Want to have a nice home but your pet keeps chewing and scratching your stuff to smithereens—or worse, peeing on everything? Check out these tips and tricks from pet experts to stop the destruction.
1. Don’t freak out.
Animals have very short memories, so they won’t connect their past bad behavior—even if it was only two minutes ago—with your yelling or other punishment, according to the experts at the ASPCA. In other words, going ballistic when you find something destroyed won’t accomplishing anything. “If you don’t catch your dog in the act [of peeing] but find an accident afterward, do nothing to her,” advises the ASPCA.
2. Correct bad behavior properly.
Even if you catch your dog mid-chew on your Louboutins, you still shouldn’t freak out. (We know, easier said than done!) Unleashing your anger can further unbalance your dog and move him to seek another object to chew (your Choos?) to calm down, says dog whisperer Cesar Milan. “Use a light touch correction on the neck or hindquarters to get your dog’s attention away from the object. Then, use your energy and body language to communicate to your dog that the object is yours.”
If you catch your dog in the act of peeing inside the house, clap loudly—just enough to startle her, suggests the ASPCA. If startled, your dog should stop in mid-stream, giving you the chance to immediately lead or carry her outside—gently and encouragingly. Let her finish outside, and then reward her with happy praise and a treat or two.
For cats, a small spray bottle can be effective tool when you catch him scratching where he shouldn’t. But don’t let your cat know that you’re the source of the spritz, warns Life Hacker. You want your cat to associate the random blast of water with scratching on the couch or furiously digging into the carpet, not with you being nearby.
3. Rule out medical problems.
It’s important to figure out if the misbehavior is the result of a physical problem your pet is experiencing and perhaps can’t control. According to the ASPCA, a dog may soil indoors due to incontinence problems, changes in diet, medications, age-related difficulties, gastrointestinal upset or anxiety issues.
Similarly, urinary tract infections and kidney failure can cause cats to produce more urine, or add an increased urgency to urination, causing them to have accidents, says Pet MD. Chewing and scratching by dogs and cats can also be rooted in medical problems, so talk to your vet about any changes in behavior.
4. Make your nice stuff smell and feel bad (to your pet).
Use your pet’s extraordinary sense of smell against her to make the chewing or scratching behavior way less enjoyable. For dogs, furniture and other items can be coated with a taste deterrent (such as Bitter Apple) to make them unappealing. The Humane Society cautions you should supervise your dog when you first try one of these deterrents: “Some dogs will chew an object even if it’s coated with a taste deterrent. Also be aware that you must reapply some of these deterrents to maintain their effectiveness.”
Similarly, the upholstered corners of couches and chairs are a scratching magnet for cats, but you can make them less appealing by applying an herbal spray deterrent like No-Scratch that replaces the territorial “markers” left behind after scratching with an unpleasant scent and will discourage repeat scratching, according to Drs. Foster and Smith. Double-side tape strips, such as Sticky Paws, can also help. Cats’ paws are extremely sensitive to touch, making sticky surfaces exceptionally annoying, say the doctors. Both options are nearly invisible to the human eye or nose.
5. Set booby traps.
If your pet is really persistent, amp up your methods with booby traps, say the experts at All Our Pets. Put a soda can with pennies on your cat’s favorite furniture to scratch. When she reaches for it next, the can will rattle unpleasantly. Pin a doorknob alarm to your curtains so the alarm will sound every time your cat tries to use curtains as a ladder. You can also try taping inflated balloons to the problem areas. When your cat pops one with her claws, she’ll avoid scratching there again. (Note: Only try this when you’re at home, so you can pick up the balloon pieces before your cat tries to eat them!)
6. Give them some acceptable things to destroy.
Pets will be pets, so you need to give them appropriate (non-shoe) options for chewing and scratching, which are their natural—and unchangeable—behaviors. According to Perfect Paws you should litter a dog’s space with a wide variety of toys, including particularly enticing toys such as rawhide and long marrow bones soaked in flavored soups. After they dry, give a different flavor to the puppy each time you leave him alone. Sterilized marrow bones and Kong toys can be stuffed with liver treats or cheese, giving a pup hours of entertainment trying to extricate the treats from the toy.
For cats, provide more appealing scratching alternatives than your upholstered and wood furniture. If your problem scratching area is around doorframes and the wooden legs of desks, consider a piece of cat furniture or post made of cedar, say Drs. Foster and Smith. If your cat can’t resist the soft sides of your couch or the nap of your best rug, choose a carpeted cat tree or perch. Sisal, the rough and tough marine-grade rope that scratches back, is great on a vertical post or tree. “No matter what tempting option you provide to replace your own furniture, a pinch or spray of catnip on the new scratching area will further encourage her to seek it out,” they say.
Location of toys and scratching posts is also important. “Put the posts where your cat wants them—next to her sleeping spot for a quick stretch after a nap, or by the front door for a really intense session after she greets you,” recommends the Humane Society.
7. Up your engagement with your pet.
We’re sure you’re a fantastic mommy to your pet, but sometimes dogs and cats need a little extra TLC. The experts at Pet Health Network suggest making sure you’re addressing your pet’s need for both physical and mental stimulation: “If your dog loves to run, then make sure you give him or her plenty of time to let out that physical energy. But make sure you also engage his brain, whether it’s through some obedience training (learning a new trick actually can take a lot of energy for a dog) or solving a problem (like getting food out of a toy designed to hold some kibble).” Also, remember that your dog needs different things at different ages. “Puppies get tired quickly and short bursts of mental or physical activity interspersed with naps can work perfectly,” they say. “Younger adult dogs might need extended, more intense periods of stimulation. And our senior friends might need something entirely different.”
8. Evaluate your expectations.
Face it: If you leave your dog alone for 12 hours, or don’t clean your cat’s litter box, you’re going to get some pee and poop on the floor. A dirty litter box is one of the first things that sends a cat peeing elsewhere, according to Pet MD. And if you’re gone for more than four hours at a stretch, consider getting a neighbor or hiring a dog walker to take your pup out for a midday romp.
Also, clean any accidents with an enzymatic cleanser designed for cleaning pet urine, says the ASPCA. This will minimize odors that might attract your pet back to the same spots to eliminate again. (Don’t clean accidents with an ammonia-based cleanser because urine contains ammonia.)
To curb excessive cat scratching, be sure you’re clipping your cat’s nails frequently. You can even give her a “pedicure” with Soft Claws Nail Caps, which cover a cat’s sharp nails and can make scratching less destructive to your furniture.
9. Get some stylish and functional pet accessories.
You have a pet, and that means your living room isn’t going to look like the picture-perfect cover of House Beautiful. It’s going to have pet stuff in it – toys, leashes, litter boxes, etc. The good news is that there are stylish options for all of these items. Cats are more likely to use an easily accessible litter box than one that’s hidden away, so buy one you won’t be embarrassed for people to see. (We like the super modern-looking ModKat and these other amazing options.) Looking for a scratching pad that doesn’t look like it belongs in a ‘70s rec room? Try the sculptural one from Lui + Vigo or the cool D.J. Cat Scratching Pad available at the ASPCA’s store.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.