Q: We have a male rescue cat that we got when he was 12 weeks old. He is now almost 2. He seems to be more attached to me than anyone else, following me around the house and often sitting near or on me. He can be very sweet one minute, sitting on my lap as I scratch his head and neck. He’ll be purring away and then suddenly turn on me and start biting my feet. If I’m lying down he will come over and start biting my feet for no reason that I know of. Another thing he does is randomly attack me or my son while we’re walking around, biting and scratching our ankles and lower legs. I am covered with scratches. He doesn’t do this to my husband or my other son. I thought maybe this was his way of being playful, but he really seems angry and ferocious when he does this.
A: Some people would say that your cat may have been isolated from other cats at too early an age and is regarding you as a play toy, but that does not seem to be the case here. You got him at 12 weeks and he does not lash out like this to all the other members of your family. To me, it seems like some cats just come up with these weird games to amuse themselves. At any rate I can offer these suggestions:
First, do not allow him to become overly stimulated when you are petting him. It seems that some cats go into a kind of “red zone” when you pet them with a lot of pressure at the end of the spine or around the glands on the chin. When he chooses to sit next to you on the couch, pet him a couple of times and then stay calm around him with as little stimulation as possible. If he pushes the issue and starts to rub himself against you, get up off the couch and walk away.
For his ambush attacks, you have to try a different approach. Go to the dollar store and buy a great many plastic misting bottles. Fill them up with water and leave them all over the house so that one is always at arm’s length. When he is rushing toward you or your son to slash at you, grab a mister and spray the water at him in as calm a manner as possible. You do not want him to think that you are doing this as a punishment in response to his behavior. Cats do not react well to punishment. You just want him to think that when he decides to scratch you, all this water rains down on him, seemingly out of nowhere. That makes the situation less entertaining for him. When he realizes that scratching at your legs is no longer fun, he likely will choose to stop doing it of his own accord.
Q: We have three toy poodles, and every time our doorbell rings, all three rush to the door, barking hysterically. We have to pick them all up before we can open the door. We had a professional trainer come in to show us what to do, but he could not do anything and we are at our wits’ end.
A: This is not an easy problem to solve in a house of multiple dogs. With one dog that does this, all you need to do is stand in front of the door and block the dog’s way until the dog calms down and sits – then you open the door. Obviously this is not possible with a pack of them as there is too much happening at one time.
There was a time when I had eight dogs. As the pack grew, the drama that occurred when the doorbell rang increased. Guests who looked in the window at the pack could not believe their eyes; the dogs ranged from my big dog Garfield, who looked like a cross between a German shepherd and a donkey, down to little Dixie the dachshund, who actually had the loudest bark. I finally solved the problem by keeping a candy jar full of dog treats by the front door. When the doorbell rang and the pack sprang into action, I would grab a handful of treats and throw them to the other side of the room. Then, of course, they would all rush there and start to snuffle about and vacuum them up while I quickly let my guests in.
I did this as just a temporary fix, but soon the dogs figured out that the doorbell ringing meant that treats were going to appear on the other side of the living room and that the first dog there would get the most treats. So the whole pack would run to that spot in the room as soon as the bell rang and would wait there until I threw the treats at them. They no longer focused on the door at all.
That situation taught me how, with positive reinforcement, you could teach an animal to do just about anything you want, and my whole life got a lot easier. However, this method does not work with all dogs, as some dogs have a higher drive for food than others. Toy poodles can be fussy eaters and may prefer barking at the door rather than sniffing around the carpet for dog treats.
So try this: Keep a spray bottle full of water by the door and spray at the dogs while they are barking. This may be just the thing to distract them.