Q My grandson adopted two rescue dogs. The second dog he adopted had been hit by a car and left on the road to die. She was found by a rescue provider, taken to a vet, nursed back to health and was fostered by my grandson. She was such a sweetie that she became part of the family. She gets along well with the older dog.
The problem is, a few months ago, she started to dig holes in the back yard. This has become an ongoing habit. Can you give any insight into why this is happening? She is 1.
— Esther, Floral Park, Florida
A Dogs dig when they're bored, stressed, going after prey or simply because it's instinctive and it feels good. Some breeds dig more than others, but no matter what, there are a few ways to manage the behavior.
First, supervise the dog in the yard (until she stops the digging behavior) and train her not to dig. If she starts digging, you or your grandson should say her name and then say, "no dig." Immediately call her to you. Do not give her a treat until you give her a second command. Ask her to "sit," then say her reward word, like "bingo," so she knows she did what was asked, and a treat will follow. Introduce other training while in the back yard to keep her mind distracted and busy.
Second, make sure she has plenty of playtime and exercise before going into the yard. This might involve two 30-minute walks daily and a game of fetch when she first goes outside. Give her a toy she can only have while in the back yard. When she comes into the house, pick up the toy and put it away. Rotate through different toys for the next five days, so she doesn't get bored.
You also can create a digging zone for her. This involves creating a doggy sandbox (a square of land with a wooden frame) where she is allowed to dig. Use wet sand and place a few treats just poking out to encourage her to dig. Bury toys deeper for her to find later. Reward her for digging there and not by the fence. (Keep a tarp over the sandbox when not in use.)
Finally, some people place rocks, bricks, and railroad ties around the fence line to deter digging. I use a strip of chicken wire about 18-inches wide, folded in half and then opened into an L-shape. I mount one side to the fence with a staple-gun and the other side to the ground with landscape pins. Your dog won't want to dig along the fence line anymore, and your grass can still grow through the wire and be mowed.
Q My 1-year-old cat, Princess, is affectionate and sweet, but when she rolls on her back and wants to be petted, she grabs my hand with her front paws and pulls them in her mouth and then the back claws attack. This is becoming a serious problem.
Is there any way I can break her of this habit? She does not like to be held for more than a few seconds. If I pet her for too long, she grabs my hand.
— Francine, East Meadow
A It's natural for cats to use their claws and mouths during play. To train your cat not to bite, always use toys instead of hands for playtime. No exceptions. For example, when she rolls on her back, do not reach in to pet her. You will get nailed every time. Instead, get a stuffed sock or wire toy and let her attack that while on her back. Reward her with praise or a treat for using the toy.
As for petting, learn to read her body language, like dilated pupils or a slowly swishing tail, to determine when she has had enough. If she always bites after 10 strokes, then only pet her seven times and stop for at least five minutes before re-engaging her. If she does bite, say "no" firmly, and turn your back to her for at least one minute or put her in a separate room for a few minutes.
If you don't use your hands for playtime and learn to reward her when she gets it right and ignore her when she misbehaves, she should over time learn the rules of engagement.
Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.