Q. My daughters have a 2-year-old lab mix. He is very good except for one problem: When he is at home by himself he chews the wood on the windowsill. There is no pattern to it. The window faces the street and is on the ground level. He may go a month without doing it, then for no obvious reason he has chewed it again. They leave him plenty of toys etc. to chew on. He is walked daily, often in the morning before work. They have sprayed a bitter tasting substance on the wood, which worked for a while. Can you explain this behavior? Do you have a remedy they can try? -- Eileen Lillis, West Islip
A. You are all definitely overthinking this situation. Dogs live for the moment. They do not wake up in the morning and put together a “To Do” list for that day specifying what objects in the house they are planning on chewing. When a puppy is young and kept in a crate with its toys, those are the only objects that are available for it to chew on, thus the opportunity to chew on other household objects does not present itself. In your case the dog is 2, and obviously he does not regularly seek out the windowsill to chew on as he does not normally do this in the course of the day. I suspect that every now and then he must be looking out the window at something that caught his interest and while he is there he chews on it. Since nobody is home during the day to correct him the moment it happens, he’ll just keep doing it. What you have to do is make the windowsill unattractive to him as a chew toy. You have the correct idea with the bitter spray, but you must put it on the wood every single day so the awful taste never goes away. If the spray is on the wood randomly, then he will chew on it randomly. My dog Barney used to do this all the time. He was a real busybody who was always looking out the living room window at the street, and the sill was at his jaw level. Like your boy, he could not help but to chew on it. The bitter sprays did not work on him as he was a street dog that I took in, and he was used to any bad taste from his early years, so I dissuaded him by cutting strips of fine sandpaper and gluing them to the sill with white glue. He did not like the way the sandpaper felt on his tongue so the windowsill chewing stopped. Barney passed away many years ago, but I still see his painted-over teeth marks on what is left of the living room windowsill, and that makes me smile more than any photos that I have of him.
Q. My cockatoo started to chew on her wooden perch in her cage about a year ago, and within two months she chewed it in half. So we put a new one in and that one lasted a month, the next one a week, and now she chewed the one we put in to replace that one in 3 hours. My husband wants to put in a perch of PVC so that she cannot chew it, but I wanted to know if it is safe. -- Jennifer Simon, Oakdale
A. The short answer to this question is yes, a PVC perch is OK for your bird to have in her cage. But it is not really a good idea for it to be the only perch in the cage.
The long answer is this: Parrots need to chew on wood as their bills are designed to chew on hard, fibrous nuts and seed casings in their natural habitat. It takes a parrot in the wild many hours of chewing to procure enough food to satisfy its hunger. A pet parrot with a dish of the easy-to-open and chew seeds and pellets that we feed them has a lot of unused chewing energy. You certainly can use the PVC to create one perch in the bird’s cage as a main perch for the bird to hang out on in front of its feeding dishes, but there must be other wooden perches higher up in the cage that it can sleep on and chew all that it wants. PVC is too hard and smooth and cold for a bird to sleep on comfortably, and I have seen many birds with ulcers on the bottom of their feet due to sleeping on such perches.
Wood for a bird to chew on does not have to be an expensive perch either. Wooden blocks for toddlers to play with are cheap and easy to hold and a handful of them will keep a cockatoo entertained for a long time. I give all my parrots tree branches from my backyard, where I know pesticides have not been used, and they spend hours pulling off the bark and creating toothpicks out of them.
Q. We got our kids a bunny for Easter, and she is a wonderful pet. We feed her pellets and hay and leaf lettuce that we get at the green grocer, but the other day my 5-year-old gave her a dandelion flower that he found in the backyard, and she ate it immediately and looked for more. Is this an OK food item to give her? We have not given her any more since then. We use no pesticides in our yard and thus we have lots of dandelions. -- Susan Miller, Glen Head
A. Dandelion flowers and leaves from a pesticide-free area such as your yard can be considered a supreme food for any pet that will eat them, especially in the springtime when their leaves are so soft and fresh. Chickweed is another springtime green that is great, and in the summer purslane grows everywhere and is another plant that I feed to my pets. I feed such greens to all my bunnies, guinea pigs, hamsters and chinchillas, as well as all my rodents and all my vegetarian and omnivorous reptiles such as iguanas, tortoises and bearded dragons. My birds all like them, as well. So if your yard is safe from chemicals, then by all means encourage your children to forage for fresh and natural foods for their new pet.