L.A. Unleashed

All things animal in Southern
California and beyond

Category: Training & Behavior

Bad kitty, Part 3: A tale of two litter boxes

Cody and Stewie are great cats, with one major behavioral problem: spraying. This is the story of one cat lover's quest to eliminate this smelly, embarrassing problem once and for all.

Kitty I’ve officially decided my cats are out to get me.

After my (mildly successful) experiment with Four Paws Keep Off! Indoor & Outdoor Cat & Kitten Repellent, I hoped to get some sound advice from Unleashed readers.

As it turned out, I heard from someone who knows my oldest boy, Stewie, quite well. Susan described Stewie's predilection for spraying as a "boy thing" based in an impulse to assert his territorial claims. Reader David's suggestion to cover the floor where the cats often spray with aluminum foil -- "They'll hate walking on it," he explained -- sounded like a good kitty deterrent to Susan.

Still, she was quick to warn me, "You may find that you are just forcing them ... to pee elsewhere. Soon your entire apartment could be covered in foil." Instead, she suggested "persistence on your part and a vet visit for moral support if nothing else. ..."

I couldn't embrace the idea of an aluminum foil-covered floor, anyway, no matter how many times I reread David's suggestion. I don’t want my house looking like a giant cookie sheet -- not cute.

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Bad kitty, part 2: Cat repellent offers a quick fix

Cody and Stewie are great cats, with one major behavioral problem: Feline spraying. This is the story of one cat lover's quest to eliminate this smelly, embarrassing problem once and for all.

Cody Less than a half-hour after Part I on my feline-spraying saga was published, knowledgeable readers were already chiming in with advice. 

"Maybe you need to try an enzymatic cleaner (first) and then get a pheromone spray like Feliway," Sami Gowen suggested. "It's worked well in our house (four cats, female and male). And maybe invest in a black light to see exactly where all the urine is!"

I decided to try Sami's idea and made my way to Petco in La Cañada Flintridge in search of a spray. I was a little disappointed at the selection, but that's not important. I found a spray -- not Feliway; instead, Four Paws Keep Off! Indoor & Outdoor Cat & Kitten Repellent. Although it wasn't the exact brand Sami recommended, I decided to go with it, thinking "What do I have to lose?"

I treated the rug (and then tossed it in the washer) and the area surrounding the cabinets with OxiClean; when that didn't completely get rid of the smell, I followed up with another product, Urine Gone, that I had on hand. This eliminated the smell. (I haven't gotten on board with the black light yet, so it's possible I'm completely over-cleaning the area, or else not getting it all. I doubt the latter, though, because I can see the color difference.) Next, I cleaned the litter box and wiped it down with Fresh Step litter box wipes.  (I went out of my way to avoid using Pine-Sol, which reader David warned against in his comment. Great tip!).

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Ask a Vet: How can I help my dog to control his bladder when he's excited or nervous?

Have a non-emergency question about your pet's health?  Dr. Heather Oxford of L.A. veterinary hospital California Animal Rehabilitation (CARE) is here to help!  In this installment of Ask a Vet, Dr. Oxford has some tips for reader Steph on helping her dog to overcome bladder-control problems.

Don't let this happen to your carpets! Steph's question: I have a 2-year-old male (neutered) golden retriever. He wets on the floor every time he gets excited or if he does anything wrong. It is awful! I can't have company over without worrying about my dog wetting on the floor. Will he ever outgrow this, or is there any medication that I can give him to help him control his bladder?

Heather Oxford, DVM: Your dog may be experiencing urinary dribbling due to overly submissive behavior, which is not easily corrected with medication. He will likely not outgrow this, and it may worsen if not addressed appropriately. The problem is that you cannot correct this by verbal reprimands because this will actually trigger more fear and anxiety, making the problem worse. The key is prevention. 

First, maintain a calm, soft vocal tone when addressing the dog in any way to avoid hyper-excitation for good behaviors or overly submissive, fear-based reactions to bad behaviors. Second, ignore the dog when you first come home while he is overly excited and pay him attention only when he has calmed down. This should help to discourage him from becoming overly excited in the first place, since he gets the reward of your attention only when he displays the desired behavior.

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Bad kitty: Stopping feline spraying in its tracks, Part 1

Feline spraying is one behavioral problem many cat lovers know all too well. The stench, the embarrassment, the constant battle of wills – it’s a cycle that never ends. This is the story of one cat owner’s quest to eliminate the household spraying from his two boys: Cody and Stewie.


Every day is the same. I come home and both my boys are lying in bed, faces twisted with guilt. This, of course, is after I hear them scamper through the living room from the kitchen as I insert my key.

Immediately I walk into the kitchen. Twisted-up rug: check. Pungent smell: check. Glistening floor and cabinets: check again.

My boys have struck. I've been driving myself crazy trying to figure out why they continue to spray in the house. Cody, 5, was already neutered when I adopted him. I rescued my youngest, Stewie -- now a year old -- at 6 weeks of age. He was neutered at six months.

So what's the problem? Litter box is always clean, food always stocked. I've logged plenty of time online reading different sites about the nature of cat spraying, and site after site tells me that it's my cats' way of leaving messages for each other. But the only message I'm getting is in the form of me on my hands and knees with a roll of paper towels.

