Metro Pets

By Sharon Gomes Thomas

Ever wonder why your pet sometimes demonstrates inappropriate behavior? Could Fido or Kitty possibly be a pervert? We posed some indelicate questions to Parvene Farhoody, a highly qualified animal behavior expert who owns Behavior Matters (www.BehaviorMatters.com) an animal behavior consulting and training service in New York City. We asked her the questions you were afraid to ask and got some insightful answers.

I lavish my dog with affection but he likes my boyfriend more…could he be same sex oriented?
Parvene says:
Your question is more common than you might think. Rest assured it has nothing to do with your human interpretations of your dog being gay or even that he likes your boyfriend more. The reason your dog pays less attention to you when your boyfriend is around is most likely because you spend more time with your dog than your boyfriend does.

For most animals, “novel stimuli,” or new things in the environment are in and of themselves reinforcing and fun to interact with. If you’re the one who spends the most time with your dog, doing most of the talking, playing, petting, feeding, hugging and all the rest, then when your boyfriend walks into the room, his presence alone is immediately more interesting than yours. This has nothing to do with your dog liking you any less.

Remember your dog is just responding to his immediate environment. He isn’t making a statement about how he feels about you. Simply enjoy the presence of your boyfriend along with your dog, and I’ll bet the good feelings will be shared by all.

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My female dog humps everything! Her bed, my friends, the plant in the corner – please help!
Parvene says:
It’s not abnormal for male or female dogs to hump, and it doesn’t matter whether a dog is spayed or neutered. Dogs hump for many reasons, including sexual behavior, seeking attention, relieving stress, aggression, and others. The more you observe when the action takes place, the better you will be at figuring out what causes it. Since she is humping so many different things, it’s likely to be related to both stress and seeking attention.

A dog may hump out of excitement or to relieve stress (think of biting your nails). Sometimes a dog that hasn’t received reinforcement for good behavior (that is, trained to Sit, Down, Stay) will hump because she hasn’t learned any other behavior to offer for attention. Receiving any attention, even negative attention – such as your yelling at her – will cause behavior to continue.

Remember, attention is any response from a human. If she starts and anyone looks toward her, smiles, laughs, or any other reaction, then humping is probably being reinforced. If you want to stop this behavior, pay absolutely no attention to her whatsoever. If she is humping you, immediately get up and move away from her without a word. If she is doing it to another person, instruct them to do the exact same thing. While you’re retraining, keep all the objects that she tends to hump out of her environment.

To speed up the extinction of this behavior, give your dog the opportunity to do an acceptable behavior as an alternative. One alternative behavior could be for you to give her a great chew bone whenever something exciting or stimulating is about to happen. For example, as soon as guests arrive, give her this fun chew just as they walk in. Or, if you’re about to take your attention away from the dog such as sitting down to watch TV, then offer her a great chew right before you begin. Make sure it’s something she really loves, that she’ll get eating right away, and that she’ll work on for an extended period of time (think at least fifteen to twenty minutes).

It is critically important that you do not wait for her to start humping and then give her the chew. The fun thing must come before she starts the undesirable behavior, so you need to think ahead. What you’re actually doing is teaching her a new desirable behavior and replacing the old undesirable one. Be sure to give her lots of gentle praise. For the training to really take hold, you want to give her attention while she is doing the right thing (that is, while she chews on her object quietly). Be patient and remember that the behavior has been reinforced for a long time. Stick to it, and you’ll be surprised how quickly she catches on.

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I know that cats clean themselves by licking, but is there a point where doing it so loudly and frequently becomes a little more than good feline hygiene?
Parvene says:
As with most behavior problems, it’s advisable to have your cat checked by a veterinarian before assuming that the problem is behavioral. A urinary tract or bladder infection, or any number of other medical problems, could be causing your cat to behave in this manner. Once your veterinarian rules out any physical problems, we can take a look at behavioral causes. If your cat is not spayed, this may be related to her going into heat, or perhaps she’s already in heat. Since your cat is likely to be spayed, then this behavior may be a form of masturbation. Many people don’t think that companion animals masturbate, especially those that are spayed and neutered, but they can and do.

