Get pet-behavior, health and legal advice from our FurKeeps kickoff

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furkeeps, fur keeps

Since 1995, Petfinder.com has found homes for approximately 15 million animals. Unfortunately, many adopted pets end up right back where they started, in shelters.

In an effort to decrease the number of surrendered pets across the country, on March 8 we launched FurKeeps, a first-of-its-kind initiative designed to arm potential pet parents with the information they should consider before adopting, as well as the resources they need to ensure the adoption lasts a lifetime.

The program kicked off with a week-long “Ask the Experts” campaign during which current and potential pet parents chatted with certified pet trainers, veterinarians, behavioral specialists and legal experts on our message boards and Facebook page.

The turnout was even better than expected! Over the course of seven days, more than 200 questions were answered by our experts and over 7,000 pet lovers read their advice.

Since a wealth of important information was shared during the launch week, we wanted to highlight some of the best questions received and expert advice shared for those who are still in need of a little help when it comes to taking care of their furry friends! (Soon you’ll be able to find all the Q&As in our library.)


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Toy-Obsessed Pit Bull
I have a Pit Bull mix (male, neutered, about 1.5-2yrs) whom I got from a
rescue last month, and he is very toy obsessive. He isn’t aggressive
about it at all. The issue is, if he sees you are holding his toy and
not paying attention he will try to grab it from you. Also, if he sees
you have put it on the table/counter he will go nuts trying to get at it
(again, no real aggression issues, no growling or trying to bite). If
we are on a walk and he sees someone bouncing a ball or a toy left lying
around he goes nuts trying to get it. He will walk away from toys once
he is done with them but if he sees you picking it up he tries to rush
over to grab it. He is otherwise very good and pretty mellow, but the
toy thing is an issue. What can be done to help ease him out of it?


Pia Silvani, C.P.D.T. and director of training and behavior at St.
Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, NJ, writes:

I love dogs who love to play. Yet, you are right: They need to exhibit
self-control. Obviously, your little man thinks toys are better than
t-bone steaks. And, perhaps for him, they are. Many rescue dogs have
never had toys, and now that they have the luxury of having really cool
owners giving them lots of toys, they are in heaven and become concerned
that the toys may be taken away.

First: Teach the rules of tug. Get a large fleece snake-like toy. Tell
your dog to sit. Calmly tease him with the toy. If he jumps for it,
quickly turn your back and remind him to sit. When he remains seated,
hold the toy out and say “take it.” Tug with him without bringing his
nose above his head. After a short while, calmly take hold of his collar
and stop tugging. Hold the collar so he cannot back up or continue to
tug. Wait him out. Once he opens his mouth, say “give.” Then start the
game again. If he accidentally grabs body parts or clothing, the game is
over. Put the toy away.

Second: Try leaving play toys outside and chew toys inside. Leave the
toys in a closed plastic container. You control all toys, not the dogs.
You start playtime and you end it. Always reward with a treat when the
game is over.

Lastly, when you are walking and your dog sees others with toys, make
sure you have a toy with you on the walk. Tell him to sit and reward him
with YOUR toy. Good luck and have fun!

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Socializing a Dog-Aggressive Dog
How do I socialize a dog who has shown aggression towards other dogs without risking her hurting another dog or me being embarrassed in public? Also, how do I safely determine if she behaves well around kids?

Elizabeth Marsden, C.P.D.T., co-founder of MissionDog.com and a behaviorist at Washington Animal Rescue League in Washington, DC, writes:

Aggression is serious business, and I strongly urge you to find a qualified trainer who can help you in person. The best place to find someone qualified is by visiting www.ccpdt.org — this is the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. I can say definitely do not use any form of punishment for this problem because aggression met with aggression causes MORE aggression. A good trainer will take a careful and involved history and meet with you for at least two hours to be able to diagnose the problem and begin to treat it.

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Landlords and Pit Bulls
I was wondering if you had any advice on talking to a landlord who may be skeptical about allowing Pit Bulls?

Elise “Ledy” Van Kavage, Esq., senior legislative attorney for Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, UT, writes:

The site www.badrap.org has some great information about dealing with landlords and Pit Bull-type dogs. We also have some resources on the Best Friends Network’s site’s First Home-Forever Home campaign.
You will need to convince the landlord that you are responsible. Take your obedience-trained dog with you to meet the landlord. Make sure your dog is sterilized. It helps if he’s got his Canine Good Citizen certification. Good luck.

