Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Moving Experience

Adjusting to a new home or other circumstances can cause pets to behave in ways they normally wouldn’t. Here’s how to help

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Two weeks ago, media reports blew up an incident in which one of the first dogs, Major Biden, was said to have bitten a security agent who startled him. Later, a Secret Service official clarified that the nip was “extremely minor,” with no broken skin or bleeding, leaving only a small mark on the agent’s hand. But something like that can harm a dog’s reputation -- even a dog who isn’t under constant media scrutiny.

Repercussions for a dog bite, even a minor one, can range from a report that goes on the dog’s record to a 10-day in-home quarantine period, even for a dog who is up-to-date on rabies vaccinations. No one wants that.

Fortunately, there are good ways to prevent incidents and help dogs remain cool, calm and collected, whether they’re at your house, the White House or anywhere in between.

Major, of course, changed households in January, but even before then, his humans were traveling frequently, and change was in the air. Pets are sensitive to the emotions of their humans as well as to what’s going on in their environment. Sometimes they respond with fear, anxiety or stress, even if it seems as if they have adjusted.

When pets are facing new situations, set up the environment for success, says Fear Free-certified veterinary behaviorist Amy Pike, DVM, who practices in Fairfax, Virginia. Pets don’t need to meet everyone at once or have free access to every part of the home. Whether Chip the cable guy or Janet from Treasury is coming over, it can be best for that first meeting to take place outdoors in a more relaxed setting and then have them go indoors together, or to confine the dog in a comfortable area away from the activity until a more understated introduction can take place.

Ask guests to avoid body language that can seem threatening to pets, such as prolonged eye contact, approaching or reaching toward them.

“There is no need to put your hand out for the dog to smell you,” says Debbie Martin, a licensed veterinary technician in Spicewood, Texas, who specializes in behavior. “He can smell you from across the room. Reaching your hand into his space is like a stranger getting too close to you or reaching for you.”

Have visitors toss treats instead of handing them to pets.

“Every time they approach one of the dogs or come into a space where the dog is, don’t look at them, don’t talk to them, just toss them food,” Dr. Pike says. That way, pets associate good things with the visitor. If your pet is nervous or even excited in the presence of strangers, give the treats yourself in the presence of guests. Toss treats when your pet is relaxed, looking at you unprompted or responding to known cues such as sit, spin or shake.

Keep dogs on a leash for a while, even inside the residence. That can help protect them from making mistakes in new situations or around unfamiliar people.

If your pet displays unusual behavior -- even something that might be attributable to new or exciting circumstances -- it’s a good idea to have your veterinarian check for underlying causes, Dr. Pike says.

For instance, romping on White House grounds might have resulted in a partially torn cruciate ligament causing pain and irritability. “Spring allergies are a concern right now in the D.C. area,” she says, “so maybe he’s irritable because he’s itchy.”

Most important, pets -- even those who haven’t moved into one of the world’s most famous residences -- need time to adjust to new surroundings and situations.

“It may take three to six months to acclimatize to a new situation, whether that be Mom going back to work or moving to a new house or apartment, or a new roommate even,” Pike says. “Keep their stress level as low as possible for their sake and safety.”


How cats vent


Q: Why does my cat attack me when he sees a cat outdoors?

A: If you’ve ever had a bad day at the office and then come home and snapped at your significant other, you have some idea of how your cat feels when he or she sees an unknown cat trespassing in your yard.

Cats get frustrated when they see an invading feline in their territory, and they may take it out on you or another pet or person, a behavior known as redirected aggression. It can be downright scary if you’re on the receiving end when your cat lashes out. It can be frustrating for you in other ways as well. Some cats accompany redirected aggression with urine spraying in an attempt to let that other cat know he or she is trespassing.

Free-roaming cats work out boundary disputes through scent (urine spraying), sight (claw marks on trees) and sometimes outright violence. Cats who live indoors don’t have opportunities to mark or defend their territory from cats passing through.

You don’t have to let your cat outdoors, though, to help him protect his patch of earth. A motion-detection sprinkler may send stray cats scurrying when they cross onto your cat’s property. And if there’s a particular window that offers your cat the perfect vantage point for spotting feline marauders, try putting up a barrier, whether that’s blinds you can close or a screen you can place in front of the window. You can even go so far as to close the door to that room and provide your cat with a perch near another window or door where he won’t see other cats go by.

Products such as Feliway that mimic calming feline pheromones may also help to prevent your cat from venting his frustration on your skin. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


Creative surgery

for hamster’s leg

-- A tiny hamster with a broken leg has recovered after veterinarian Ann Reid cleverly used the needle from an insulin syringe as the “pin” to hold the bone in place while it healed. Suki, a white Roborovski hamster weighing only three-quarters of an ounce, recuperated for a month in a large, shallow box with chew toys and apple sticks to help entertain him until he could go back to his normal lifestyle of running on his exercise wheel and digging tunnels in his bedding.

-- Aquarium and pond fish in the San Francisco Bay Area are cared for by an unusual specialist: Jessie Sanders, DVM, whose mobile practice -- Aquatic Veterinary Services -- takes her from caring for koi to assessing ponds and tanks to giving physicals to sharks. Instead of clients bringing fish to her, she goes to them in a vehicle trimmed to resemble a giant clownfish, bearing a license tag reading DR4FISH. She’s one of the first veterinarians certified by the World Aquatic Veterinary Medical Association and is past president of the American Association of Fish Veterinarians. To find a fish veterinarian in your area, go to

-- Skechers and Petco Foundation have teamed up to help save shelter animals. The shoe company has raised more than $6 million to aid pets in need, donating more than $2.7 million of those funds to Petco Foundation’s animal shelter support programs. Skecher’s BOBS collection of slip-on shoes, clothing, and pet beds and harnesses includes a range of designs featuring dogs and cats, different breeds, canine Instagram icons such as Doug the Pug, and artwork by James Goldcrown. For every BOBS purchase, Skechers makes a donation to the Petco Foundation, which partners with more than 4,000 animal welfare organizations to support adoptions, provide medical care and fund other lifesaving programs. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.