By STEVE DALE
Tribune Media Services
Q: I live on a quiet residential street and several neighbors -- people I'm not close with -- walk their dogs near my home. Lately, most of these pets have been pausing at my mailbox to relieve themselves. Their urine is discoloring the lawn and probably damaging my mailbox post. Is there something I can spray on the lawn to prevent it from browning? Also, is there anything I can do to discourage the dogs from using my mailbox as a bathroom? -- G.W., Tampa, FL
A: Rebecca Johnson's research on dog-walking demonstrates social capital. "In other words, dogs bring us back to the days of sitting on front porches, when people talked with one another and got to know their neighbors," she says. Johnson, associate professor and director of the Research Center for Human Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, had something similar happen to her, except she was on the other end of the leash.
"This one neighbor I didn't know very well accused my dogs of aiming at his mailbox pole," Johnson recalls. "I graciously pointed out that I have setters (a Gordon Setter and an English Setter) and not pointers. And I have females. He responded by laughing and saying, 'Then it's not your dogs, is it?' And we broke the ice."
Johnson, co-author (with Dr. Phil Zeltzman) of "Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound: How You and Your Dog Can Lose Weight, Stay Fit and Have Fun Together; (Purdue University Press, Lafayette IN, 2011; $16.95) suggests taking dog biscuits to engage your neighbors and their dogs in a friendly manner.
Meanwhile, you could wrap something around the mailbox post to protect it; check out the possibilities at a home improvement store. As for the lawn, there's only one magic potion. Within a few minutes after a dog piddles, pour water over the spot to dilute the urine. Since this is not a very practical solution, a better idea might be to create a rock garden around the pole (assuming this is the only place the dogs are piddling). If they're using other places on the lawn, those dog owners are being irresponsible and not very neighborly. Perhaps, if you are neighborly, they'll respond in kind and better control their pets.
Q: We have a good-natured, affectionate 16-year-old cat who has a habit of howling in the morning when we first get up. Food, drink, treats and brushing will pacify her for a moment, but then she goes back to howling. We give her breakfast, and she howls some more. Do you have any idea what could be causing this behavior, or what we should do to get some peace and quiet? -- A.K., Cyberspace
A: In a 16-year-old cat, Dr. Vicki Thayer, president of the Winn Feline Foundation, says what comes to mind first are potential physical problems. One or a combination of the following is sometimes associated with overnight or early morning howling, particularly in older cats: high blood pressure, hyperthyroid disease, kidney disease, or abdominal pain.
Elderly cats may also suffer from Feline Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (FCDS). If your cat has one or more of the following symptoms, it increases the odds that she suffers from this feline version of Alzheimer's: disorientation (forgetting where the litter box is, or walking into a room and seemingly forgetting why); a change in interactions and associations with people and/or other pets in the home; having accidents outside the litter box; or acting lethargic beyond what seems 'normal' for a 16-year-old cat.
Cats may also howl in conjunction with a hearing loss, just as people with a similar loss tend to speak loudly. Sometimes it may be difficult to discern where a slight hearing loss ends and FCDS begins. Thayer, of Lebanon, OR, says to help determine all of this, visit your veterinarian.
If your veterinarian rules out all these possibilities, consider the real possibility that your cat might has trained you. For whatever reason, one day your cat woke up early and cried out. You responded with what your pet desires most: attention. "And this cycle might have escalated over time," Thayer says.
Q: Hopscotch, my 8-month-old Australian Shepherd, has been a wonderfully smart puppy, and she's very responsive. She really enjoys playing with the children, but one day, out of the blue, she began nipping at their heels. Hopscotch is getting big and the kids are only 7 to 8 years old, so she intimidates them. I realize she's only doing what comes natural. What should I do? -- B J., San Diego, CA
A: Dog behavior consultant Liz Palika, of Oceanside, CA, has lived with Australian Shepherds for decades. Regarding your situation, she notes that at 8 months, "that's the dog age for Aussies to be like pre-teenage children; many will challenge (authority). Also, the dog may not understand the kids aren't having fun, or even care, as long as she's having fun. And it's true, (herding) is what Australian Shepherds were bred to do."
Palika, author of "Puppy Love" (Wiley, John and Sons, Inc., 2009; $16.90), suggests taking Hotscotch -- and your entire family -- to a fun and upbeat puppy class. "The idea is for the dog to learn to listen to all members of the family."
Over time, as Hopscotch matures, she'll learn through training not to chase running children. However, for now, the best way to prevent the behavior is to tell your kids not to run when Hopscotch is nearby. I know this is easier said than done. But think about it; right now, you can't control the dog. Hopefully, you do have some control over your kids. The children can teach Hopscotch to "herd" a Frisbee disc or play another game aside from chase.
Steve Dale's new ebooks, "Good Dog!" and "Good Cat!" are now available on all major eReader devices and platforms. The basic version of each book is $2.99. An enhanced version of "Good Dog!" with embedded videos is available at iTunes for $4.99. For details, check the "Good Dog!"Facebook page. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com
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