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Feces-Eating Dog
Although the behavior has decreased a bit, my Beagle mix occasionally pulls toward and eats feces of other dogs (at the dog park, usually). Can this behavior be stopped completely, or is the moderate improvement that we got through informal training the best we can expect?

Jacque Schultz, MA C.P.D.T., senior director of community initiatives at the ASPCA in New York City, writes:

Coprophagia (stool eating) is a common behavior in animals. The one thing to remember when looking at behavior issues is Thorndyke’s Law of Effect, which says, “Behavior that is rewarded will increase in frequency.” Stool-eating is a very rewarding behavior, so it is very hard to break. A few dogs engage in the behavior because they have a dietary deficiency or had negative experiences during housetraining. But most do it because, to them, it tastes good.

If you can produce something tastier than poop to lure your dog away from the feces, you might stand a chance of getting better compliance. However, every time you slip up and he gets the poop, he is rewarded for his behavior yet again. It’s why I tell folks with cat box “snackers” to just manage the situation by putting the box where the dog can’t get to it. Training to not eat cat feces for those who like it is very difficult.

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Cats Who Hate Each Other
Any help you can provide with two cats who don’t get along that I could pass along to a friend of mine? They growl and hiss at each other but very rarely swat or fight. One of them is blind so that could be part of the problem. It’s been about a year or more now since they’ve been living together but they hate to be in the same room together. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Jacque Schultz, MA C.P.D.T., senior director of community initiatives at the ASPCA in New York City, writes:

That may be as close as those two cats ever get. Cats are not pack animals. For them, territory is the thing. They like their space and may feel comfortable letting certain individuals into their space, but not others. I had two females who got on well as kittens, but at six months of age decided they didn’t like each other. If one got too close there would be hissing and a swat. They went on this way for 17 years until one of them died.

Studies have shown that time is the best facilitator for cats getting along. As long as no one is getting harmed and neither is so stressed that they are injuring themselves, I’d let it be. Don’t respond to the noise for you’ll only ratchet up the stress factor. You could always try rewarding the good behavior when they are near each other and not responding in a negative manner.

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Yapping at the Door, Submissive Urination
My Pomeranian yaps uncontrollably when someone is at the door. This is the only time she is yappy. She is also a nervous piddler. It seems we have tried everything. She even does it when we are praising her or giving her treats. Our vet says there are no medical issues.

Pia Silvani, C.P.D.T. and director of training and behavior at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, NJ, writes:

Regarding your Pom’s excitement/submissive urination, be sure to never correct her for it. Not that I think you are, but sometimes people become frustrated by it. Keep your praise calm and avoid petting her during those times since she cannot handle it. Instead, have her sit and reward her with a treat. It is difficult for a dog to piddle and sit at the same time.

Regarding barking at the door, you need to teach the dog how to be quiet. You can do this by training her with a clicker (or a YES marker word). Ring the bell. Allow her to bark. Wait for silence and then click or say YES and give a treat. Keep doing this. Your dog will eventually figure out that when she silences herself, she will get a reward. Once you have the behavior, add the word just prior to her being silent. This can take some time. How do you know when to stop giving treats? When the dog hears the bell, barks once or twice then looks to you for a treat. Then you can start randomly rewarding the dog and, eventually, give nothing. Good luck!

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Introducing a New Dog
I’m interested in adopting another dog soon. But I am worried that the current dog we have will not accept having a companion in the same house. What’s the best way to introduce him to a new companion/playmate?

Jacque Schultz, MA C.P.D.T., senior director of community initiatives at the ASPCA in New York City, writes:

When considering a second dog, take your cues from who your dog likes to play with currently. If he enjoys the dog run or day care center and loves playing with retrievers or bully breeds or small dogs, think about getting one like that. Find one whose play style is similar to your dog’s. Since each dog is an individual — some more bossy, some more demure — it is wise to let him screen your choices before you commit. Many shelters/rescues want the dogs to meet on their turf so they can see if it’s a good match.

The best place to meet is on neutral ground. An outside play area at the shelter can be good, or a large room — perhaps a training space. Can the dogs go for a walk together? If things look good, can they try playing off leash? Some dogs act more aggressively on leash when meeting a new dog. However, safety does have to be a consideration.

You want to watch your dog. Is he interested in the other dog or is he straining to get away or hide behind you? Has he flattened himself to the ground and is he frozen in fear? Is he refusing to make eye contact with the other dog? Or is the reverse happening: Is he hard-staring the other dog? Is your dog standing on tippy-toe, throwing his head boldly over the other dog’s shoulder area, trying to send the message that he’s in control? Ideally, you want to see relaxed body language: maybe a play bow, where the dog lowers his front end giving the other dog the message that everything after this, no matter how it looks or sounds, is all just good fun. A lot of sniffing is to be expected.

