Dear Tabby answers your questions about your pet’s quirks.
Q: My neighbors complain that my dog barks when I’m at work. How can I get him to quiet down?
A: Dogs bark when left alone for various reasons, including separation anxiety and boredom. For nervous or bored dogs, try crate training, increased exercise/playtime, food toys, and independence exercises. Crates are helpful because they give dogs a small, secure place to wait while you are gone. Increasing supervised exercise gives dogs less excess energy for inappropriate behaviors. If your dog is friendly with other dogs, playgroups can be a fantastic way to burn off energy. Hiking, running, and fetch are good alternatives for dogs that are unable to play safely with other dogs. Feeding with food puzzles or toys that can be stuffed with treats provides excellent mental enrichment for bored dogs or those exhibiting separation-related behaviors. If these tools don’t reduce barking or if your dog shows other signs of distress while alone, a certified behaviorist can design an individualized treatment plan.
Q: I adopted my cat six months ago. Recently, she has started stalking me, attacking my feet, and pouncing on me when I’m sleeping. How can I get her to stop?
A: Play aggression is a natural feline instinct driven by a cat’s need to hunt. Provide other outlets for this behavior and follow these tips:
- Don’t play with your cat with your hands; instead encourage hunting behavior toward a toy with string or feathers.
- If she attacks from specific places, block access.
- If you notice your cat stalking you, freeze and keep quiet. Throw a toy within her line of sight to distract her and encourage her to play appropriately.
- If she does attack, don’t move and she will lose interest. Have someone else distract her and do not pick her up.
- Provide a wide range of toys on a rotating schedule.
- Play with her using a favorite toy at least twice daily—morning and evening— for 10 to 20 minutes.
- Feed her during training sessions or from homemade puzzle feeders – plastic bottles, toilet paper rolls, cardboard egg cartons – to tire her mentally.
- Avoid punishment; cats may become afraid and more aggressive.