MY PET WORLD
Q: Our German Shepherd will sit next to my husband while he eats or watches TV, with his ears back, snarling and whining. Why? She never does this with me. Does she want more attention, or is she trying to dominate him? -- C.B., Cyberspace
Philadelphia, PA, explains, "Dogs aren't driven to be socially dominant to people. It's an old theory, and today we know it doesn't apply." For more information on dominance, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has a position statement on the topic, http://avsabonline.org/uploads/positionstatements/dominancestatement.pdf.
If your dog growled just once, and someone (most notably, your husband) responded, the attention-seeking behavior might have been reinforced. Or maybe it's reinforced frequently (you don't mention how often you or your husband respond).
It's odd that your dog is growling and whining at the same time. Both are signals which solicit attention from people, but they carry very different meanings. Also, Reisner wonders if what you're observing is actually a submissive grin, an appeasement signal typically offered to other dogs. If you have a smart phone, videotape the behavior so your veterinarian can see what's going on.
In any case, Reisner suggests giving your dog a place to munch on a chewie, perhaps in the same room as the dinner table -- but on the other side of the room. For example, you could stuff low fat cream cheese or peanut butter into a Kong toy (there are many varieties). Or just teach your dog to lie on a mat when you're eating or watching TV. A dog trainer, certified dog behavior consultant, or veterinary behaviorist cold assist with training.
Q: Our 6-year-old Bichon/Poodle is the sweetest girl. The problem is, she dislikes other dogs immensely. When she sees another dog, she pulls on her leash and goes crazy. Do you think a Thundershirt would help? -- J.B, Cyberspace
A: It's impossible for me to tell for certain why your dog is so aggressive toward other dogs. Based only on your description, Chicago-based veterinary behaviorist Dr. John Ciribassi says that you definitely need help from a professional veterinary behaviorist or dog trainer who uses positive reinforcement, or a certified dog behavior consultant.
If you're using a choke collar, throw it out. Instead use a harness. And never punish your dog for acting aggressive, as embarrassed as you may be.
Meanwhile, do the best you can to not allow your dog to engage in such aggressive behavior. Teach her to focus on a favorite treat like liver snacks (very small portions, please) or a toy. Teach this focus exercise by saying "look" or "watch this" indoors without distraction, then take the cue and food or toy outdoors. Try the exercise with few distractions before you attempt to use it with another dog in sight. Do your best to maintain a comfortable distance from other dogs. Then, gradually lessen the distance over many months, all the while having your dog focus on the treat or toy. Getting the timing right is challenging, another reason for seeking professional help.
As for a Thundershirt, Ciribassi likes the product (which resembles a T-shirt or sweater for dogs) and agrees that it can ease a pet's separation anxiety over worries about thunderstorms. Aggression, however, is generally not a classic anxiety-based issue.
Q: I thought it would be nice for my 4-year-old female cat to have a roommate. What a mistake! They fight and hiss. I adopted Zanny, a 2-year-old male, last August. Zanny has been sharing the basement with my 20-year-old son, while Cutie has the run of the house. Every day, when I come home from lunch, I lock Cutie up in a room and give Zanny the run of the house for a short time. I adore Zanny, so it breaks my heart that I may have to get rid of him. I've talked to the manager at the pet store and other cat owners -- so I've gone to everyone for advice. What should I do? -- M.B., Cyberspace
A: I hardly think that talking with a pet store manager or other cat owners is equivalent to seeking advice from a behavior professional or veterinarian. Having said that, what you're doing is absolutely right, according to certified cat behavior consultant Beth Adelman, of New York City.
You might also want to rotate the cats' bedding. Place Zanny's bedding near Cutie's food dish, and Cutie's bedding near Zanny's food bowl, so the cats associate something wonderful (food) with one another's scent.
Put up a screen door or two stacked baby gates at the entrance of Zanny's room in the basement, so the two cats can safely interact with one another. When they do come to the gates or door without hissing, reward both with a treat. Remember, they only get the treat when they're close to one another and acting civil.
In addition, plug Feliway diffusers in the rooms the cats use most often. Feliway is a copy of a calming pheromone. You might even ask your veterinarian about a Royal Canin prescription diet called CALM, which can also lessen anxiety
"Typically, if you go slowly, this does work out," Adelman says. "However, if it just doesn't happen (and the cats never become compatible), then what's so wrong with living in the basement with your son? It doesn't seem that getting rid of this cat, who you seem to truly care about, is necessary."
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)