Dear Dr. Fox:
I have a 3-year-old American pit bull terrier that is the sweetest, most gentle dog. She is such a people lover and wants to be with everybody all the time. I wish all the pit bull haters out there could meet my Sierra -- she has definitely given some otherwise informed people I know a different view of the breed.
So here's my problem. Although she is housebroken, Sierra still occasionally relieves herself on my living-room carpet. This has been going on for some time now, and the funny thing is that she knows she's going to be in trouble because all I have to do is walk into the room and before I even see the mess she is slinking out. Then, before I say a word, she is trying to hide from me. She is usually outside several hours during the day, is taken on walks twice daily and is always let out when she stands by the door. Any suggestions?
S.S., Livonia, Mich.
When a house-trained dog starts to urinate indoors, you have to do some detective work and collect a urine sample so your veterinarian can check for cystitis. Chronic cystitis, vaginitis and calculi (stones) in the bladder are often first diagnosed after the dog (or cat) has been "telling" his or her human companion that there's a painful problem by urinating in front of them. In addition, female dogs who have been spayed sometimes have difficulty retaining urine, in which case hormone replacement therapy can help reduce and even eliminate the incontinence problem.
A few dogs will act like yours to get attention or to protest being left alone. But before you consider a possible psychological cause, rule out a physical one first. In some instances when there is no evident physical cause, simply cleaning the soiled spots with white vinegar or an enzyme cleaner and ignoring the dog when there is an "accident" will end the cycle that was being reinforced by scolding.
Dear Dr. Fox:
We are having a problem with our 9-year-old male cat that has been going on for several years now: He will grab our black female at the back of her neck and bite hard enough for her to cry out in pain. For some reason, she will not fight him. If she can get away from him, she will go to a spot where he can't get to her and stay there for as long as it takes him to get his mind on something else.
Why is he doing this? And what can we do to eliminate the problem?
Like other instinctual behaviors in companion animals, the one that's troubling you can't be eliminated. Cats will grab other cats by the scruff of the neck to assert dominance, often with a sexual component. Even neutered males will display this behavior with spayed females.
Let your cats be cats. The dominated female simply submits (and may sometimes yowl), and then runs off to a safe spot for "time out." A couple of cardboard boxes in corners of the room will give her refuge.
Your cats have established a relationship and it is best not to interfere, unless the male cat has not been neutered. In which case I would advise that he should be.
Grabbing your male cat by the scruff of his neck, or pulling up the skin there and applying a tight (but not too tight) rubber band, is an effective way of subduing and dominating him when discipline is called for. This works especially well with younger cats and causes no physical harm. The effect is psychological and need only last 10 to 15 seconds; release the hold or rubber band once the cat (like your female) remains passively submissive. A yowl of protest should be expected.
Michael Fox, author of many books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him in care of United Feature Syndicate, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
© 2005, United Feature Syndicate Inc.