Observe your cat and try to notice what’s happening just before the behavior starts, and what happens right after it. This will help you change the circumstances that cause it, and it will also help you know what to do to keep it from continuing even if it does happen. Since boredom is a very common cause of behavior problems, good environmental enrichment is a very important. Vertical perches, window boxes, treat balls, catnip sessions, and play sessions each day (you can’t beat the cat dancer toy) can do wonders for a bored cat.

Follow this by making sure you don’t reinforce her behavior by giving your cat any kind of attention once she starts in this activity. If your cat is very bonded to you, you may be able to stop this behavior simply by walking out of the room as soon as she starts. If her consequence for doing the behavior is to “lose you,” it may be enough to decrease the behavior or even stop her from engaging in it altogether. Between a veterinary check up, ignoring the behavior you don’t like, and building a better environment and relationship, you’ll have your cat offering behavior you want more often in no time.

Why is it that the first thing my dog does when someone new is around is to stick his nose in their crotch?
Parvene says:
This is such a human question. Any dog would ask, “Why sniff anywhere else?!” It is only our human sensibilities that make us question this natural dog behavior. Let’s look at this from the dog’s perspective to get a better understanding of the reasons for this behavior.

The first factor is a dog’s height. After all, what is nose-height for a mid-sized dog? For many dogs, crotch sniffing is simply a matter of convenience. It is the first place their noses encounter. Second, dogs explore the world with their noses. Their noses are their world. No matter how much you bathe, crotches carry a great deal of scent. Dogs are attracted to scent.

Third, dogs can smell our unique scents, down to our hormones, pheromones, and everything else. For example, women’s scents change in monthly cycles, and dogs can detect these variations at each new encounter. Dogs are simply gathering information. Do we do any less then we ask a friend, “How are you doing?” Without the verbal niceties, what’s a dog to do? Although it’s completely understandable why dogs sniff crotches, it’s equally understandable why humans don’t like it.

The best solution is to teach your dog something called an “incompatible behavior.” Teach him to do something when he’s meeting people that is impossible to do at the same time he’s sniffing a crotch. For example, teach him to sit next to you to be greeted. He can’t sit next to you and sniff a crotch at the same time; they are incompatible behaviors. If you really want a simple solution, toss a few treats on the floor when your dog first encounters a person. He will put his nose down to search for the treats, and you can avoid the initial uncomfortable moments when your dog first encounters a person. I suggest doing that only in the beginning and really trying to get to the sit part; it will be a nicer solution in the long run.

My pet jumps into bed every time my husband and I get romantic. It feels weird. Are pets voyuers?
Parvene says:
One of the biggest reasons we love dogs is because, just like us, they play throughout their entire lives. While dogs solicit play from us in “doggie ways,” we solicit play from them in “human ways” – through the active movements of our bodies, giggles, high-pitched squeaks, excited breathing…you get the picture.

Dogs are masters of reading human body language, and most are especially tuned in to their own human’s behavior. This sensitivity is yet another reason we love dogs. When you and your husband get romantic, your dog senses a change in the environment that occurs due to your change in behavior. This change of state sparks her interest.

It is not surprising then that a dog may, at the very least, come over to check out what’s going on, and some dogs may even try to get involved in all the festivities. After all, the humans seem to be having a good time, and dogs know from experience that where there are humans having a good time, there is probably something good in it for them. For dogs that are played with in a rough-house sort of way, human romantic behavior can be particularly engaging, and dogs that are easily stimulated by movement or high energy (doorbells, guests, etc.) may begin to bark.

I suggest that you simply remove the dog from the room before your romantic time with your husband to prevent this behavior from continuing. If the dog scratches the door or barks, etc., after being removed from the room, then you may have some other behavior issues that will need to be addressed as you work on this one.

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If you have further pet behavior problems, you may want to book a session at

Behavior Matters
Parvene Farhoody, CPDT, CABC, CDBC
Tel: (718) 424-7556
mail to: info@BehaviorMatters.com
www.BehaviorMatters.com

Parvene Farhoody has been training dogs for 30 years. She is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT) through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (www.ccpdt.org), as well as a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant (CABC) and a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (www.iaabc.org). She also holds a Diploma of Canine Behavior from Cynology College.

Ms. Farhoody is the Vice President of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers CCPDT), which is the only independent certifying body for professional dog trainers.

To find a qualified trainer go to CCPDT.org and search for a CPDT (Certified Pet Dog Trainer) in your area.

Originally published July 2007
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