Training your cat to use a scratching post far better than declawing

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Q: I want to have my 6-year-old male cat declawed. I've purchased scratching posts, but he ignores them. What else can I do? -- D.P., via cyberspace

A: Keep in mind that all cats need to scratch; even declawed cats go through the motions. Of course, without claws, they can no longer harm furniture. However, removing those claws is hardly benign; it's an amputation. A cat's toe has three bones, and the claw grows from the end of the last one, which a veterinarian removes in declaw surgery.

The good news is, you can teach an old cat (in your case, middle-aged cat) new tricks. Here are some tips:

Location matters, so place a sturdy scratching post (the taller the better) next to the place(s) where your kitty scratches the most. One way to teach your cat where to scratch is by using a clicker to tell him when he's doing the right thing. Clickers are inexpensive and easy to find at pet stores.

First, teach your cat what the clicker means. Each time you click it, drop a treat on the floor. (For noise-sensitive cats, clicking a retractable pen will do.) Soon your cat will come running from another room when you click because he knows this means food.

Once your cat understands that "click" means "a treat is on the way," entice him to paw at a scratching post. This might be as simple as you pointing at the post with your finger and pretending to scratch it yourself. Or dangle a toy around the post. Your cat will poke at the toy and simultaneously touch the post. The moment he does touch the post, click and offer a treat.

Or shape your cat's behavior. Click each time he raises a paw near the post, then click for touching the post, and eventually click for scratching at the post, though this may take several sessions to accomplish. Learning sessions should never be more than five to 10 minutes, or everyone gets frustrated.

Simultaneously, cut off access to the unacceptable places where your cat is currently scratching. Cover sofas or chairs with plastic rug runners or car mats (nubby side up; cats don't like the feel). Also, various products are available which offer a static shock when pets walk on them, such as the Sofa Scram Sonic Scat Pad or the ScatMat, available many places pet products are sold.

If your cat is scratching at vertical surfaces, cover them with double stick tape or a product manufactured for this purpose called Sticky Paws. Cats don't like the sticky feel on their paws.

The idea is that the scratching post becomes the best option.

Q: Our 4-year-old Beaglier (half Beagle, half Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) is very sweet, except around other dogs and our 7-month-old baby, who's now crawling. The dog follows the baby around and sometimes growls and snaps. I can't imagine getting rid of this dog, but I can't risk the baby's safety. Any suggestions? -- L.M., via cyberspace

A: This is a terrible accident waiting to happen! Ideally, behavioral advice should have come before the baby did; I suspect you were aware of your dog's temperament.

Of course, my advice is to never leave dog and baby alone without adult supervision. Still, I worry that accidentally a door could be left open, and while you're off in another room, who knows what could happen? Based on your description, I'd even be concerned when there is adult supervision. A dog who growls is issuing a warning.

Don't wait another moment to get hands-on help from a veterinary behaviorist or certified dog behavior consultant. As heartbreaking as re-homing your dog might be, it would be far more heartbreaking to treat your baby for a dog bite, then likely face euthanizing your pet. Ultimately, this may be one of those rare instances where re-homing might be the best option for all involved.

Q: My husband and I want to train our little dog to use a pee pad indoors. My husband has Parkinson's disease, and taking the dog out is becoming difficult. Can you help? -- H.W., Coconut Creek, FL

A: Take your dog outside on-leash and place a pee pad under her as she's relieving herself. As you do so, tell her she's a good girl and offer a treat. Once she does the deed, let her sniff the pad. Each time you take her to this special spot, offer a consistent cue for your dog, saying "pee pad" or "potty here."

Once she understands to go on the pad outdoors, bring the pad inside. Start with a pee pad that smells like her urine, so it has her calling card on it. When you know she has a full bladder, place the pad down indoors and take her there on a leash. You don't want her roaming off and relieving herself elsewhere in the house.

Use the same cue you used outdoors, such as, "potty here." Offer praise and a treat if she does her business. If she fails, take pad and dog outside, and have her go again on the pee pad. Soon, she'll get the idea that you want her to go on the pad, regardless of where it is.

Q: Our cat has started relieving himself on top of the litter box cover. What can we do? -- V.C., Las Vegas, NV

A: Removing the cover might solve the problem, unless your cat: 1) feels he needs the view, 2) feels nervous about being tucked inside the covered box, 3) is worried about being ambushed by another cat, or 4) children lingering near the litter box are causing a ruckus and making him feel insecure.

(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.)

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