Behavior Problems of the Dog & Cat; Questions Answered by Dr. Gary Landsberg


“Behavior Problems of the Dog & Cat,“ 3rd Edition, by Dr. Gary Landsberg, Dr. Wayne Hunthausen and Dr. Lowell Ackerman (Elsevier Publishing, 2013; $93) is an ultimate reference. It’s true this definitive 454 page volume is a resource for veterinary professionals, it may also be a valuable reference and guide for dog trainers, professional behavior consultants and anyone with a special interest in animal behavior. Landsberg, a veterinary behaviorist in Thornhill, Ontario, Canada answers your questions.

Q: My daughter adopted a young puppy, a great little dog, except that he mounts every animal he gets near. This isn’t a constant thing, but it happens often enough. Is there something we can do to curtail this?  J. T., Cybersapce

A: “Of course, this could be the start of sexual behavior if the puppy is not neutered,” says Landsberg. “If the dog is neutered, it is still what normal dogs sometimes do, and young dogs particularly because it feels good, andt they haven’t perhaps yet leaned appropriate play protocol. Try allowing your dog to play, but with a leash on, When your puppy seems to have ‘too much fun,’ if you get my drift, calmly walk away with your dog. Over time, your dog will learn that mounting means play must stop.”

Of course, if the behavior really gets too obnoxious, and adult dog may put him in his place – and that will be that.


Q: Does the Thundershirt help to calm cats? T. G., Tampa, FL

A: The Thundershirt is a vest which fits snuggly around a pet. For many individuals, it helps to decrease anxiety, and for several years now has been used as a tool for dogs fearful of thunderstorms, fireworks, car travel and other problems such as separation anxiety. Now, there’s a Thundershirt for cats.

Landsberg warns, “Some cats feel frozen when wearing it’ they may be motionless but I’m not sure they’re any less anxious. Anecdotally, we hear Thundershirts might help (some cats), particularly to calm more active cats rather than cats who tend to hide.”

Landsberg adds that you didn’t mention why you are thinking about a Thundershirt for your cat. Typically, the Thundershirt isn’t the sole component; other products and behavior modification may also be attempted, depending on what the usage is for. He adds if you do try it – let us know what happens.


Q: I adopted a Pitbull-mix who’s been great, and gets long with every person and every dog she meets. The only exception is that she gets aggressive when there’s a dog on a person’s lap. So when my mom’s Miniature Schnauzer is on her lap she gets aggressive, but when the Schnauzer is on the ground – they happily play. What can do we? J. B., Cyberspace

A:  Landsberg says “Set your dog up to succeed, let the two dogs play. Then take your Pit-mix to the other side of the room, with a Gentle Leader or another head halter, luring him with a really good treat. Simultaneously, the Schnauzer can jump on a lap. Do this over and over, and gradually (over weeks) move the Pit-mix close to the dog on a lap, while getting treats and distracted with play.” You may have to also “bribe” the Schnauzer with some treats so he stays on the lap.

The scenario you describe isn’t particularly uncommon. Also, it’s difficult to discern from your question, if the Pit-mix is merely excited about the dog being on the lap or is truly aggressive. If you believe the latter, then enlisting a certified dog behavior consultant or dog trainer might be best.

Another idea: No more dogs on laps when your Pit-mix is nearby.


Q: My typically mellow 15-lb., 13-year old cat has begun to bat me in the face when he’s upset about something.  For example, last night, I as snuggled with my husband the cat lunged and hit me in the face with his teeth. What can I do to stop this aggression? J. G., Cyberspace.

A: Landsberg says make an appointment with your veterinarian immediately, and describe exactly what’s happening. Since this is a new behavior, the question is “why now?”

“It sounds like there may likely be a medical explanation,” adds Landsberg. “This is an older cat, and I wonder if being touched a certain way is painful.  Arthritis is common in older cats, particularly in larger cats.” Other possibilities include gastrointestinal pain, feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome (like Alzheimer’s in cats) and kidney disease, even diabetes. “

Landsberg adds that If your cat does pass the physical, or even if your cat is identified with a medical problem and is being treated, it’s a good idea to give the cat an appropriate outlet with an interactive toy to chase. Also, keep notes of what the cues are which your cat responds aggressively, and simply attempt not to put yourself in that position. For example, if the cat doesn’t like to be petted on your lap, perhaps sitting next to you is a compromise acceptable to everyone. “

There may be an anxiety component – certainly adding a Fewliway diffuser (which diffuses a copy of a calming pheromone) or two in the home won’t hurt.”

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services