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Good Afternoon

Dealing with a dog-eat-everything world

Dogs can learn to drop something from their

Dogs can learn to drop something from their mouths if a high-value treat is offered.  Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q Our 3-year-old labradoodle has a habit of stealing stuff and chewing and eating it. The problem is, my wife has a habit of pulling stuff out of his mouth. She has done this several times and he has bitten her (and drew blood) several times. The last time this happened, a few days ago, I got really upset with her and told her she has to stop doing that. She accuses me of siding with the dog. I am absolutely not siding with the dog. I am telling her there are other options for getting the dog to drop stuff, and that she is asking to get bit. He has not once bit me. I never try to pry things out of his mouth that way. I am really upset about this. I am telling her this out of love, but she takes it as I am being mean. I need some advice about this issue as it is really getting the best of me.

— Frustrated, Allentown, Pennsylvania

A Even with couples who have lived together for a long time, communications can sometimes be misunderstood. I believe you when you say your intention was to make sure your wife doesn't get bitten again. Your wife, however, may think you didn't sympathize enough with her injuries and wants you to be madder at the dog than at her.

Give your wife a few more "there-there's." Tell her you aren't happy with how the dog is behaving, and that there is a way to get a dog to release an object that doesn't involve prying it from his mouth with her hands.

Your dog is resource guarding, which means he is overprotective of his things. This is not acceptable behavior. The good news is, there is an easy way to get a dog to drop what's in his mouth. Hold a high-value treat (something with a good aroma that the dog won't be able to resist, like a piece of hot dog or a soft, liver-flavored treat) in front of the dog. The dog will usually drop the object to get the "better" treat. (If he doesn't drop it, you aren't wielding a good enough treat.)

Now, train him to do this all the time. Hold a high-value treat where he can see it and say "drop." When he drops the item to receive the treat, say a reward word, like "Bingo," that lets him know he did what he was told and now he will get a treat. Do this exercise for several weeks every chance you can, and eventually you will be able to say "drop" and he will drop whatever is in his mouth without having a high-value treat in your hand. Although I highly recommend rewarding him with a high-value treat every chance you get to reinforce his training.

Dogs can learn, if properly trained by patient parents, so there is no need to get injured when you can teach them how to behave.

Now you two kids kiss and make up.

Q My son found a kitten in 2013 in the middle of the street. The vet said he was a runt because of a defect with his teeth (they are falling out). He is an indoor cat and is kept primarily in the furnished basement where he scratches and plays in all the nooks and crannies. We've noticed that he is attracted to plastic bags and will lick them vociferously, like a child with an ice cream cone. It's quite gross. Is there any way we can stop this, or at the very least understand why he's doing this?

— Bernice, Queens

A Great question, but I'm afraid there are no definitive answers to this fairly common cat habit. There are a few theories. Some cats may be drawn to the texture and sound the bag makes while being licked. Some cats may be attracted to lingering food scents if the bag came from the grocery store. Some plastic bags have chemical scents that mimic the smell of pheromones. Some plastic bags are being made biodegradable now and have cornstarch on them that may attract a cat.

You can't train a cat not to lick a bag, so correcting this behavior falls completely on you. Give your cat a toy to play with (to distract him) when you unload your shopping, and then put the plastic bags out of his reach afterward.

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 Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.

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