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Stopping Cat Scratching
How do I keep a kitty from scratching the furniture? I have a scratching post but he doesn’t seem to like it. Do you have any suggestions?

Dr. Grant Gugisberg, D.V.M., of Parkview Cat Clinic in Mendota Heights, MN, writes:

Scratching is a normal feline behavior. First you have to classify your cat as a “raker” or “plucker.” Pluckers just lift their feet up (and the fabric at the same time). Then with that you can consider the type of scratching items to have. The rope type will not work for rakers!

You then have to deter your cat from the inappropriate sites. You can use foil, double-sided tape (although that collects hair) or my favorite – Feliway, a synthetic pheromone for cats. It comes in a pump spray so you can spray the sites you don’t want the cat scratching. So think (1) appropriate scratching items and (2) deterrance at the site.

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Can You Be Sued if Your Dog Bites Someone?
If your dog bites someone, does it mean that you will be sued? What happens if they enter your fenced-in yard uninvited, or if the child was annoying the pet? Is there a list outlining which states try to put a pet down once it has bitten a human?

Elise “Ledy” Van Kavage, Esq., senior legislative attorney for Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, UT, writes:

We live in a society where folks love to litigate. This works to our advantage if we are going after a city for violating our due process right for enacting an unconstitutional dangerous-dog ordinance, but it also means we are responsible for our dog’s behavior.

In some states each dog gets a free bite — but this is changing. In most states the owner is responsible for even the first bite and in Illinois they are even responsible for any proximal damage caused by a dog. So if you come to my door and my dog jumps on the door and breaks the glass and injures you, I’m responsible. You can introduce the fact that the person was trespassing or tormenting the dog into evidence, but many times it will be up to the court to decide.

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Cat with Bad Breath
Smelly cat breath: Is it food or something more? He is only about 3 years old.

Dr. Grant Gugisberg, D.V.M., of Parkview Cat Clinic in Mendota Heights, MN, writes:

Bad breath is usually not food-related. You can have significant gingivitis in a young cat. It is really on the rise. Brushing (good luck!) may help. I love the prescription pet foods formulated for oral care: They have larger kibbles with cross-linked fiber that scrapes the teeth. It is important to have teeth checked annually as cats can also have resorption of their roots and holes visible on their teeth.

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Dog Who Licks Everything
We have a Lab, and he licks everything — the carpet, blankets and especially us. How can I get him to stop licking all the time!?

Elizabeth Marsden, C.P.D.T., co-founder of MissionDog.com and a behaviorist at Washington Animal Rescue League in Washington, DC, writes:

Labs are oral dogs and love to use their mouths. Just think of their mouths as the dog’s hands. So to say “Hi” they naturally lick. Licking can sometimes be a form of obsessive-compulsive behavior, though. If the licking looks compulsive in nature, look at the enrichment and exercise you are providing. Do you give your dog enough to keep him busy every day? Retrieving, getting his food out of Kongs and other toys instead of straight from a bowl — does he have stuff to chew on?

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Cat Who Fears Men
We have a 5-year-old calico cat we adopted from a local shelter (she was at the shelter for nine months) who is very shy and scared. She will come out and socialize with women but will have nothing to do with men. It bothers us that she will run when my husband walks in a room or speaks. If you can shed some light on this issue it would be wonderful. Thanks.

Dr. Grant Gugisberg, D.V.M., of Parkview Cat Clinic in Mendota Heights, MN, writes:

All animals develop social skills throughout their life. It was once thought to be related to a four- to eight-week period, but in fact can occur throughout life. It is all about bonding. Your husband should do all the feeding. Once your cat and your husband are starting to get set, find a treat your kitty likes. Anyone coming though the door gives the cat a treat. Slowly you can win a cat like this over.

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Best Gender Mix When Adopting Two Dogs
I am thinking about getting either new puppies or rescue dogs sometime in the near future. I would like to have two. Is it better to have a girl/girl, boy/boy or girl/boy combination or does it even make a difference?

Elizabeth Marsden, C.P.D.T., co-founder of MissionDog.com and a behaviorist at Washington Animal Rescue League in Washington, DC, writes:

The most successful combo is male/female. The second best is male/male. Two females often spell trouble, but that’s not written in stone. Also, if you adopt two dogs at the same time you will likely have problems — bonding to you problems, dealing with each dog’s training needs at once, etc. It’s best to get one and have him or her settle in. Then, a few months later, get the second. The only exception is if you adopt two dogs who came into the shelter together and are already trained — they’d probably make an okay transition.

