Distractions an effective ploy to help curb barking

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Q: What do you suggest I do to stop my 2-year-old Labrador mix from barking when there's someone at the door? I also have three other mixed-breed dogs, all of whom get along well. -- K.B., Granby, CT

A: "Do you really want to completely eliminate the barking or dial it down?" wonders certified dog behavior consultant Jean Donaldson, founder of the Academy of Dog Training in San Francisco, CA. Donaldson wonders if it's fair to eliminate a behavior we've spent thousands of years breeding into dogs.

It's unclear whether all four of your dogs are barking or just that 2-year-old Lab mix. If it's more than one dog, Donaldson says you may have to adjust your expectations (especially if this problem has been going on for some time). Begin working with the instigator first.

Donaldson says there are lots of things you can try. Some approaches may work better with some dogs or may be easier for you. Assuming your pets are willing to share, store four Kong toys stuffed with low fat, low salt peanut butter in the freezer. When someone appears at the door, the dogs will ultimately learn to run to the fridge for the treats.

Since labs love to carry things in their mouths, the solution may be as simple as giving them something to carry around, whether it's those stuffed Kongs or tennis balls. Carrying something in your mouth or chewing on a yummy is incompatible with barking; it's hard to do both.

Since the dogs just want to be with you and your guests, Donaldson says secluding the barkers in a back room or bathroom until they quiet down might work, though the barking may get worse before it fades, or potentially one of the dogs may scratch at the closed door, or even panic.

Though you didn't ask, Donaldson points out that putting an electronic collar on a dog is considered inhumane by most professionals, and the ramifications could be serious. For example, the big barker might become aggressive toward other dogs when shocked.

Q: Two of my cats go out through a kitty door, but the third is afraid of everything and sits and stares outside. I think Fraidy cat is guilty of not using the litter box, but it could be any of the cats. I think this problem began when my two other cats ambushed Fraidy as he was leaving the box. The two cats that go outside don't get along with Fraidy. I have two litter boxes, and I scoop daily. Any advice? -- C.V., Cyberspace

A: You've answered your own question. How would you feel about using the toilet if you could be ambushed at any time? With three cats, you ideally require four boxes, though three for sure. In this instance, it's not only a matter of how many; location also matters.

Certified cat behavior consultant Beth Adelman, of New York City, recommends placing at least one box in the room where Fraidy spends the most time -- likely the room the other two cats spend the least time (which is why Fraidy likes it). Plug a Feliway diffuser into that room (and others elsewhere in the house) to calm all the cats. Feliway is a copy of a pheromone cats have on their cheek pads, and use when rubbing their cheeks against table legs or human legs. Interactive play (with a fishing pole type) also helps relieve stress, Adelman adds.

If these changes don't help, consider seeking professional help to improve the relationships between your cats. Your best bet is a certified cat behavior consultant (http://www.iaabc.org), veterinary behaviorist (http://www.dacvb.org), or veterinarian with a special interest in behavior (http://www.avsabonline.org). A veterinary visit for Fraidy cat is also suggested to rule out any medical issues.

Q: My cat, Lilly, has developed the puzzling habit of backing up and shaking her behind as if she's about to spray or mark, but then nothing happens! She does this a lot. Why? -- K.E., via Cyberspace

A: "I call it 'sham spraying,'" says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Valarie Tynes, of Fort Worth, TX. "It's the same motor pattern that happens when a cat actually goes to spray, but then it doesn't happen. We don't know why."

Tynes wonders what triggers the sham spraying. Is there a cat spraying outside your home, are visitors coming to your home, or is there something else happening which might typically prompt a cat to spray? Tynes says it's even conceivable that this spraying behavior is an attention-seeking device. When the cat backed up to a wall once, perhaps a family member uttered an audible gasp. For some cats, just one negative response can be enough to motivate a repeat behavior.

Tynes says no one knows if cats who pretend to spray may one day do the real thing. Being proactive can't do any harm, though. At least plug in a Feliway diffuser. Feliway is a copy of a calming pheromone, which can be a tool to prevent territorial spraying (and other anxious behaviors) in cats.

Q: Our 2-year-old Weimaraner is currently on allergy shots but I don't think they're working. The poor dog is allergic to molds, trees, grasses, bugs, etc., and she gets yeast in her ears. I've tried adding vinegar to her water, but that hasn't helped relieve the itching. I hate to keep spending money on treatments I know nothing about, yet I feel so badly for our dog. What should I do? -- S.K., Cyberspace

A: Dr. Dunbar Gram, a veterinary dermatologist and associate professor dermatology at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Gainesville, cautions that allergy shots can take a year to be effective. He adds that about 75 percent of dogs are greatly helped by the shots, but they're not always the solution or a offer complete resolution. In addition, sometimes an antihistamine, steroid (cortisone) spray, or minimum dose of steroid pill may be used as an alternative.

Veterinarians will have a new tool in their arsenal called APOQUEL, starting in 2014. APOQUEL is the first drug for dogs in a class of drugs called Janus kinase (JAK) 1 inhibitors, which means the medication targets the inflammation, and the itch it triggers, without the side effects of a steroid.

Gram says he knows of no data to indicate that vinegar in a dog's water plays any role in relieving itching.

(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.)

(c) 2013 DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
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