Why pets do what they do can sometimes appear to be a bit of a puzzle to us humans. “She’s peed on the curtains again!”, “He just can’t stop barking at the TV” or “He’s humping the soft toys again” can be some of the behavioural challenges that pet owners face. At first some of these behaviours can be amusing, then confusing and then feel downright annoying or embarrassing – especially if you’re the owner of the dog that won’t stop humping visitors’ legs!


When we look at the range of behaviours that pets express there are a huge number that fall on the scale of normal to abnormal. When considering if a behaviour is “normal” or not, we also need to think about the context in which it happens i.e. licking a paw after he’s stepped on a sharp spike would be normal; licking a paw frantically every time someone comes to visit – not so much! The intensity of a behaviour is also important: a quick, alerting bark that says “someone’s here” when the door bell rings would be considered a normal response; a frantic, lunging, frothing at the mouth and extreme barking with distress, would not usually be considered a normal response – it’s out-of-proportion and can indicate that a pet is feeling that scared that they feel they have to bark aggressively to get the threat to go away. The frequency at which a behaviour is expressed also forms part of the evaluation of whether a behaviour is considered “normal” or not –  a dog that chased it’s tail once to cat a flea would be considered a normal response; a dog that habitually chases it’s tail several times a day would not be normal. And lastly and very occasionally, there are behaviours that are truly abnormal which one would recognise as being strange straight away.


Underlying a lot of behaviours is the motivation for why an animal is performing them. These may include: feeling really scared; being very hungry; feeling anxious; wanting company; feeling unsure of what’s going on around them. Motivations do not include things like: “He wanted to get back at me”, “She was being spiteful”, “He wants to be the boss or pack leader” – dogs, cats and other pets are very smart, but they do not harbour grandiose plans for world domination and taking over your life. Sometimes pet behaviour problems can feel like they are taking over your life, but really the pet is only wanting to do what will make him or her feel safe and secure.


Learning to read your pet’s body language is a great way for you to see when he or she is feeling happy, anxious, relaxed, excited, scared etc. Sometimes we misinterpret what our pets are trying to tell us by not picking up on early signs of anxious behaviours. Here are a couple of great resources for cats and dogs for picking up on anxiety in pets from DrSophiaYin.com:



These people look happy but this cat is pulling away, has big eyes, ears pointed sideways and is not enjoying being held


Being aware of what a particular species does as part of their normal behavioural repertoire also means that you will be able to determine whether a behaviour is something that is abnormal (outside of the species’ normal behaviours) or normal but undesirable. I.e. a cat scratching a rough vertical surface of the wicker chair is normal, but not necessarily desirable to the owner. This is where environmental enrichment and opportunities for pets to express their normal behaviours in a more desirable location would be useful e.g. a scratching post in a spot that the cat likes to scratch, helps everyone in the household.


So in summary, when thinking about a pet’s behaviour we have to consider:

  • Is it part of their normal behavioural repertoire for that species?
  • Is it normal for the context?
  • Is it normal in the intensity?
  • Is it normal in the frequency?
  • Or is it truly a strange behaviour?

If you have questions or concerns about your pets’ behaviour, we can certainly help. Just because it’s part of their normal repertoire, does not mean that nothing can be done to improve your situation. In fact, being given some handy information and tips, a few simple changes may be all that’s needed to help you and your pet live a happier life together. And for those that have nervous, scared or worried pets, or those that are just doing ‘odd’ things, there is a lot that can be done to improve their quality of life and yours. Recognising that there is a problem is the first step, contacting a vet with further training in behaviour is the next.


If you are concerned about your pet’s behaviour, please get in touch vet@healthypetmobilevet.com.au or call 0481 527 678, We’ll be happy to help you!