Animal Behavior Conference, Dog and Cat Behavior Questions Answered


LAS VEGAS, NV.  These reader questions were answered by attendees of the of Clinical Animal Behavior 2015 Conference, Sept. 25 to 27, presented by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians and Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians.

There is available and qualified help for pet behavior problems, and the solution may be right at your veterinary hospital. This group includes veterinarians with a special interest in animal behavior and veterinary technicians who are specialists in animal behavior.

Q: Our 6-year-old Cocker Spaniel barks incessantly at the kitchen table because my mom feeds her from the table. Naturally, she’s associated barking with getting food. How do we untrain her? M.R., Buffalo, NY

A: Truth is mom needs to be untrained. However, wisely Dr. Laurie Schulze of Columbus, OH has an idea, “The reality is that mom feels she needs to feed the dog. So, let her do that — but only from another location, aside from the kitchen. Maybe the dog gets the treat only after everyone is finished with their meal. You can teach the dog to stay at a place — such as a dog bed. Or put up a baby gate or it the dog is crate-trained, the dog can be in the crate while the family eats. Now, expect to deal with attention seeking barking, but don’t respond — or you’ll also teach the dog that she gets fed or at the very least receives attention for barking.

Schulze said teaching your dog to wait quietly for mom to feed her is not a difficult behavior to learn, but receiving professional help to show you how could be very helpful.


Q: My 13-year-old Labrador Retriever has taken to licking her bed, and our carpet. She seems obsessed with licking. Is there any possible physical explanation for this behavior? S. J., Henderson, NV

A: “Yes, there is a potential physical explanation,” begins Denver and New York City-based veterinary behaviorist Dr. E’lise Christensen. “We know dogs might lick just as you describe if they’re experiencing stomach upset or nausea. Gastrointestinal problems or kidney disease are among possible explanations. It’s important to see your veterinarian.”

It’s possible that for whatever reason, the dog once licked at the carpet, and a family member responded by laughing or even reprimanded and unintentionally reinforced the behavior.

If there is no medical explanation, giving the pup something else to lick might work. You can create a sort of “pupscicle” by freezing low salt chicken or beef bouillon, baby food or moist dog food into a sterilized bone or a Kong toy.

If all else is ruled out, Christensen suggests seeing a veterinary behaviorist who may consider canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome (like Alzheimer’s in dogs) or a compulsive behavior.


Q: We adopted a cat, about a year old from a local shelter, who tears and chews up paper. We do have another cat in the home, and they mostly get along. What’s going on? Y. G., Leesburg, FL

A: “Some cats just need to chew on something,” says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Ken Martin of Spicewood, Texas. So one option may be to give the cat something more interesting to chew than papers. Some cats enjoy chomping on dental chew diets made for dogs such as canine td (available through veterinarians and online), cat grasses (available at many supermarkets and pet stores), CET chews (available through veterinarians).

“The chewing behavior may be motivated by anxiety,” Martin adds. “One hint is that you said the cats ‘mostly get along.” Feliway (a copy of calming pheromone) may take the anxiety level down a notch or two.

Martin also suggests you further enrich the environment, giving your cat an additional energy outlet. Hide treats, including chewy ones, for your cat to “hunt.” Provide more vertical space, and rotate toys. Homemade toys count too. For example, you can drop catnip into an empty box or an empty egg crate.

However, Martin also adds that a veterinary visit is imperative to rule out dental, gastrointestinal or kidney disease contributing or causing the behavior.

Martin indicates that some cat breeds might be more predisposed, such as Siamese-related breeds known for chewing on fabric.

One more piece of advice: Try your best to keep papers in drawers. Your cat may force you to become better organized.

Q: We adopted two bonded Collie sisters 2 1/2-years ago. We’ve had Collies for over 50 years, so we certainly know the breed. About six months ago, one of the dogs began to piddle on both dogs’ beds. That’s the only place she goes in the home, and is otherwise housebroken. We took the beds away, and there was no marking. The guilty dog slept on a chair with no issues, until we re-introduced the beds. Can you offer an explanation? L. B., S., Manchester, CT

A: “Assuming there is no medical condition, I only assume you didn’t completely eliminate the odor from the dog beds,” says veterinary technologist Julie Shaw, co-author (with Debbie Martin) of “Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses” (Wiley Blackwell, Ames, IA; 2015; $45.50).

Shaw adds one choice (if the fabric allows) is to wash the dog beds several times, or buy other beds.

Shaw said she assumes the problem isn’t medical, since when the beds were removed, the pup stopped piddling; still it can’t hurt to talk to with your veterinarian.

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