Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a male miniature pinscher who is approximately 2 years old. His name is Sampson. I have put him through obedience training, which proved to bring out his intelligence, and I am very pleased that he has been able to learn many tricks and that his behavior is excellent. Well, excellent except for one thing: He now ignores me when I try to show him affection. He continues to be obedient when I command him to do his tricks (which are always followed by a treat), but when the time comes for simply relaxing and putting him in my lap to pet him, he refuses to sit with me, jumps off of my lap and goes to my husband for the affection. When Sampson was a puppy he always favored me, followed me around and showed total attention to me. Now he noticeably ignores me, and it's beginning to hurt my feelings. He will actually sit away from me and stare at me as if he wants to be sure I know that he will not sit with me.

B.R., Houston

It's partly a "guy thing," like male bonding. Sampson seeks allegiance with your husband, whom he sees as the household's "top dog," or leader of the pack. So let go of your hurt feelings and have a good laugh. And back off from forcing your attention on Sampson and making him perform tricks on command. This is boring and too controlling for most dogs.

Engage your dog in some fun games with interesting toys to chase and retrieve, participate in tugs-of-war with a sock or towel, and play hide the bone and hide and seek. He will bond with you through play, as good buddy dogs do with each other.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I recently acquired a stray female cat with a wonderful personality. Unfortunately, she is also extremely finicky when it comes to food.

I originally fed her the only commercial brand of cat food available where I live, and she accepted it only grudgingly. That food is no longer available (in fact, no wet cat food is), and I switched to my only alternative -- fresh fish. I cooked it and shredded it for her, much to her delight.

However, I feared that her diet (exclusively fresh fish and commercial dry kibble that she only nibbles at) was unbalanced. So I began ordering commercial moist cat food online (same brand as before). Now she refuses to touch it. I held out for three months, but she just got cranky and her adorable personality dimmed. I have thus given in and returned to fresh fish. She's content, but I'm still concerned about an unbalanced diet. Please advise.

B.T., Washington

You have done your best for your finicky feline, and the sad fact is that cats can become addicted to certain foods. This can lead to health problems due to nutritional deficiencies and imbalances. An all-fish or all-meat diet is a recipe for illness. Visit my Web site at for a basic cat food recipe you can make at home; substitute fish for the other sources of animal protein in the recipe.

Whenever you change an animal's diet, be sure to do it gradually. Mix increasing amounts of the new food with the regular food, and proportionately reduce the amount of regular food in the mixture over a seven-day period. If the food is not eaten at once, pick it up, cover and refrigerate it, and offer it again in a few hours, warmed up to room temperature.

Dear Dr. Fox:

I adopted my 4-year-old Labrador retriever when he was 2 years old. He is a gentle, loving, mild-mannered dog who loves people.

The problem is that he doesn't like other dogs. Is there any type of training that can be done to change my dog's aggressive behavior toward other dogs? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

B.G., Longmeadow, Mass.

Some dogs become aggressive toward other dogs because they want to assert themselves and be dominant. Others aggress out of fear, often because they were attacked at an earlier time. Such fear-aggression may be specifically directed at a particular breed, one member of which attacked the dog earlier and caused an enduring breed-phobia. Dog victims of dog attacks often show signs of post-traumatic stress, becoming more anxious, "un-housebroken," and fearful of going outdoors and seeing other dogs.

So take your dog on a leash to anyplace he can see dogs playing together, so that he can become gradually desensitized. Reward him with treats and verbal praise for remaining in the sit position and staying calm.

Also take him to obedience school, where classes are given for dogs like yours so that you and your dog -- under the guidance of a behavioral counselor -- can get him to enjoy the company of other dogs and not be aggressive or afraid. Puppy playgroups are the best preventive for such later-in-life behavioral problems.

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.

(c) 2004, United Feature Syndicate Inc.