Q&A with pet expert “Ask Tracie”

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Two pets make their owners laugh.

Posted by: H.R.
For Pets Best Insurance

You asked, she answered! Pets Best Insurance solicited questions from our Facebook page friends relating to baffling pet behavior. Pet expert and author of The Dog Bible and the Cat Bible, Tracie Hotchner, weighs in! Read on to see if your question was answered:

Question by Kathleen: How to keep Curious Kitty off of the kitchen counters!! I’ve tried every suggestion I can find, and he still jumps up there regularly.

Tracie: Hi Kathleen- I’ve selected your question to answer on the episode of my radio show DOG TALK® which will be podcast on January 14th so be sure to sign up at www.DogTalkTheRadioShow.com to hear the answer. My guest on the show is cat behavior consultant Jackson Galaxy, who also owns Spirit Essences. The short answer is that you need a way to send your Curious Kitty a reminder 24/7 that getting on the counter is a No-No.

To do this you might try a product like SSScat, which is a compressed air device with an electric eye. Be sure to turn it on whenever you are not in the kitchen and the harmless blast of air will convince your kitty to stay off the counter.

There are other products like this – Critter Gitter is another – but you basically want to throw away that squirt bottle if you have been following the mistaken advice to spray your cat, which only teaches your cat to hate the water bottle and fear you! Good luck

Question by Rajnish: Does my cat understand what I speak to him or he picks on my tone and gestures? I ask him to “come sit here” and 90% of time he does. At other times he goes like humans “hmmmnn” as if he contemplates on what I said. Of course then there are times when I talk to him he will just keep looking at me and then fall asleep in my lap. I wish I could understand his language but sometimes I am totally baffled as to what he wants.

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Tracie: Hi Rajnish – Like all cats, yours wants to keep you wrapped around his little paw! Of course he can understand what you are saying – cats are very clever at hearing a tone of voice and body language or signals. As you describe yourself, it’s not a question of comprehension, it’s a matter of willingness. The fact that you are not sure what he wants means that you have made his day! Keeping you guessing and off-balance means you are eating out of his little paw, which is just how he likes it.

Question by Dawn: How did get my 70lb 1 yr old puppy to stop play biting? She doesn’t seem to get I am not her 80lb. litter mate!

Tracie: Hi Dawn- I think you have a misconception that many people have which is that there is ever a time or age when it is okay for a dog to put her teeth on you: WRONG! There is no such thing as “play biting” except between dogs, who have an even advantage as they each have a very big set of teeth!

Your year old dog is not technically a puppy anymore, but starting when she was an 8 week old puppy she should have been taught that placing her teeth on human flesh was off limits. You needed to do what another dog – starting with her mother and litter mates – would have done: squealed or yelped when they were bitten and then stopped playing immediately. This is exactly what you need to do now: make a loud startled noise when she puts her teeth on you and stand up and walk away. Ignore her completely.

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The message is that when her mouth touches your skin, all fun stops immediately. At this point when you have let this go on for so long, you need to be 100% consistent in never accepting teeth on your skin again. In addition, I would get a lot of stuffed dog toys (the fuzzy bones are a good size and shape) and keep them all over the house. When she starts to bite you, put the soft toy in her mouth instead and praise her for taking the toy, giving her a way to safely express her mouthiness.

Question by Andy: Heres one for ya. I have a 15 month old American Bulldog. He gets uneasy around new people. He has never bitten anybody but comes real close. He can’t be trusted when my young sons has friends around. It seems to be more of a fear thing than an aggresive thing. We have had him since he was 3 months old and have done nothing to harm him. I almost think he is being over protective of me. He seems to only act this way when I’m around
Tracie: Andy- You have a very very serious problem and need to get professional help ASAP. The signals you are picking up of the dog’s discomfort – and overt signs of aggression like “coming real close” to biting – are HUGE flashing danger signs. No dog should ever display his teeth or any “pre biting” behavior. You can be certain that this dog is at a tipping point and somebody is going to get bitten – you must protect yourselves and everyone who comes in contact with the dog from this possibility.

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You need to find an experienced trainer – who uses positive methods, not any fear-based or force-based styles of management – and have the dog evaluated by a professional. Please take a look at THE DOG BIBLE so you can better understand what is going on with your dog’s behavior – and how easily things can go out of control and end with a tragedy. Your suggestion that this is “fear” not “aggression” tells me that you need to learn some more about dog behavior (my book condenses many topics into easy to follow ideas).

A large amount of aggression and attacks by dogs are fear-based – from dogs who have not been exposed to enough different people and situations and bite out of fear and feeling overwhelmed. If what you have is a purebred American Bulldog that you got from a breeder(?) then you should have been told or researched that this breed has an especially strong need to be socialized to all sorts of people and situations from a very early age.

This breed also needs to be trained with a firm attitude, you need to set and maintain boundaries for the dog. The fact that the dog behaves like this only when you are around is something a good trainer can observe and reach conclusions about – if the aggression is about being protective, then the dog needs to be immediately re-educated about what his “job” is and taught that no aggressive controlling behavior will be tolerated.

For more information about Tracie, visit http://www.traciehotchner.com.

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