We recently purchased a one-and-a-half-year-old Bichon Frise from a show dog breeder that we have used before. His name is Pip, and he is the most loving, compassionate dog you could meet and loves everyone but our daughter Megan who is 57 and lives with us.
If Pip hears Megan come out of her bedroom, he starts to growl even if he is downstairs. Pip also continues to bark and growl when Megan enters the room my husband and I are in. This behavior started when we brought him home and he saw Megan.
But Pip does not attack Megan – he backs away when she comes within five feet of him – growling all the time. The only exception is after we have finished eating, Pip comes to the table and sits on my lap, and Megan puts a tiny piece of food on the tip of her finger. Pip cautiously moves his head toward her, takes the food, and quickly pulls back.
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Megan has tried giving Pip his favorite treats, but Pip backs away and growls. Pip is skittish and startles easily at any unexpected noise or movement but does not growl and settles right down. Could it be that he was traumatized by someone that reminded him of Megan? The breeder says she was never traumatized. Any suggestions?
— Betty, East Northport, New York
A dog's memory can be triggered by a smell, an experience, or a person, just like it happens with people. Even without these experiences, though, dogs can develop a dislike for someone or something without a logical reason. A good example is dogs who are afraid of people wearing hats. Some people think the dog must have been abused by someone wearing a hat, but they may fear the hat because it's different.
I don't think this behavior is solely for Megan, though. Your dog sounds fearful of new things, and adjusting to changes may take longer than the average dog. Having Megan toss treats his way is a great idea, but let's go even further.
Can you turn over all caretaking (feeding and walking duties, etc.) to Megan for the next few weeks?
During this time, she should reward him with praise or treats when he appears relaxed around her and ignore his negative behavior. And can you let her train him with a few basic commands a few times daily? These activities will help him learn he can count on her, solidifying their bond.
It will take time, but with a little planned togetherness, he should begin to accept her as part of his pack.
I need some direction regarding the five feral cats I have been caring for now for almost 10 years. The cats know me, and I feed them twice daily. They stay in my backyard for the most part. I have rarely seen one of them in my front yard. I cannot pick them up, but they do not run away from me. My neighbor will feed them if I am away. They are all neutered.
Now, the problem. We need to move to Florida and into a condo due to my husband's failing health. I am sick over what to do with these cats. Do you have any suggestions? Is there somewhere they can be relocated to?
— Deborah, Long Island, New York
There are few remedies for what to do with community cats when a cat colony feeder must move away, especially when they are being fed in the caretaker's yard.
You can call local shelters or feral cat groups to see if they have any relocation programs in your area. It’s not likely, but worth the ask.
You could trap them and take them with you. While not highly recommended by feral cat groups, many people have successfully done it, especially when the felines have been fed so close to the caretaker's home. Sadly, this won't work for you because you won't have a yard in Florida, and your new neighbors might not be happy about seeing these new cats wandering around their property.
Your best solution is to find someone to feed the cats. That could be a volunteer from a local feral cat group or animal shelter, or a friend or neighbor who cares as deeply as you. Because the cats have been fed in the backyard, you also could talk to the new people moving into your house to see how they feel about taking over feeding the cats.
If the cats are fixed and kept fed, they won't be a nuisance to the neighborhood.
(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.)