Feline ‘Love Bites’ and Overzealous Canine Barking

By Cathy M. Rosenthal | July 1st, 2021

Insights from ‘My Pet World’

a cat biting someone's hands for article on Correcting a Cat’s Love Bites

In this edition of ‘My Pet World,’ animal expert Cathy M. Rosenthal advises on correcting a cat’s love bites and a dog’s overzealous barking.

Correcting a cat’s love bites

Dear Cathy: I have two tuxedo cat brothers who I adopted at 3 months old. They are now a year old. Both are adorable, loving, and are basically “good” boys (with the occasional cat antics). However, one of them, Petey, has gradually started to give me love “bites” (no broken skin) on my feet when I get out of bed in the morning and when I’m getting their food ready. This started a few months ago on occasion, but now it is a routine thing. Each time it happens, I tell him “no” and push him away. This doesn’t seem to be working. Any suggestions?

Victoria, West Islip, New York

Dear Victoria: “Love biting” is typically a form of pet-induced aggression in which a cat is telling their person they have had enough stroking. When they bite at your feet, it’s often the result of similar pent-up energy. They want to play, but the behavior is mildly aggressive. Moving targets – like feet – kick in a cat’s instinct to “hunt,” which ends with them biting (controlling) their prey.

With cats, increased playtime and distractions work best to alter this type of behavior.

Introduce more play time during the day: 10 minutes two to three times a day of active play that gets them moving. Keep plenty of toys around but rotate them so your cats don’t get bored. Use puzzle toys to keep their minds active. There are a lot of automated cat toys on the market that can be turned on and left because they are on a timer and will turn off by themselves.

As for your feet, when you get up from bed or are preparing your cats’ food, toss Petey’s favorite treats or a toy across the floor so he is heading in the opposite direction.

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A dog’s overzealous barking

Dear Cathy: I have a problem with my 13-year-old Lab/border collie mix named Lucy. For most of her life, she has been barking at people who deliver anything to the house. She also barks at repair men and people we know who come to the house. She even barks at people walking by the house if she doesn’t like how they look. I have tried to get her to stop by distracting her with a noise, calling her name and offering her treats. The problem is no one else is consistent with the training. We have to put her on leash before letting people in, but once they are in, she is pretty much OK and begging for attention. She still barks at them when they leave and come back though. Is there any hope for change at this age?

Lisa, Allentown, Pennsylvania

Dear Lisa: It’s never too late to train a dog. However, dogs are highly attuned to their surroundings and feel it’s their job to let you know someone is approaching. You can’t really stop the alert, but you can work on reducing the time she’s barking.

The trick is to let her alert you but work on changing what happens next. Keep a leash on her during this training period so she is easier to control and will be more responsive to your commands.

When she alerts (barks), take a hold of the leash and say her name so she looks at you. When she does, say her reward word or “thank you,” a form of acknowledging the alert, and then give her a treat. Then ask her to sit. Dogs cannot incessantly bark and sit at the same time. So, work on acknowledging the alert, thanking her, treating her, telling her to sit and treating her again. Everyone in the house should learn this pattern so they can be consistent with the training. She will learn much quicker that way.

Distraction also works well with high-alert dogs. If she has trouble “sitting,” skip the “sit” command for now and toss her a Kong with high-value treats that she can’t resist. She can’t do two things at once.

Finally, remove opportunities for alerts. Close the blinds so she can’t sit there and alert you to everyone and everything. And turn on a sound machine, radio, or TV to introduce some background noise and reduce her ability to pick up on the sounds outside.

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 cathy@petpundit.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.

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