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Neutered Dog Still Marks
I have a 7-year-old male Dachshund who is fixed but still marks in the house, especially when we leave. I’m not sure how to fix this problem.

Leigh Siegfried, C.P.D.T. and owner of Opportunity Barks Behavior & Training in Pennsylvania and Virginia, writes:

I think the first place to look is where the marking is happening and why it is happening. In some cases, if a dog is marking in the home, it can be as a way to secure the space. In other cases, the dog may not be totally housetrained (which sounds more like your case).

If he is marking when you are not home, I’d look for ways to manage the marking during that time. If the dog can be crated when you leave, I would crate him. When you are home with your dog, I’d have him under 100% supervision or tethered to a leash that is on you or near you.

I’d recommend working with a behavior consultant to see if this is stress-related on any level (my guess is yes). A consultant can help you create a management program as well as offer practical ways to help alleviate stress.

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Barking Hounds
I’ve got two hounds. Any advice on the barking? I don’t want to use oppressive collars!

Leslie Burgard, C.P.D.T. and owner of Dogs Think! Dog Training in Furnace, PA, writes:

Unfortunately, barking is a bit more innate in the hound breeds than it is with some other breeds. To some degree you will only be able to modify the behavior. What I would advise first is to really analyze what your behavior is when they are barking so you can determine if any part of their barking is inadvertently reinforced by your behavior. It’s easy to do that without even realizing you just reinforced them. Sometimes something as simple as a strong “be quiet” is enough to reinforce a determined attention-seeking dog.

If your dogs are barking instinctually, the problem will be hard to “fix.” My recommendation is to be very proactive about cutting off the barking by redirecting your dogs, calling their names or calling them inside if they are barking in the yard as soon as you hear the first bark or whine. The less they practice the barking, particularly if they are young, the better off you will be.

Barking is, in itself, self-reinforcing, so cutting them off so they can’t perfect the behavior will help a little. I wish there were a more concrete answer I could give you, but again, hounds of most any breed bark and bay a bit more than some other breeds so you are working against Mother Nature to some degree.

If you can find a good certified pet dog trainer in your area who can better assess exactly when and why your dog is barking, that would help you pinpoint the best technique to use to cut down or redirect the barking.

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Cat Stopped Using the Litter Box
My 5-year-old cat used to go in the litter box with no problem. She now will use the box to urinate but will not use the box for excrement. She goes on a bath mat that is near the litter box. I’ve tried changing litters, boxes, etc. I had her checked at the vet and it’s not a biological issue — they told me it was psychological.

Sarah Babcock, chief of education and training for the Richmond (VA) SPCA, writes:

Good for you for trying all the things you have tried so far! You mention that you have tried changing boxes, but I wonder about box size. In my experience, this is the biggest problem when the cat uses the litter box for one thing, but not another. It may be that your cat needs to move around more during the pooping (as opposed to the peeing) process and the box you have now doesn’t provide enough room.

It may also be that your cat has developed a “substrate preference” for fabric surfaces (i.e. the bath mat) over litter products while pooping, which is not uncommon. Can you pick up all throw rugs and towels for some period of time, just so your cat doesn’t continue to rehearse the unwanted behavior? It might be that without a bath mat option, the litter box will become the bathroom of choice once again.

I would also experiment with the depth of the litter in the box. Most cat owners add litter until it looks about right to us, which means that the amount probably varies from week to week — but lots of cats are very finicky about how deep it is. I think that most cats like less litter and we humans tend to like more, possibly because it means we don’t have to add litter as often. If you can add a second box next to the first one, and put less litter in one of them, the cat should tell you quite quickly which one he prefers.

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Dog Pees on My Pillow
We have a 2-year-old Dachshund who has a tendency to urinate only on my side of the bed — on my pillow. What would be causing this behavior?

Debby Williams, veterinary services manager, Erie County SPCA in Tonawanda, NY, writes:

It sounds like your dog may be claiming dominance over you. Does he have competition? Are you giving him a lot of attention? He may be trying to get your attention, which he definitely can do by soiling the pillow.

If it has just started happening, a trip to your vet to rule out anything medical may be important.

You might also like:

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Article: Should FIV+ Cats Eat Special Cat Food?

Article: What Is the Best Diet for IBD Cats?


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