Q. We have a female cat named Polly who we believe is about 17 years old. She's always been shy; no one has ever been able to pet her or get close to her. We adopted her with her twin sister Molly. Both of them hid under the china cabinet the first year we had them. Last year, Molly, who became our social, loving girl, died from kidney failure. Now, in the last week, Polly has become very friendly and loving and allows my wife and myself to pet her and pick her up. She sits with my wife every night. Should we be concerned with this change is personality?
— George and Bonnie, via email
A. Animals living in multipet households often change their behaviors whenever another pet is added or leaves the household in some way. It's quite possible Molly was protective of you and your wife and kept Polly away with subtle body language gestures.
Don't worry about the change in behavior, though. Becoming friendly and loving is never a sign of a disease or illness, so celebrate Polly's new outgoing nature — and don't adopt another cat right now to replace Molly. If you do, Polly could respond by hiding again. Instead, let Polly be the solo cat in your household so that she can enjoy attention from both of you for the remainder of her life. She has a lot of catching up to do.
Q. I wanted to give you an update on the training you recommended for my pups last year. They are finally learning to signal with a bark or a whimper at the door. They are so well trained now it is absolutely amazing. I can go out for hours and go to bed at night knowing I will not come home or wake up to a disaster. They are almost like two completely different dogs than when I wrote you about them last year when I was crying every day about the chaos. — Evelyn, Las Vegas
A. You made my day. I am so glad you stuck with the recommended training until you got the desired result. Not everyone is cut out to deliver the persistent and consistent dog training needed to develop or correct behaviors. I am proud of you. And I am glad you have no more worries about accidents. If your dogs ever revert to old behaviors, go right back to your training to communicate your expectations.
Q. I live alone with Andy, my 110-pound yellow lab. (He is not fat, just a big dog.) Last Christmas, I wrapped presents and put them under the Christmas tree. The next day I went on a golf outing. When I returned, I found a small scrap of paper on the kitchen floor. Turns out, it was the wrapping paper I used to wrap a one-pound box of chocolates. I noticed the box on the living room floor, open and empty with all the chocolates carefully removed from their papers. I called Andy, who sheepishly looked around the corner.
We immediately headed to the vet's office; $300 later, and Andy was OK. My advice to the world is when wrapping and putting gifts under the tree, keep in mind your pet's ability to smell out the good stuff. Put [food] gifts where they can't be reached.
— Bill, Las Vegas
A. This is a good holiday tip. A dog's sense of smell is much superior to humans, so any food gift placed under the Christmas tree will likely be scarfed down. Chocolate is dangerous for dogs. It can result in illness or death, depending on the weight of the dog and the type and amount of chocolate eaten. Having a big dog helped in your situation.
Never put food gifts under the tree, in stockings, or anywhere within a dog's reach.
Q. SSSCAT Spray by Petsafe has kept my two cats away from the Christmas tree for years. I just put batteries in, and the motion sensor detects curious kitties and emits a harmless shot of air. They quickly get the hint. It's available at many online retailers, and costs about $30.
— Stacey, Nashville, Tennessee
A. As a motion-activated indoor pet deterrent, SSSCAT Spray actually releases a harmless, odorless, and stainless spray to discourage dogs and cats from a particular space. Dogs usually can be trained to stay away from the Christmas tree; cats not so much, so thanks for sharing your tip.