People often tell me that they use a water spray to correct their pet’s behaviour. They say it works, as the pet stops doing whatever unwanted behaviour they were doing at the time of the spray. Let me give you the reasons why a water spray cannot help your pet’s behaviour in the long term and why it will certainly not improve your relationship with your pet.
Why it’s unacceptable to use a water spray on your pet
1. When you use a spray and your pet dislikes it, your pet associates this with you. Is this the relationship you wish to have with your pet? That your pet fears your approach? Using punishment on an animal is not a desired behaviour technique.
2. Some animals actually enjoy the spray of water. To them it is a game, thus any attempt to use a water spray as a punishment for “bad” behaviour is useless.
3. What happens when you are not there? Does your pet think back to the water spray and decide that it will not perform the behaviour? Or do they go for it, knowing that you are not around? The water spray can only be used when you are there to inflict it.
4. You have to carry a water bottle spray around with you at all times. It probably it quite inconvenient to have a water bottle on your person at all times. For instance:
- In the park as you walk your dog
- In bed when your cat wakes you
5. A spray with a water bottle interrupts a behaviour. This is the reason that people think it works. Spray and the pet stops what they were doing. Has your pet learned a better behaviour? No and they probably have not ever learned that the behaviour they were doing doing was wrong. Healthy pets don’t perform wrong behaviours. They behave in ways that work for them.
- Cats scratch furniture to leave their scent and sharpen their claws. They still need to do these things, even if you spray them for clawing your furniture.
- Dogs who bark at passing people or dogs and get sprayed may associate the spray with the intruding person. Next time they see the person, they may want to attack.
6. A water spray may even confuse your pet. If they are performing a behaviour that they need to do (cats scratching, dogs barking) and you spray them, this may completely shock your pet. Just imagine that it is you being sprayed… You are talking to your partner, to offload your feelings about your day. As you get to the most intense part of your description, your partner sprays you with their water bottle. Did you learn what you should have been doing instead of annoying your partner with your talk? Or did you simply feel hurt and confused?
7. Whether you use a water spray or not, it is still up to you to teach your pet the behaviours that you would like them to perform. This means actively teaching, using positive reinforcement, the desired behaviour.
So what can you do, instead of punishing your pet with the use of a water spray bottle?
- Start to train your pet. Teach them to perform desirable behaviours. Set them up for success. Think of an alternative behaviour that still satisfies your pet’s needs.
- Teach your cat where you would like them to scratch by placing their scratching posts in the areas that they like to scratch and ensuring your cat goes into that area regularly and at appropriate times.
- If your dog is annoying you, manage them by placing them on a lead, then give them some other engaging activity, so they are less inclined to bark, jump or whatever else it is that you dislike.
- Just like you had to be accurate with your water spray timing, you need to be accurate with your training. Our pets learn best when the are rewarded for their behaviour immediately. This is why trainers often use clickers. But you dont have to use a clicker. When your pet is doing behaviours that you like you can say an excited “Yes” or any other positive word that you wish to use. You can then follow this up with a treat, praise or a pat. This is a bridging word and helps teach your pet that their behaviour is desired.
- Be creative. Think of your pet’s needs and satisfy these with exercise (both physical and mental) both within your home and outdoors, if you take your pet outside.
I like to say that there is no such thing as “bad” behaviour. There is, however, behaviour that humans do not wish to happen. It is up to us to teach our pets what we would like them to do. Less water spray, more thought please. Love your pets!