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Teaching an old dog new tricks and teaching cats to get along

Proper training can help a dog get used

Proper training can help a dog get used to new surroundings. Credit: iStock

Q My neighbors moved away and could not take their dog with them. We took Buster in with us. He is a 5- or 6-year-old Lab mix. Buster took to his new surroundings very well. He is housebroken, very gentle and obedient. All in all, he’s a very nice dog and we are happy with him, except when it’s supper time; he is at the table just waiting for table scraps. No matter where he is in the house, if we open the fridge door, he shows up. We assume he did this with his previous owners. Can we teach this old dog new tricks?



A You bet you can. No matter what age, dogs love to learn, and Buster sounds like a ready student. Even if you never hand him another table scrap, Buster’s mental map won’t let him forget someone once gave him a tasty treat from the table or fridge.

The trick is to replace the old behavior with an entirely new behavior, and his love of treats will come in handy here. For example, when he shows up at the table during meal time, stand up, point your right arm and finger over his body and in the direction that you want him to go, and say the word “out.” You may have to take a few steps toward him to move him in the right direction.

Once he complies and is where you want him, ask Buster to “sit,” “down,” and “stay” where he can still see you. Then give him a dog treat for complying. Initially, you may have to do this several times during a meal for several weeks until he completely understands what you want. He eventually should take his position just outside the dining room when meal time occurs because he knows that is where he will get his treat. Give him a treat after dinner, too, when he learns to not beg anymore.

The same technique can be done to keep him out of the kitchen, too. Just always remember to mark the behavior with a marker word, like “bingo,” or a “click” from a clicker, and then give him a treat. Be consistent over the next few weeks, and I promise he will learn what you expect from him.

Q Last year, I adopted two male cats who were not previously paired. Fred is about 10 years old, is mellow and sleeps all day. Casanova is 2 years old, sweet and affectionate, but also a stinker toward Fred. When Fred is sleeping, Casanova suddenly pounces on him. Currently, Fred is missing some fur on his side. I don’t know how to stop this behavior. There are separate areas for food as well as two litter boxes. Any help would be appreciated.



A It doesn’t sound like the cats are fighting, only mildly not getting along. That usually works out in time, but since it has been a year, let’s try a few other things.

First, play more with Casanova. He may have some youthful pent-up energy that needs an outlet. You will be doing Fred a big favor.

Second, the missing fur probably isn’t from fighting, but stress licking by either one of them. Plug-in some feline pheromone diffusers in the rooms where they spend most of their time or get each of them a pheromone collar. Pheromones can help reduce stress behaviors and may set a better tone for them to get along.

Q I read your response to the owner of a dog, Bella, who would become aggressive at times to other dogs in the dog park. I agree with your suggestions, but would offer another one. Our dog, Latte, was brutally attacked and became aggressive to other dogs on walks. I sought a trainer who suggested a few hours at a time of socialization through doggy day care. It was wonderful. Dogs are evaluated first and exposed to only a few at a time. It’s similar to a dog park, but supervised.

— Karen,

Nazareth, Pennsylvania

A Doggy day cares might be willing to help, depending on the level and type of aggression expressed. Since Latte was the one attacked, he is a good candidate for a day care willing to build his trust in other dogs again. The dog who attacked Latte, however, would not likely be accepted. Doggy day cares evaluate dogs before letting them in their programs, so Bella’s mom could certainty ask about it.

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