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My Pet World Q&A

The cat and the water dish, the dog and the TV

Young cat eating, cat with food cup, white

Young cat eating, cat with food cup, white background Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q The older of our two cats has the habit of standing in front of his water dish and making movements as if he were swimming while drinking his water or even when done eating. His little brother likes to paw at the area, but it's not really the swimming motion that his big brother does. These two are rescued kittens, and we can't imagine life without them.

— Alexia and Dave,

Hopkins, Minnesota

A Cats often exhibit inexplicable behaviors, and this "swimming" behavior around the food and water bowls sort of falls into that category. It sounds like your cat is pawing around the water dish, and not pawing the water itself, since you said he was doing it while drinking.

But cats can and will do both.

They have scent glands on their paws and may be marking their territory around their food and water dishes. They also are fascinated with movement and like to play with their food and water, reminiscent of what they might do in the wild if they caught a small animal or insect. So, while the behavior is fairly common among cats, it sounds like your older cat has developed a unique way of displaying this behavior.

Q Our 2-year-old female Westie, Bella, is driving us nuts. Overall, she's a good dog, but she barks at passing dogs and has issues with the television. Anytime a commercial or show comes on with a dog, or there are sudden movements or violence or bright colors on the TV, she goes into a fit. She barks wildly, jumps at the TV, grabs a toy or stuffed animal and shakes it and runs back and forth.

We've tried distracting her by putting her in her pen until she's quiet. We even had a trainer come in to help. The trainer took her off the floor when she started acting out and yelled and pushed her face into the couch cushions — a little too violent for me. We've tried an air horn, water bottle, and noise and vibration collar. We can't do the shock collar at this point.

We would hate to have to send her away, but there is no peace any evening. I've attached a short video of her antics. Please advise.

— Ray,

Orland Park, Illinois

A Thank you for firing the trainer. No one should ever yell, scream or push a dog around during training, ever. Good riddance to them.

As for Bella, I watched the video, and she is a very smart dog. Some dogs react to images and sounds on television, depending on their personalities. While her reactions are exaggerated, they are fairly common for terriers who are very sensitive to movement and sound. With our larger-than-life flat screen televisions, it's easy to see why such an alert dog is highly triggered by the sights and sounds she hears and sees.

In the video you sent, Bella responded quickly to your request to come back into the room. Let's begin there. Every time you are in the room, ask her to come to you and sit. When she does, click with a clicker or say a reward word like "bingo," and then give her a treat. Train her with the TV off at first; then with the TV on, but muted and paused; then with it just muted. If the on-screen sound or movement triggers the behavior, pause and mute everything, and shake a can of coins, if needed, to get her attention. Then repeat the steps above. (I suggest muting commercials since they are louder than regular programming anyway.)

When she responds, give her a distraction. An X-pen is not a distraction, but a time out. A distraction fully engages her mind and takes her mind off the trigger. Give her a puzzle toy to engage her brain. Freeze some peanut butter in a Kong or let her push around a Wobbler that dispenses treats. Give her the puzzle toy only when you are watching television and not during the initial training period. We don't want her getting bored.

These same recall and distraction training techniques also work for when she is barking at passing dogs. A dog can't bark at dogs or the television and come to you for a treat at the same time. It's not enough to call her to you; you have to engage her with another activity for her to move past the trigger.

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