I know you're a proponent of people providing food and shelter to feral cats. However, feral cats don’t leave their waste where they feed and shelter. This creates a problem for neighbors facing the smell, damage, and cost of cleaning up after the feral cats that deposit their excrement on their property.
I have suffered greatly from a neighbor who refused to stop feeding feral cats. The result is a $10,000 bill to replace the pool liner that started leaking after pumping out the water to remove a layer of cat excrement on the bottom of the pool. The pool cover smells, cannot be cleaned and must be replaced. My pool remains out of service until repaired. All thanks to my neighbor. I agree with spaying, but that does not solve the immediate problem. What can I do?
— Steven, Dix Hills, New York
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If your neighbor was not feeding these community cats, they would still likely be in your neighborhood looking for food and perhaps be even more of a nuisance as a result. Of course, I am sorry to hear about your pool cover, so let's explore some humane ways to keep these community cats out of your yard so this doesn't happen again.
Cats don't like the scent of certain household items. So, you can place citrus peels, coffee grounds, eucalyptus, or even cayenne pepper along your fence line or around the edge of your pool deck to deter these felines. You can use scat mats or chicken wire fencing on the ground around the pool deck to make it uncomfortable for them to walk across.
You also can purchase motion-detection sprinklers or an ultra-sonic cat deterrent device that emits a flashing light, an audible sound, or an ultrasonic sound only animals can hear, depending on the setting. These devices are motion-triggered, which startles animals and makes them run away. (It’s important to turn off these devices when you and your pets are in the yard and place them in a way so as not to disturb your neighbor’s pets.)
I remember a column you had a couple of months back about a dog that barked when in the house. Your suggestion was to teach the dog to stop barking on command. You had a training instruction that I thought would be great for my son's dogs. Unfortunately, I did not save that column. When I tried to find it online, I could not locate it. I even went to the library to see if I could find it in the back issues, but no luck. I and my son and his dogs would be very grateful if you could help us find that column.
— Mary, Chesapeake, Virginia
The number one question I get about dogs is how to curb their barking, so I don't mind addressing it every now and again for you, your son, and my other readers. You can't teach a dog to not bark. “Alerting” is what they do, but you can reduce the amount of time your dog spends barking and redirect him to do something else.
Using a clicker or marker/reward work like "bingo", begin by teaching the dog what the clicker or marker word means. Every time your son says his dog’s name and the dog makes eye contact with him, he should click or say the marker word to mark the desired behavior and then give his dog a treat. Once the dog understands what the clicker or marker word means, your son can begin training him to stop barking.
When the dog barks, he should say "ssshht," shake a can of coins, or introduce any other noisemaker to interrupt the behavior. The dog should stop barking, but only for a few seconds. That's when your son needs to call the dog to him as enthusiastically as possible, so the dog thinks something more interesting is happening on the other side of the room.
If the dog comes when called, he needs to mark that response with a clicker or marker word and give the dog a treat. If the dog doesn't stop barking, he needs to put a leash on the dog and walk him to the other side of the room. He then needs to ask the dog to sit, so he can click and treat.
Then, your son should introduce the dog to a puzzle or chew toy to keep him distracted from barking. Over time, the dog should learn to stop barking and go to your son, when called.
(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)