Try to Distract Overexcited Dog

January 20, 2010 

Q: Missy, our 3-year-old Shih Tzu, loves to play with our 3-1/2-year-old grandson. The problem is, Missy jumps on Joey and treats him like a male dog. I sternly say 'no' but it keeps happening. How can I stop this behavior? -- D.R.M., Buffalo, NY

A: "It terrific that the dog and baby have become such good friends," says Marjie Alonso, Boston, MA-based president of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. "In fact, the dog is becoming overexcited about playing with your grandson. There's nothing sexual about this; it's just too much fun. And the smell of diapers may be contributing. Give the dog a break before it gets that far. Just remove her, and give her something else to do, perhaps something to chew on or toys to play with. You'll break this cycle that's begun."

Alonso says if you can't get in there fast enough to stop the behavior before it occurs, gently remove Missy as she's 'expressing her excitement' and put her in another room with a toy or something to chew on. Of course, never allow a toddler unsupervised with any dog, even if they have become best friends.

Q: Our 15-year-old dog is a tad arthritic and drags on walks -- unless we take her out just before mealtime. At these times, she'll walk at her usual leisurely pace away from the house, then when we head home, this little 15-pound dog becomes a workhorse, dragging us along. She pulls on the leash, won't heal and seems to forget about her age and her arthritis. How is it she finds the fountain of youth when she knows she's going to be fed? -- R.S., Chicago, IL

A: It's all about motivation. Say you're a huge hockey fan and you're feeling kind of lousy. I bet you won't miss going to a hockey game. However, if you're still feeling crummy the next day, you might call in sick. The good news is, your dog is still very much motivated by food, and that's a good sign of overall health. Of course, dogs do have an internal clock and are well aware of mealtime.

You can solve the problem by simply bringing some of your dog's kibble with you on walks. Just as you might have used food to teach your dog to heal as a pup, you can once again use food to lure her to walk with you rather than pull. If she's pulling hard enough, I worry about the stress on her neck and even her heart. If you haven't already, see your vet about appropriate treatment for the dog's arthritis.

By the way, I totally relate to this question since I'm equally motivated by meals!

Q: My two cats are both are quite active at night and can even keep me awake. One cat is especially talkative. He uses a very loud, almost crying meow that makes me think he's just looking for attention. I must admit I have a busy lifestyle; I'm not at home as much as I'd like to be. These are strictly indoor cats. What can I do to get a good night's sleep? -- J.W., Minneapolis, MN

A: "You're probably right about the cats acting up for attention, but visit your vet just to make certain the vocalizing cat isn't complaining because something is medically wrong," says Dr. Ilona Rodan, a feline veterinarian in Madison, WI.

Don't give the cats any attention overnight; just roll over with the pillow over your head. Don't get up to feed the cats. Even hollering, "Quiet!" is a form of attention. You may need earplugs since the cats may escalate their cries for attention for days or weeks before they quiet down.

Give your cats something to do when you're not around, so they're not just sleeping all day. Leave toys out. Individual cats prefer different types of toys, Rodan notes. "They can range from motorized toys to a paper sack for a cat to hide in and jump in and out of. What's important is that you rotate the toys, so they don't get boring," she says.

Leave snacks around the house for your cats when you're not home in food puzzles or food-dispensing toys. Even hide them, so your cats must "hunt" for the treats.

Meanwhile, Rodan says, even with your busy schedule, it's important to find 15 to 20 minutes daily to play with your cats using an interactive toy, such as a fishing pole-type toy with feathers or fabric before bedtime. After the play session, offer the cats about half their dinner's worth of food (assuming they're not overweight). If the cats are overweight, only offer a snack before bedtime.

Veterinarians will be talking more about ways to keep cats engaged, as defined in the new American Animal Hospital Association/American Association of Feline Practitioners Life Stage Guidelines for Cats. Cat owners can download these guidelines at no charge at www.catvets.com.

HELP FOR HAITI

American Humane has partnered with a coalition of professional animal welfare groups (Animal Relief for Haiti, led by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare). The primary objectives will be to deal with stray pets to prevent disease transmission to people, as well as offering humane care to animals. Learn more at www.americanhumane.org.


Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.

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