WARWICK, R.I. — These reader questions were answered at the conference of the International Assn. of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) held here April 20 to 22. IAABC members are consultants in dog, cat, parrot and horse behavior who are available to help owners whose animals have behavior problems.
Question: My 8-year-old Golden Doodle has gotten bigger than my 5-year-old Shiba Inu. He doesn't bite the Shiba, but kind of nibbles at her, and even tries to haul her around by her collar. Sometimes he even does this at night, so I crate him. Is there anything I can do curb this behavior?
Answer: "Your Golden is an adolescent, and like all adolescents everywhere, he thinks he knows everything and his judgment is terrible," says Marjie Alonso, IAABC executive director and Boston-based dog behavior consultant. "Crating the dog overnight is a very good idea as a management tool. The more often you allow your dog to practice this behavior, the more often you'll see it, and better he'll become at it.
"If you haven't done so already, enroll your dog in a positive reinforcement dog training class where you can focus on learning simple skills you can employ at home like 'sit,' 'stay' and 'down' to prevent the Golden from tormenting the Shiba. Also offer lots of play time, so your young Golden has an appropriate outlet for all that energy."
Q: I have two adorable 2-year-old miniature Dachshunds we adopted when they were 11 weeks old. I take them out regularly, though they still urinate in the house on anything they want. I'm forever finding puddles around the furniture. When I enter a room, I can usually tell at least one dog is guilty by (his) body language, so I scold him and say, "No! Bad boy!" I clean the floors with Murphy oil soap. Being a maid to my dogs is exhausting. Any advice?
A: Certified animal behaviorist Katenna Jones, of Providence, RI, notes that your first objective should be to neuter these dogs, if you haven't done so already. There seems to be a peeing contest going on.
"Do your best to take them out as often as possible," says Jones. "Take them to the same place all the time, and as they do their business, deliver an irresistible treat (such as low fat, low salt lunch meat)."
Unless they've just done their business outside, make certain the dogs don't have the opportunity to make a mistake when they return indoors. Either crate them or tether them to you. The more often you take them out and they practice going outdoors, the less they'll have accidents indoors.
Jones says that as you enter a room, your dogs don't likely know they've done something wrong, but are responding to your cues. From here on out, if your dogs have an accident, say, "Shame on me." Don't worry about hollering at the dogs for what they've done wrong, says Jones (though she understands your frustration), which teaches them nothing. Instead, focus on what they've done right, which is instructive.
Of course, the more efficiently you clean up the better. Currently, you're not cleaning up the dogs' messes as much as spreading the odor around. Consider an enzymatic cleaner.
By the way, Jones was honored with the highest award presented by IAABC, the Animals and Other Nations Award. Previous recipients include veterinary behaviorists Dr. Lore Haug and the legendary (now 90-year-old) Dr. R.K. Anderson.
Q: Last Christmas, we adopted a wonderful cat, but he bites, even drawing blood. He thinks of people's fingers as food. He was feral and caged for a long time, so perhaps that's why. I'm getting better at recognizing the signs of attack so I can avoid the bites. I'm very attached to this cat and don't want to give him up. How can I stop the biting?
— J.S., North Las Vegas, Nev.
A: Guadalupe Bermejo, a cat behavior consultant based in Montreal, Canada, wants to make sure you're not using your fingers as toys for your cat to play with (which may have occurred as people walked by his cage). And at least twice daily, use an interactive cat toy (fishing pole-type toy) to play with your cat. Twice a day isn't that much, as cats only need brief play periods, maybe five minutes.
Don't leave food out for your cat all the time. Instead, provide scheduled feedings. Feed your kitty dry food in various places around the house using puzzle toys. If he eats wet food, place portions in little plastic saucers to activate his prey drive for food -- not you.
"It's excellent that you're picking up on your cat's cues," says Bermejo. "If you see the cat is offering those cues, calmly get up and leave the room." If your cat actually goes to bite you, disengage, say "no" or "ouch," quickly leave (don't run off, inciting a chase) and go to a room where you can close the door behind you.
If you cat is biting at specific times — for example always around 8 p.m. or when you walk down the hall — prepare yourself by providing alternative sources of entertainment. If your cat is busy with a toy, he can't bother you. As you walk down the hall, toss treats (which you keep in your pockets) in the opposite direction.
This cat is a great candidate for clicker training. You can train your cat to come when called or to jump on a table (say, at the opposite side of the room from where you're seated when the cat often bites you). Training will enhance your relationship.
One great resource is cat behavior consultant Marilyn Kreiger's book, "Cat Fancy Naughty No More: Change Unwanted Behaviors Through Positive Reinforcement" (Bow Tie Press, Irvine, CA, 2010; $12.95).
STEVE DALE welcomes questions/comments from readers. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.