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Help a grieving dog by going back to basics. 

Take your dog out for walks and give

Take your dog out for walks and give him extra attention if his behavior changes after a big loss.  Credit: iStock/Eric Isselée

Q We are friends with an elderly couple who adopted a young rescue about 10 years ago. The wife passed away about a month ago, and suddenly the dog is peeing on the carpet three times in one day, even though he has a doggie door that he does continue to use regularly. This has been going on for a couple of days, and the housekeeper is getting pretty upset about it. She tried the age-old remedy of rubbing the dog's nose in the pee spot, and he growled at her. What now?

— Nancy,

Glastonbury, Connecticut

A This dog is in grief over the loss of his owner. When someone dies, animals often grieve through changes in behaviors, which may result in more sleeping, more lethargic behaviors, and even inappropriate elimination in the home.

Rubbing the dog's nose in the pee spot has never worked to change a behavior. The best way to restore normal behaviors is to give the dog lots of love and attention. But, keep in mind, it's not uncommon for a dog or cat to grieve for a loved one for many weeks and months.

As for the inappropriate elimination inside the home, tell the housekeeper and the widower to act like they are house training a new dog. What that means is, they need to take the dog out to relieve himself after exercise and play, after he wakes up, after he eats, and before bedtime — just like with a puppy. They should see an improvement within a few days but should continue to do this training consistently for a few weeks to ensure it sticks.

If the elimination continues, the dog could have developed a health problem that may have resulted from grief or just coincidentally overlapped with the death of his loved one. In either case, he may need to see a veterinarian for a health exam.

Q We rescued our cat from our local shelter two years ago. She's the sweetest cat in every way except for one. She wakes us up at 4 a.m. She is relentless and does not give up until one of us gets up with her. When we come downstairs with her, she lies down and naps. She has food, water and litter box — so there is no need for her to wake us. She is a very social cat and loves people, which I think is part of the problem: She wants human companionship.

Before bedtime, we watch TV, all the while she is napping. This may be part of the problem too. If we close our bedroom door, she scratches at it until we open it.

This behavior is wearing on us. Is there something we can do to change her behavior or at least make her leave us alone for another two hours?

— Richard and Kathleen,

Orefield, Pennsylvania 

A Oh, the woes of the feline alarm clock. Even though your cat is not waking you for food, I recommend getting an automatic cat feeder. Set it to feed her a little food right before bedtime and then set it to release more food 10 minutes before the time she normally wakes you up in the morning. This will get her attention and draw her to the feeder. Feed her at this time for about three days, then slowly increase the time by two minutes each day until the feeder eventually is going off around 6 a.m. Over time, she should focus more on the feeder than you. If she regresses and starts waking you up again, set the feeder back two to four minutes and begin again. The goal is to break the pattern of waking you with another activity.

Next, play with her a few times throughout the day and before bedtime to interrupt her normal sleeping patterns. Then, keep a catnip toy near your bed so you can toss it outside the bedroom if she tries to wake you up.

Your idea of locking her out of the room may work, but only if you are strong enough to her attempts to get you to open the door for at least seven to 10 days. (They sell ear plugs at every drugstore.)

My recommendation is to go for the trifecta: combine the automatic feeder, catnip toy, and locking her out of the room (in the early morning only). Outlast her on this for about two weeks, and she should establish new patterns of behavior that will allow you to get more sleep.


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