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Pets: Chihauhua growls and snaps

Q: My Chihuahua growls constantly at my boyfriend, even snapping at times. My boyfriend does give him treats, or tries to, but the dog is scared. My dog seems to respond this way to all males. How can I get him to stop?

– N.S., Cyberspace

A: “Put yourself in your dog’s position – a vulnerable small dog and big boyfriend; it’s intimidating,” says Dr. Michael Paul, who resides in Anguilla.

Perhaps, your dog wasn’t socialized to men at a young age, or for whatever reason, is afraid of dudes. You certainly have the right idea as far as your boyfriend offering the dog treats. However, the problem may lie in the way he does this. Imagine what seems like a 30-foot giant with a scary voice (how your boyfriend may appear to your dog) coming up to you with $100. You might run and hide, despite the lure of the cash. But what if he left a few bills around for you to pick up, then walked away? That’s a different story.

Whenever your boyfriend arrives, have him toss small tidbits of hot dog, low-salt cold cuts or cheese to your dog, then simply walk away. Also, have him deliver your dog’s meals, then walk off. When he leaves, the perceived threat disappears.

“On walks, have your boyfriend take the leash sometimes,” Paul suggests. “Over time, your dog will feel more comfortable.” Indeed, walking is a bonding experience.

When your boyfriend watches television or reads at your home, have him sit on the floor, which is less threatening than standing. Then allow your dog to make the call, and visit with your friend only if and when he desires. If this doesn’t pan out, contact a veterinary behaviorist (www.dacvb.org), a veterinarian with a special interest in behavior (www.avsab.net) or a certified dog behavior consultant (www.iaabc.org).

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Q: My cat is moody. Since we adopted him, we’ve had a problem with him biting to show his displeasure and annoyance, particularly toward me. He gets so vicious sometimes that I have to lock myself in the bedroom until he calms down. We hope to have children soon, so we’re concerned. Any advice?

– D.A., Palatine, Ill.

A: Dr. Vicki Thayer, executive director of the nonprofit Winn Feline Foundation (which funds cat health studies), says that first, it’s important to determine what’s going on with your cat, starting with a veterinary visit to rule out a medical explanation. If your cat is in pain, from a gastrointestinal or dental issue, for example, this might explain his behavior. Due to the extreme nature of the cat’s response, the problem could conceivably be redirected aggression or feline hyperesthesia syndrome.

Thayer, of Lebanon, Ore., suggests keeping a log of where and when these attacks occur, and exactly what’s going on at the time. For example, did you just return home? Is your cat looking out the window just before attacks occur? If possible, videotape an attack, if only with your phone, and play it back for your veterinarian.

Feline hyperesthesia is a little-understood syndrome. A cat’s skin ripples, the cat vocalizes, and then it often attacks. This syndrome could be partly neurological and might involve a dermatological issue.

Usually, medication is required, as well as behavior modification, which may mean petting the cat less and offering rewards for calm behavior.

Other steps include enriching the cat’s environment (such as adding more places to climb and food puzzles that dispense treats), and lowering the anxiety level with Feliway (a copy of a calming pheromonep to relax anxious cats), Thayer says.

If the problem is redirected aggression, it could be your cat is seeing something outside or smelling something on you, then directing his aggression at you. If redirected aggression is diagnosed, your veterinarian could suggest behavior modification, as well as using tools such as Feliway (a copy of a calming pheromone), and perhaps psycho-pharmacological intervention, as well.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Send email to petworld@stevedale.tv. Include your name, city and state.