Dear Dr. Fox:
Our cats and two dogs get along very well. Our papillon has some dominance issues. She always wants to be in front when we go on walks. Also, she barks at every single dog, human, deer, cat — whatever she sees or hears.
I would like to train her to stop, but I want to use positive reinforcement only. What do you suggest?
C.M.M., Silver Spring
DF: Some behaviors are so instinctively hardwired and reinforced by an element of obsessive-compulsive disorder that they are a challenge to inhibit.
There is also a size issue: The smaller the dog, the more it barks.
First, don’t use a collar when out on walks. A collar might injure her neck and windpipe. Rather, fit her with a comfortable harness. Before resorting to an anti-bark collar, try click-reward training.
Get your dog used to hearing a clicker. After clicking, get her to sit and stay before receiving a treat. Once she’s condition-trained, use the clicker to distract her when she barks on your walks. Reward her only when she sits and remains quiet.
Be sure she is hungry before walks. Dogs are best fed after they are walked or allowed out to run and play.
Dear Dr. Fox:
Jake, 8, is a Maine coon that came to me as a young stray. He has a very shaggy coat.
During a routine examination, my veterinarian found a mass in Jake’s abdomen that he decided, after various tests, was probably a tumor of the spleen. It turned out to be an enormous hairball in Jake’s stomach.
The vet said he’d never seen anything like it before — it was the size of my fist.
Jake feels much better and eats better with this thing gone. What can I do to keep this from happening again?
Jake is a meticulous groomer, and he spits up hairballs like any normal cat, though that wasn’t bringing up most of what he’s swallowed.
DF: I hope people with cats will take note of Jake’s massive fur ball. This is a common issue with cats and, if not treated, can be fatal.
Daily brushing is part of the solution, but not for too long, because it might stimulate more fur growth and shedding. Just brush your cat briefly to remove already shed fur trapped in the coat.
A few drops of fish oil or half a teaspoon of organic butter in your cat’s food daily might improve coat health. A teaspoon of soaked psyllium husks or cooked mashed green or butter beans in his food can provide fiber to stimulate digestion and the passage of small accumulations of fur in the stomach. A teaspoon of olive oil might help prevent fur balls and periodic retching of fur from the stomach.
Dear Dr. Fox:
Our poodle has no problems with cars; he rides many miles with us every summer. But then we took him boating, and he got seasick.
Still, he loved going to the beach and frolicking with our kids. Authorities posted a no dogs on the beach ordinance, and we couldn’t include him on our excursions. He’s a smart dog and could tell when we were going.
It’s heart-wrenching leaving him behind watching us drive away. Do you have any suggestions?
M.K., Naples, Fla.
DF: Try my remedy for your dog’s motion/seasickness: half a teaspoon of freshly chopped ginger root in a small ball of cottage cheese or peanut butter given 30 minutes before the boat ride.
Put a bandana with a few drops of lavender oil around his neck. This will help calm him.
The ginger will settle his stomach and is a potent anti-nausea herb. If your dog is not a standard poodle, reduce the amount of ginger accordingly. The only harm of an overdose could be that he might throw it up.
Dear Dr. Fox:
We have been feeding our two large dogs Blue Buffalo chicken dog food because they have allergies and will chew their feet while eating regular food.
It was expensive. We shop at Costco and saw its gluten-free dog food. We were afraid to try it, even though it would be about half the price. Are you familiar with Costco’s brand for allergic dogs?
L.P., Naples, Fla.
DF: Hypoallergenic dog and cat foods contain a single protein such as chicken, venison or rabbit.
But recent findings reveal that some brands might contain other animal protein ingredients that are not listed on the label.
Gradually over a five- to seven-day period, give your dogs the cheaper brand and probiotics and see how they fare.
Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.