By Cathy M. Rosenthal
Tribune Content Agency
I have some new neighbors that moved in with an outdoor cat. The cat uses our yard as her potty box. Our two dogs have found this cat poop delectable and they eat these deposits before I can remove them from the yard. Is there something I can do to dissuade my dogs from eating this poop? Thank you in advance for any insights. - Wendy Rutland, Pensacola, Fla.
In a foot race to the cat poop, your dogs will always finish first. You can get a head start by going outside and picking up the cat poop before you let them outside, or you could walk them on leashes so you can pull them away from the cat poop when they discover it. But these are temporary solutions that don't address the real problem.
While it would be great if your neighbors kept their cat in their yard, there will always be something in the yard or on the ground that your dog shouldn't eat; so the only surefire solution is to train your dogs to "leave it."
The easiest way to train the "leave it" command is to ask your dogs to sit, put a treat on the ground, and then hold a higher value treat in your hand, like a small bit of cheese or strong-smelling liver treat. When they see the treat on the ground, say "leave it." When they "leave it" and look at you, reward them with the higher value treat. Then pick up the other treats off the ground, wait a few seconds, and play the game again. Never let them eat the treats off the ground.
You are training them to leave things alone, even when you are not around. They should only accept food and treats from your hands or their dog dishes. Depending on their personalities, you probably should train your dogs' separately.
If you train them every day, it will only take a few weeks before you can say "leave it" from across the yard, and they will stop, look and listen to you. Keep those higher value treats handy to reward them for their good behavior.
We adopted a boxer/pug/bulldog named Magento. He is three-years-old. Our problem is that he is systematically eating our backyard from top to bottom. He is breaking branches off trees, and chewing on branches and the other plant materials in the yard. He only stops when he gets caught. A few hours later, he passes some obnoxious gas. This can't be good for his digestion. Why is he doing this and how can we stop him? - Allison Vann, Cleveland, Ohio
There's an old saying, "If you don't give a dog a job, he will become self-employed." Apparently, Magento's made it his full-time job to landscape your yard and prune your trees.
Start by giving Magento more supervised time outdoors, since it sounds like he does listen to you when he gets caught. He wants to please you, so follow up your quick verbal corrections with treats and praise to show him you approve. I promise it's a behavior he will want to see you repeat.
As for why he does it, your enterprising dog may be feeling bored or suffering from anxiety. Bored dogs often entertain themselves by resorting to destructive behaviors, like digging holes, chewing on things or tearing up the house. Anxious dogs may exhibit the same behaviors, but for reasons related to being separated from you. Thankfully, both problems can be addressed in similar ways.
Dogs need exercise and clever activities to stay physically fit and mentally healthy. Keep Magento active by walking him a few times a day or teaching him to play fetch or some other active game. Keep his mind busy by introducing puzzle toys where he must figure out for himself how to push a toy over or open a secret compartment to get a treat.
Finally, teach him something for at least 10 minutes a day, like sit, down or retrieve a ball. Dogs often are more relaxed after training sessions because it requires a lot of brain power to listen and learn new things.
If you feel he might suffer from anxiety, talk to your veterinarian about medication to help him during this training/transition period. The goal is to keep Magento's body relaxed and his mind busy, so he doesn't feel compelled to re-design your backyard.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.
Printed in the April 16 - April 29, 2017 edition.