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My Pet World: Dog needs distraction from owner's piano playing

April 19, 2011|By Steve Dale

WARWICK, R.I. — Experts from the International Assn. of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) 2011 Conference from April 1 to 3 answered these reader questions:

Question: My 7-year-old dachshund/cocker spaniel mix howls when I play the piano. He doesn't howl at other noises. Is he in pain? I have to ban him to the yard when I play. Any advice? — J.S., Richmond, Va.

Answer: I doubt your dog is in pain. However, it may be he's a music critic. Barbara Handelman, of Norwich, Vt., a dog behavior consultant and author of "Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook," agrees.

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"Since your dog isn't howling at fire engines or singing to car alarms, for some reason it's unique to your piano playing," she says.

"Try rewarding your dog for an incompatible behavior by offering him a Kong toy stuffed with (low-fat) peanut butter," Handelman suggests. "Dogs can't chew and howl at the same time. Only offer the treat inside a toy as practice is about to start, and remove the chew toy when you end your piano practice."

Q: Our 13-year-old indoor/outdoor cat is very affectionate, yet for seemingly no reason, sometimes circles our feet and legs, sounds aggressive, then bites us savagely. How do we address this? — R.T., Toccoa, Ga.

A: "Notice your cat's body language, and simply find a way to separate yourself from the cat before the attack," says cat behavior consultant Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of "Starting from Scratch: How to Correct Behavior Problems in Your Adult Cat."

"And don't run away; that will only cause your cat to chase, maybe thinking it's a game. It's important to play (with your cat) daily using an interactive toy, teaching him to chase and pounce on it — and not you," she says.

Another idea is to carry little mouse toys or plastic balls in your pocket. If your cat gets ready to attack, toss the toys in the opposite direction.

Johnson-Bennett, who lives near Nashville, also advises lots of enrichment indoors — rotating toys, and feeding your cat from various puzzle feeders (if you're feeding dry food), such as the Eggsercizer or Play 'N Treat Ball (place kibble inside, and teach your cat to roll the toy around so food tumbles out). Leave several of these feeders around the house for your cat to "hunt" down. If you feed moist food, place some moist cat food in plastic dishes in two or three locations, so the cat has to search for them.

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