2001-08-04 / Columnists

Paws For A Moment by Noreen Connolly-Skammel

Paws For A Moment by Noreen Connolly-Skammel

My husband and I are expecting our first child and we have a three-year-old Lab mix. What can we do to prepare him for the new arrival?

First, let me applaud you for being such great pet owners! Unfortunately a lot of people do not get their pets ready for major lifestyle changes like the birth of a baby or a move. These changes affect our pets and when not given the chance to prepare and adapt they may sometimes develop behavioral problems.

Now you didn’t mention when you are expecting your baby but the sooner you start preparing your dog, the better. First of all you can get him used to the sounds and smell of a baby by randomly playing a tape with the sound of a baby crying on it and by wearing baby powder and lotions around the house. You can also get a soiled baby diaper every now and again for him to sniff! (I know it sounds crazy, but if you know anyone who has a baby, hit him or her up for a dirty diaper and a tape of their baby crying!) Dogs have very keen senses of hearing and smell and you don’t want your pet to be bombarded with all these new things when your baby comes home from the hospital. Also, each baby has their own specific scent so when your baby is born bring home one of their dirty diapers and a receiving blanket they used in the hospital, to "introduce" your dog to the new arrival. This should be done before you and your baby come home.

You should also set up the baby furniture or any gear that will be around such as a swing or toys in advance. This will give your dog a chance to get used to these new items and it will give you time to correct any bad behaviors. Your dog should not be allowed to chew any baby toys so now is the time to correct him if he does and so that he doesn’t become confused, make dog toys different from baby toys. You can’t expect your dog to discriminate between a baby’s plastic squeaky toy and his. Your dog should also never be allowed to put his paws up on the baby gear such as the bassinette, carriage or swing. This is dangerous because these things could tip over but also from a dog behavior point of view this could be seen as a sign of dominance. Your dog should understand its order in the "pack" and have a healthy respect for you and your baby; at no time should your dog be allowed to show dominance over the baby.

Finally, any boundaries that are going to be set up due to the baby’s arrival should be done now so that the dog doesn’t associate the changes with the baby. If you choose to limit the dogs access to certain areas of the house, such as the bedrooms, just do it in advance. Don’t wait for the baby to arrive to make all these changes or your dog will associate the restrictions with the baby and become resentful or jealous. With a little bit of time and effort your pet and your child can learn to coexist peacefully! Congratulations and Good Luck!

My male cat keeps peeing out of the litter box. His body is in the box but the spray of urine goes on the wall and the floor around the box. What can I do?

Well there are two ways to look at this problem; it’s either a simple accident of your cat misjudging and peeing out of the box, which requires an easy "quick" fix, or it could be more complicated, the male behavior of spraying and marking their territory which is much harder to correct.

First, if it’s simply an accident I recommend buying him a bigger litter box with a lid on top and this should fix the problem. Also try and keep the litter box nice and clean because most cats are fussy and will stop using a dirty box (which means they will start using your carpet or planters instead!) Now, if your cat is intentionally "marking" the area around his litter box there are several things you can do.

First of all if your cat is not already fixed you might want to consider doing so because it could help alleviate the problem (as well as keep the unwanted pet population down) Also make sure you thoroughly clean the area he has been marking and use a neutralizing product such as Natures Miracle to remove all traces of urine. Then as I stated above get a bigger litter box with a lid. Your cat may still "spray" his urine but it should stay contained inside the box. If any urine does leak from the cracks then you can tape a plastic liner on the inside walls of the box to seal it up. Keep in mind though that you will have to change the plastic liner frequently as the litter in order to keep the odor under control. Now, what if you do all this and you find your cat is still marking around the outside of the box or in a new area? Well if the behavior is specific to the spot where the litter box is, then you can move the box somewhere else, keeping it clean and freshly lined so as not to create another urine problem. In the problem spot, where the litter box used to be, you should place the cats food (of course clean and neutralize the area first) this will help to extinguish the problem because it’s an animals instinct not to relieve themselves where they eat. If your cat simply moves his "marking" behavior to a new spot then you truly have a problem, your cat has developed a bad habit that is not easy to fix. You may want to rearrange furniture and different objects to block the cat from areas he likes to pee. Of course, you run the risk that he may choose to pee on the objects. If you’ve tried everything and nothing is working, my last suggestion would be to take your cat to the vet to make sure it’s not a medical problem that’s causing this behavior. I never support euthanizing a pet as a way to solve behavioral problems. So keep in mind there are people who have safe outside areas for pets to roam, if not you, maybe you can find an adoptive family who will take good care of your pet! Good Luck!

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