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Pet Health
Behaviour Advice from Vanessa Amey

<Back to behaviour advice

Getting our attention

This information is to be used as guidelines only. Decisions made about the future of any pet should be based on a professional assessment and a course of treatment that is personalised for the pet's individual situation.

My poodle is a bruiser

I have a 20 month old standard poodle. He is a lovely dog but appears to have a nasty streak in him. I also have a small jack Russell bitch and a male Chihuahua, I understand about pack behaviour and that Hugo the poodle is stamping his dominance on the pack. The smaller dogs are no threat to him: they are both 8 years old. However he just attacks them for no reason, and takes some pulling off them. It is not food orientated or attention seeking. When Hugo attacks the others I place him in a dog cage whilst I check over the others. To date he has not harmed them but being such a large dog it is only a matter of time and he is getting difficult to control. He has been trained to sit stay wait etc but no matter how much one to one attention I give him or no matter what I try nothing works. I really need some help. I love him to bits but have ms and am finding him difficult.

Hugo does sound as though he has a big problem. Personally, though, I wouldn't say it was dominance. His behaviour could be attributed to several different causes. Hugo may have a health problem, for example low thyroid levels can cause aggression as can pain. Hugo may be feeling scared of your other dogs and to make them move away he aggresses; or it may be his diet isn't quite right for him. A recent study showed links between high protein diets and aggression. For safetys sake I suggest Hugo is seen by his vet for a thorough check up. Once this has been done ask for a referral to a behaviourist for a full assessment. Then hopefully you will be able to modify his behaviour.

Deaf cat doesn't hear glass breaking

I hope you will be able to give me some advice, as there is not a lot of information available on how to handle a deaf cat. I have a 3-year old white cat with odd-coloured eyes, named Simon, who has been deaf since birth. I adopted him from a stray cat rescue shelter when he was about 9 weeks old, knowing he was deaf. I also had a 6-month old black/white cat, named Sebastian, now 3 1/2 yrs old. They get along very well, almost as if they were littermates.

There were problems of course as Simon grew up. The most difficult thing was to find a way to discipline him for doing 'cat things' like scratching the furniture, or jumping where he is not allowed. I read on a website how someone taught their cat hand signals, and I was successful in doing this with Simon - he is very intelligent! I have 3 hand signals for him - "No" is a forefinger shaken right in front of his eyes, never ever hitting. He recognizes 'the finger' from a distance and most times will reluctantly stop what he's doing. "Come" is getting his attention by stomping the floor or flicking the lights and then rubbing my forefinger and thumb together when I have his attention - works every time. "Down" is the same forefinger pointing at him then down to the floor - usually after a few gestures like this he listens.

I don't know if you have come across many deaf cats in your career, but I've noticed that he has developed some strange habits I've not seen in any other cats I've ever lived with. First, he is more aggressive than any cat I've had. He is very demanding of affection, which he gets, and will often steal the best places to sleep from my other cat, who gives way. The most annoying and possibly destructive habit he has is to knock things off the kitchen table, counter or the coffee table in the living room (his latest trick). Sometimes he does this in play, looking straight at me and probably enjoying my reaction! But lately, he's taken to doing this to get attention - particularly in the very early morning about 2 hrs before the cats' breakfast time, to try and get me out of bed to feed him. I try to ignore the clunks of books, remote controls, pens and pencils, and ruffles of papers falling on the floor as he gets in full 'knocking down mode'. Along with this, he howls the most disconsolate meows like he is the loneliest cat in the world - this is much more difficult to ignore. As a rule, I do not get out of bed (give in) unless I hear a crash/tinkle which means he's broken something and I'd better clean it up before he hurts himself. He's broken a couple of things over the past year, but usually he sticks to books, pens, papers and the remote controls from the tv/stereo.

I really have no idea how to help him break this habit, as if I get out of bed intending discipline him, he runs to see me, leaving the scene of the crime, meowing so happily that I'm up it seems redundant then to give him 'the finger' - would he even understand? It's like I'm giving in to his trick, and he'll only try it again knowing it was successful. When I don't get out of bed, he continues knocking things off until there is nothing left - I believe I can only make the house so cat proof. Also, I'm concerned if I leave nothing on the coffee table for him to knock down, he'll resort to items on the bookcase which are breakable. Please help! I love my cat dearly and would never consider giving him away - I need to work this out somehow so I can get a full night's sleep knowing I won't hear that dreaded crash/tinkle, and Simon either waits for the 6am feeding time or plays a much quieter game!

Simon sounds like a very clever cat who knows exactly want he wants. You obviously have a good relationship with him and hopefully my solution will be well within his capabilities. Initially you will have many broken nights sleep, but if you can persevere you will be able to get a good nights sleep in a few weeks time.

First, you are going to need some equipment, in particular a side lamp and a timerswitch. Timer switches are often sold as burglar deterrents. Your aim is to teach Simon that the light coming on means you will appear. Once he has made this association you can start adjusting the times the light comes on. For this to be effective you cannot use the lamp at any other time or it will confuse things for Simon. Set the timer on the lamp to come on a couple of minutes before the time he usually starts his attention seeking behaviour. You will need to get up at the same time as the lamp coming on. Go tho the room, let Simon see you but do not acknowledge him. Turn off the lamp and return to bed.

Over the weeks delay the time the lamp comes on. Progress slowly, just a few minutes every 2/3 days. If at any time he miaows you are going too fast for him. Set the timer back to come on at a time when he didn't miaow or cause havoc. Stay with this time for a few days then trying moving forward again.

Over the weeks you will reach a point in time where the lamp comes on at the time you want to get up and Simon should have relearnt his waking pattern. It is quite common for cats to wake in the early hours of the morning, as this is when they are programmed to be out searching for food. You could try leaving dry food down for him to graze as he likes or buy an automatic feeder that can be set to open for him at a time before he starts attention seeking. This method is hard work but can be very effective, so it is worth following for the long term result.

With regard to his attention seeking during the day you will have to ignore him completely, no eye contact or touching. That is the most effective way to extinguish a behaviour. Simon will try harder to get a response from you as it has worked for him in the past. But as long as you continue to ignore him he will realise eventually that his efforts are pointless and change his behaviour as a consequence.

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