My Pet World: When Your Dog Alerts, Let Him Know You ‘Got This’
Revisiting barking dogs and a senior cat with a litter box issue
In this edition of ‘My Pet World,’ pet advisor Cathy M. Rosenthal offers advice on controlling barking dogs – a follow-up from an earlier letter – and on an old cat’s litter box issue – but only at night.
Dear Cathy: You made suggestions about leash training to Dee in Henderson, Nevada, but not regarding the in-house issue. She indicated that her dog barks and gets aggressive when people or dogs walk by the house. I have the same problem with my dogs. A bark or three is wonderful but 20 – and dashing from window to window with our second dog also jumping in – is too much. Any suggestions on limiting the barks to a few?
– John, Long Island, New York
Dear John: A dog’s main job is to alert their humans to danger. You know the mail delivery person is safe, but your dog sees it as an intruder who has come to hurt the family. When a dog is alerting, we often don’t acknowledge the perceived danger, opting to yell at our dogs to stop barking instead. Your dog is like, “I can’t stop barking. You haven’t seen the threat yet.”
So, while this may sound strange, thank your dog for alerting you to the “danger” (i.e. a little girl riding past on her bike), check out the threat by going to the window, and then tell your dog something like, “I’m OK. I’m safe.” Then walk away encouraging your dog to come with you. If he does, walk him over to the treats, ask him to sit, and then give him a treat or some other toy distraction that will move him away from the window. Eventually, over time, you should be able to say the “I’m OK” phrase and then call your dog from across the room. When he comes to you, ask him to sit, then give him a treat or offer him a distraction. Use interrupters for those dogs that can’t stop barking, like shaking a can of coins or using a Pet Corrector that makes “Shh” sound. You have to get a dog’s attention before he will come when called.
You can further condition him by sitting outside and allowing him to get used to the sights and sounds of his neighborhood. Acknowledge his alerts and say you’re OK.
You also can reduce some alerts by turning on a sound machine to block outside noise or close your blinds or install bottom-up blinds that allows you to keep the lower part of the window covered.
You can’t stop your dog from barking, but you can distract him and/or condition him to relax when he understands you “got this.”
Dear Cathy: Isn’t treating the dog who barks when other dogs walk by the house just reinforcing bad behavior?
– Pamela, Las Vegas Nevada
Dear Pamela: Yes, it is – that is why you must always add a command or two between the undesirable behavior and the treat. For example, if your dog barks, call him to you, then ask him to sit. He is getting the treat for coming when called and for sitting. If you are at the window and encouraging him to come with you, make him sit for the treat when you get to it. If you do this, your dog won’t connect the treat back to the undesired behavior.
Dear Cathy: My 16-year-old female cat urinates on my bed and poops on the bedroom floor during the night. During the day she uses her litter box. My veterinarian believes this is a behavioral problem. I use incontinence pads on the bed, so I am not washing the blanket and sheets, etc. She actually pees on the incontinence pads and thankfully not on the blanket or bedspread. Anything else I can do?
– Judy, Naperville, Illinois
Dear Judy: Certainly animals can develop behavioral problems at any age, but she is 16 years old and using the litter box during the day, so this is curious. I wonder, could she have been scared around the litter box at night and so is afraid to use it after dark? Could she have mobility issues that keep her from jumping up on and down off the bed easily? Or could she have incontinence and when she wakes up doesn’t have time to get to her litter box?
Make sure she has a clean bill of health. Then, make sure her litter box is cleaned before you go to bed and add a litter box attractant to encourage her to use it more. Add a second litter box to the bedroom to make it more convenient for her to get to at night. And, put some sort of ramp or footstool near the bed to see if she gets on and off it easier.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist, and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories, and tips to email@example.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.
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