My dog Brutus is a Papillon who piddles. He’s almost 4 years old now and he still can’t control himself when someone reaches down to pet him. Brutus is not nervous in general and he’s a friendly, happy boy. I’m just getting tired of wiping up after him. Any suggestions?
Dear Piddling Papillon,
When you think about it, petting a little dog is no easy feat for the average adult human. It’s a long way down! To pet a small dog in particular, you have to bend your back and lean over them (or crouch or sit on the floor next to them if you have the time and inclination). From Brutus’ perspective, when someone leans over him and reaches down, it is intimidating and ominous. For some dogs, this is interpreted as a dominance challenge; they have a choice to respond aggressively or fearfully. A submissive dog is more likely to respond fearfully, and can behave submissively by ‘piddling’. Submissive urination is quite common in puppies and more common among females. Most dogs grow out of it by the time they’re young adults.
We can help Brutus feel more comfortable by inviting him over to greet us when we are already seated, and avoiding direct eye contact (just redirect your gaze past his head). Ask your guests to settle in and then call him over for a treat rather than reaching down to pet him. He’ll feel less threatened and get rewarded for his confidence in approaching them. Make sure he’s had a little walk before your guests arrive so that his bladder isn’t full, even though it’s always filling up. Brutus will be a brave boy, someday. Until then, a little more patience goes a long way.
Dear Dr. Schwartz,
My cat Katie Belinda is defecating on my bed. It only happens once in a while when I work late or go out on a date. She started doing this when I was away on a short vacation last year and my neighbor went to check on her daily. She uses the cat litter box most of the time and urinates in it all the time thank goodness, but why is she is leaving this little gift on my pretty bedspread? Is she angry at me for leaving her and trying to punish me?
Dear Katie Belinda’s Mom,
Katie Belinda is not angry at you; she just misses you terribly when you’re gone. Cats have separation anxiety too, and it’s very similar to the way dogs express their separation from an attachment figure. It’s not just because she’s alone, but because she is responding emotionally to your departure and absence. Although there are some pets who can improve if another compatible housemate is introduced, it can also backfire if they don’t experience ‘love at first sight’, so to speak. When cats are stressed, they are inclined to release their anxiety by marking their territory. In Katie Belinda’s case, her style of marking is to defecate, and she has chosen to identify her scent with a location that is so strongly identified with you.
You could simply keep your bedroom door closed when you leave; it is an easy solution to a fairly simple problem. Make sure that you are keeping the box clean and dry. Avoid cleaning with harsh chemicals, rinsing it out with dish washing liquid and water only when needed (perhaps several times a year). It is a good idea to add another box in a different location in your home, because some cats like to have variety and this gives them an appropriate alternative. Finally, ask your neighbor to visit more often, even when you are not traveling. This will help your cat maintain a relationship with someone other than you and ease the transition when you are away.
Dr. Stefanie Schwartz is a board certified veterinary behaviorist based at California Veterinary Specialists in Carlsbad, CA. She also sees patients at the Veterinary Neurology Center in Tustin, CA. For more information, please call (760) 431-2273 and visit www.californiaveterinaryspecialists.com and www.veterinarybehavior.org.