Dear Dr. Fox:
We have a 20-month-old schnoodle dog. He is very loving but still a little energetic.
My problem is that he has a great deal of separation anxiety. He loves to play with other dogs in the neighborhood and goes to a dog group at least once a week. He is fine if the neighbors' dogs come to our back yard to play, but when I try to leave him at someone else's house. he whines, yelps, cries and tries to dig his way out.
I have, at times, left him anyway and come back an hour or so later. He is always waiting at the gate when I return (although I'm sure he does play some in between). Lately, however, he seems to be even worse. If I try to leave him. he will jump up on me and bite, communicating his distress.
Do you have any suggestions?
Just like some children who are left at day care or kindergarten, some young dogs will cry and protest at being left by their human companions.
The best approach with the doggy-day-care situation is to spend a little time while there to help your dog find a friendly buddy-dog. Encourage them to play together. Then quietly sneak away or have the person supervising your dog call him over for a treat so he associates your leaving with a reward. When you come back, do not greet him effusively. Ignore him briefly then make him sit and stay, and praise and pet him only when he is still.
This way he will learn self-control and be less anxious for you to return.
Dear Dr. Fox:
I have a 5-year-old Tonkinese cat who is very affectionate. She will back up to my husband, who then picks her up at the base of her tail and onto his lap for a pet. I've asked him not to do this because I'm afraid the tail will eventually detach from her body. My husband says that since she never complains there is no problem with the way he is picking her up. Could you please comment on this?
No, your cat's tail will never detach from her body, but picking her up by the tail could cause pain, especially if she gets heavier with age. She may well conceal discomfort because of the anticipated reward of being petted (as in "no pain, no gain").
Your husband should understand that this is no way to pick up a cat -- a connecting ligament in the tail could easily be injured. Instead, he should scoop her up or invite her to jump up.
This is not to say that cats don't enjoy an occasional gentle tail-pull once in a while. That was always part of my play-routine with cats (and dogs), who often bite and pull each other's tails while playing together.
Dear Dr. Fox:
How can I get my new 2-year-old cat to use his scratching post instead of ripping up my Egyptian cotton sheets?
Get some catnip herb from your local health food or pet store and add 1 tablespoon of crushed leaves to 1 cup of boiling water. Let the leaves soak until cool, then filter and rub the tea onto the surface of the scratching post and let it dry. This should make the post more attractive.
Take your cat to the post and claw it with your nails. Then hold him up, get hold of his front paws and dig his into the material. Praise him. Copycats learn through observation.
If the post is too short (less than two feet tall), is not secure and wobbles, is covered with a loop-thread material that snags the cat's claws or is not located in a corner where the cat feels secure, he may never use it.
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) 2005, United Feature Syndicate Inc.