior FAQs Answered
Get answers to common questions on adopted pets and behavioral issues from the ASPCA Pet Health Insurance Program.