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Tuesday, December 14, 2004; Page C09

Dear Dr. Fox:

My son has a 1-year-old Jack Russell terrier. He got the dog when it was 9 months old. The dog was kept in a cage 24/7, only to leave for duty calls. Now, although the dog is kept in a cage for the time no one is home, he is let out as soon as someone arrives home. He is put back in the cage for nighttime.

If he escapes to the upstairs quarters he immediately relieves himself, even if he was just walked. Upon visiting another home with upstairs quarters he does the same thing. What is it about these upstairs areas that causes this, and also leads him to tear apart shoes and destroy whatever else he can find?

He has been reprimanded every time, but he continues to act this way. Is there anything that can be done to alleviate this problem?

B.M., Jackson, N.J.

I feel sorry for this poor dog, having been kept in a cage/crate for the first nine months of his life. Such abhorrent treatment is all too common, often resulting in physical deformities and chronic psychological/behavioral problems.

"Upstairs" in this little dog's psyche probably equates to "freedom," so he acts out all his repressed energies and emotions by destroying whatever he finds, and urinates out of excitement or to mark his territory.

Your son should make the upstairs off-limits to the dog for a while, and sleep downstairs beside the dog's cage with the cage open so that the dog can use it as a den and not regard it as a prison. It is too traumatic to shut him in the cage for the night -- and also during the day when no one is home. Make the room dog-safe (no items within reach to destroy), turn on the radio and leave the cage open. Give him his own toys and marrow bones stuffed with peanut butter, and have a dog walker come over to take him out at least once a day during the workweek.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have had several pairs of parrotlets in the past, but I recently got a new pair, male and female. They are in a nice-sized cage, but they have picked all the feathers from each other's head.

Why are they doing this? What can I do to fix the problem? Even if I put them in separate cages the feathers do not seem to come back.

L.W., Fort Worth

Birds normally engage in social grooming or preening, and it is likely that your pair has become fixated on this activity because they have nothing else to do, what with being caged together 24/7.

They may have damaged the feather follicles so, even after separating them (as you have found), the feathers will not grow back. But before you give up, have a veterinarian check their heads for feather mites and give them more time outside of the cage. Also, make sure that their diet includes fresh fruits and seeds and a multimineral/multivitamin supplement that your veterinarian can prescribe.

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