Q & A's Answered at Behavior Meeting at AVMA Convention


            Washington D.C. These reader questions were answered at the 144th Annual Convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Washington D.C., by behavior experts July 16 at the 2007 American College Veterinary Behavior/American Veterinary Society Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Scientific Program.

            Q: My 10-year old poodle continually walks around in circles when we walk her. And the other thing is when we’re watching TV or just sitting in the living room, she walks in circles around the room a dozen times and then decides to jump up on the sofa. What can we do? C. S., Boynton Beach, FL

            A: Dr. Sophia Yin, who is the on the AVSAB Board of directors and is also an applied behaviorists, and says teach your dog how to walk with a Gentle Leader head halter collar. This physically prevents your dog from circling. However, you also want to teach your pup an alternative behavior so she no longer even wants to circle. Teach her to sit when you put on the halter. And then using cookies lure her to walk by your side.

            Yin, who also teaches animal behavior at the University of California at Davis says put the same Gentle Leader on the dog indoors. Have your pup sit as as the Gentle Leader goes on. Then, either immediately allow her up on the sofa so she doesn’t spend the time circling by giving a command, like “jump,” or offer a Kong toy or some other toy with food stuffed inside so she’s busy chewing and not circling.

            Q: Our 4-year old Pomeranian loves to pump pillows. We can’t stop her unless I close all the doors in rooms where there’s a pillow. She’s doesn’t pump people’s legs like most dogs, just pillows. How do I stop her?

            A: “You have to understand what’s happening in the first place,” says AVSAB member Dr. Wayne Hunthausen of  Westwood, KS. “This behavior isn’t sexual in nature, but she does like it; it feels good; it’s self-rewarding.”

            Hunthausen’s advice is to allow her to think about the pillow, look at the pillow, but not to actually get within proximity to be able to “pump it.” Just as she’s about to walk to walk up to a pillow, in a very excited voice, call her while you happen to be holding a really stinky liver treat. Even if your voice doesn’t get her attention, the smell ought to. When your dog turns around and pays attention, reward her. Tell her “sit,” and then offer the treat. Here’s what you’re going for, every time she looks at pillows, she’ll think about the possibility of getting a stinky treat. In order to succeed, you’ll have to be sure to supervise whenever there’s an available pillow. If you’re not available to supervise the activity, then close doors or remove pillows. While “pumping pillows” may be fun, odds are that eating stinky treats is even better.

            Hunthausen offers a second, and far easier option. “Let the dog ‘pump pillows.” Why not? Well, we all have our vices, right? Unless the pillows are getting smashed, there’s no harm. If you’re worried about what company will think – just remove pillows when you have visitors.

            Q: My 6-year old cat is attracted to tape. Whenever she hears tape being used, she comes running because she wants to eat it. Why does she want to it eat, and is it harmful?  A. B., Cyberspace

            A: Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kelly Moffat of Mesa, AZ says “sometimes there is no really good answer, except to say, your cat just likes it. A little piece of tape, probably not harmful, but eating tape regularly is not a good idea.”

            Moffat’s answer is pretty much common sense. When you need to use tape, take it out from a closed drawer and close the door so your cat can’t come into the room. In fact, if your cat isn’t exposed to tape for a time, it’s possible that over time she’ll lose interest.

            If you’re attempting to wrap something, better off with the cat not around anyway. There isn’t much more challenging in life than attempting to wrap gifts with cats around. If there’s an empty box, it’s somewhere new for a cat to sit in. Wrapping paper you have spread – and cats love to sit on it.  Cats love playing with paper too, and unfortunately sometimes eating ribbon. It’s just easier to wrap gifts away from cats.

            Q: At mealtimes my 6-year old terrier mix bars at this food. I’m never in the kitchen when he does this. When I re-enter the kitchen, Rusty just looks at me. Then, he goes back to eating. It’s a game to him. What do I do?

            “Stop playing the game,” suggests AVSAB member Dr. Peggy Rucker Lebanon, VA. “When he calls you by barking, ignore it – do not come. Or if you do come in, the simply remove that night’s food.”

            It’s all about tough love, adds Rucker, who concedes that by following her advice the barking may indeed worsen for a few days or even a week or more before it all begins to get better and quieter. “Terriers always take longer; they’re so determined,” she says.

However, if you follow the advice, you have one of two options. Either absolutely and totally ignore Rusty all together, or if you do comply when Rusty barks – walk into the kitchen you can’t say a thing – except you do remove the food. Rusty will eventually get the message. And the barking will stop.      

            Veterinary behaviorists are board certified veterinary specialists, find one near you or learn more at www.dacvb.org. Members of the American Veterinary Society Animal Behavior are veterinarians with a special interest in and special education in behavior. Find a member near you, and learn more at www.avsabonline.org.

© Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services