DEAR DR. FOX: When we decided to get a cat 10 years ago, I thought getting a couple of littermates would work well. They got along during the first couple of years, often sleeping together and grooming each other. As they matured, though, they seemed to grow more competitive for our attention. They seem to tolerate each other for the most part, but they often growl and hiss when one enters the territory of the other when one of us is around.
It seems like our tabby considers me to be her property to be defended when I'm in one part of the house, and our longhair considers me hers in another part of the house. They stiffen when I try to pet one if the other is around. If only one is on my bed, they welcome affection. If both are on my bed, they are very stiff, and they don't move. They show some of this behavior with my son, whom they both consider the most wonderful human, but they are both very attached to me, too.
The funny thing is, they don't seem to be jealous of each other when I have them outside on a leash. I wonder if they would have been better off as single pets. Their behavior is interesting and often annoying, like having a couple of your kids dislike and fight with each other.
I enjoy reading you column and my girls' diets are better because of it. -- D.B., Fargo, North Dakota
DEAR D.B.: Your cats' behavior will be familiar with many cat caregivers who have two or more cats. This kind of behavior is typically "cattish" in that they assert social dominance via the places in the home -- a lap, particular chair or windowsill -- that they prefer to occupy. This behavior keeps them apart and prevents conflict: "This place is mine. Keep away, and I will respect your place."
To avoid conflicts, as when one cat is on your lap or sitting beside you, invite the other over to be groomed on the floor, and get down to do this. Groom both of the cats at the same time. You may then set up a neutral territory or conflict-free zone on the floor in the middle of your living room. Our two cats will often engage in mutual grooming, which is a prelude to play-fighting and chasing. This often ends with one being rougher than the other and they part for a while, going to their favorite personal places to lie down.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have a 3-year-old standard schnauzer. She is absolutely wonderful now, but was a real handful from 10 weeks until about 2 1/2 years. We are getting along well now -- except for the sneeze thing.
Ever since I have had her, if I sneeze, she attacks me, tries to knock me down, growls and barks at me. I have tried everything -- telling her it is OK, etc. Barking back at her helped the most.
Do you have any idea why she does this? Maybe the noise it makes? The other thing she does is stare at me a lot. It makes me wonder if she knows something bad about me, like I have cancer or something. She is the smartest dog I have ever had, but the staring is beginning to make me a little nervous.
We are very close; we do everything together, and I love her so much and believe she feels the same about me. Thank you for your answers to these questions. -- B.B., Washington, D.C.
DEAR B.B.: Your best solution is called "flooding" or "total immersion": Set up a tape recorder and fake some sneezes for as long as you can, then play the tape back for your dog at a safe distance away from you for a few days every three or four hours. This should desensitize her very quickly.
Alternatively, when you are just about to sneeze, squeeze a squeaky toy for her, and throw it to her. This is called "redirecting behavior," and it is a recognized conditioning technique for a variety of canine behavioral problems.
Her staring at you may not indicate that you may have cancer. Here, you may wish to look at your own anxiety state, and reconsider her stare as simply wanting your attention, perhaps to play, be groomed or taken outside for a walk or to relieve herself.
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