DEAR DR. FOX: My wife is gone three or four days a week. My 8-year-old cat naturally shows preference to and positive behavior around me, and she hisses and is otherwise negative toward my wife.
I have suggested that my wife scruff her and shake her gently to let her know about the pecking order here; that seems to work for a while, but we are not consistent with this. Is Rocky just being a cat, or is there some way we can help her to be more positive toward my wife? -- D.L., St. Louis
DEAR D.L.: This is a good question, especially considering the backlash against so-called dominance training and disciplining of dogs and the favoring of positive reward training for desired behavior. But sometimes giving a reward can reinforce the undesired behavior, like giving a dog a treat to stop barking, believing that to be distracting or redirecting -- in reality, you're actually rewarding the dog for barking!
Cats hiss primarily from fear, and it is best to ignore the behavior. Have your wife spend time grooming the cat and feeding her and calling her by name to give healthy treats. Also, have your wife engage in interactive games with the cat, such as chasing a laser spotlight or a feather on a wand.
Seizing and holding a cat by the scruff of the neck (but not shaking) can have a calming effect; the action is a mixed signal of domination and control: a tomcat's love-bite -- seen during courtship -- is usually directed to the queen's nape of the neck, and a mother tenderly carries a kitten at the back of the neck. I use this scruff-hold briefly to settle a cat and then start brushing the cat or begin gentle massage, as detailed in my book, "The Healing Touch for Cats." But be warned: Your cat may soon become addicted to the latter and quite demanding!
BOOK REVIEW: "What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins" by Dr. Jonathan Balcombe
This book is a scholarly and engaging review of what scientists have discovered about fish behavior and intelligence. Balcombe documents the commercial exploitation and suffering of fish, about which most consumers know nothing.
The author takes readers through the objective eye of natural science's disciplined focus and discovery to reveal the extraordinary and surprisingly highly evolved physical, social, cooperative and yes, emotional and cognitive abilities of fish, which in many respects far surpass our own.
With unblinking eyes, no facial expressions or cries of pain and fear when caught and cold to the touch, they are of a species difficult for most people to empathize with. But with other animals, especially the warm and fuzzy who are kept as pets and companion animals, we develop close attachments, often deeply mourning their passing and suffering their pain when they are in distress. In deepening our understanding of the whys and ways of fish, this book informs and expands our empathic embrace of other sentient beings from an aquatic realm almost alien to our sensibilities.
Thank you, Dr. Balcombe, for presenting scientific evidence that fish feel and are highly sentient beings with intrinsic value, interests and rights as well as ecological purpose. I hope this book will make people pause -- in the blink of an eye in evolutionary time, the last of the great and diverse communities and world-spanning shoals and intelligences of fish life will soon all be gone from the waters of the Earth, along with the ocean mammals and birds dying of starvation, and increasingly impoverished native fishing peoples from shore to shore.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
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