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Washington trainer works to turn bad dogs good

For Washington state-based dog rescuer Steve Markwell, so-called "bad dogs" are a stock-in-trade.  Aggressive or fearful dogs -- often with records of attacking humans and other animals -- have a home at Markwell's Olympic Animal Sanctuary.  As for Markwell (who got his start rescuing unwanted reptiles, explaining that rescue was "a way to get free snakes"), his theories on dog training are intriguing, to say the least.  Our colleague Kim Murphy has the story; here's an excerpt:

Markwell There have always been good dogs and bad dogs. The good dogs come when you call, romp happily with the children and stay off the sofa. The bad dogs chase after cars, trample the flower beds and pass wind under the coffee table.

Then there are the really bad dogs -- the cat-killers, face-biters and snarling, drooling wretches so mean even their owners want them shot. Those are Steve Markwell's kind of dogs.

"When people create these monsters, I think it's people's responsibility to take care of them. Not to just kill everything because it's inconvenient," said Markwell, who operates a sanctuary for canine ne'er-do-wells in the Olympic Peninsula rain forest.

"The fact that they have their quirks, the extra things you have to be cautious of, in some ways it's almost endearing. It's kind of like, the world hates you, but I don't," he said.

The Olympic Animal Sanctuary caters to the worst of the worst from around the country: dogs who would be euthanized or turned away at any other shelter, and those with records so bad that no animal welfare group would consider adopting them out.

Among the more than 50 animals currently at the sanctuary are domestic coyote mixes, guard dogs who once belonged to drug dealers, cat-killing huskies and one creature who appears to be 90% wolf and about as interested in being petted as a demon is in being in church on Sunday.


Photo: Markwell with sanctuary resident Snaps. Credit: Kim Murphy / Los Angeles Times

Teaching all cats new tricks

Cat Kindergarten

People have low expectations of cats. Sam Connelly tells of the time that she and her cat Storm observed a Canine Good Citizen test while they were waiting for their feline agility class to start.

"I'm watching the dogs and I commented to the evaluator, 'My cat can do all that,'" said Connelly. "At the end she said, 'Want to take a shot?' like it was a big joke."

To the evaluator's surprise, Storm passed the test, successfully performing commands such as sit, stay, come, down and walking on a leash.

Storm is a cat that does some of these things for a living. He helps Connelly train lost pet search dogs in Maryland by hiding and waiting to be found.

But training cats isn't just for professionals -- human or feline. The Michigan Humane Society has a Pawsitive Start program that uses volunteers to train cats in the shelter in such useful and fun behaviors as the high-five and walking into a carrier.

"A lot of people look kind of funny at us when we say we train the shelter cats," says C.J. Bentley of the humane society. Cats need more than just playtime outside the cage to be well-adjusted in the shelter environment, she says.

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Remembering Baxter, therapy dog extraordinaire

We're deeply impressed by therapy dogs, animals that brighten the lives of the people whose lives need brightening the most. Guest blogger Janet Kinosian shares the story of one such dog, Baxter, who passed away recently after years of helping the patients at a San Diego hospice.

Baxter I was scheduled to meet Baxter Bussey, the world's oldest therapy dog, who at 19 1/2  was still working (despite the pain of arthritis) two or three times weekly at the San Diego Hospice and Institute for Palliative Medicine. That meeting never happened because Baxter died the week before our scheduled rendezvous.

Luckily, though, I was able to still encounter him via his emotive YouTube video, which pretty much tells Baxter's powerful story and shows his amazing gift in a snapshot. I'm not sure why I was so stunned by this video, but I was, as were about 400,000 others who saw it. In it, we saw something rarely seen: the very old comforting those near death.

As an end-of-life therapy dog doing highly sensitive and compassionate work, Baxter comforted those who lay dying and in pain, helping them on their transition from life to death, sometimes in their very last hours. 

For the patients in the hospice ward, Baxter, a golden retriever-chow chow mix, became a mobile furry emergency unit, entering damaged lives with grace and mercy, providing whatever healing he could. 

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Reader photo of the day: Talented basset hound tackles agility course

Agile Basset

We love submitter CAstangs' photo of basset hound Flash enjoying the agility course.  We can honestly say we never expected to see a basset navigating jumps, ramps and weave poles like a pro; we're far more used to seeing breeds like border collies and Shetland sheepdogs tackling such tasks. 

Flash apparently has made it something of a personal mission to shatter dog-agility stereotypes.  "Basset hound agility is not an oxymoron," CAstangs says.  "Flash has earned some titles and really loves doing it."  Well, if rabbits and chickens can do it, why not the slow and steady basset? 

Think your animal photo should be our reader photo of the day?  Show us by heading to the Pets & Animals category of Your Scene, The Times' photo-sharing site, and selecting the appropriate album (for instance, we found CAstangs' photo in the basset hounds album).  Once you've chosen your album, just click the "submit" link at the top of the page, pick your photo (.jpg format) and include a caption that tells us a little about the animal or animals in the photo -- it's as simple as that!

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: CAstangs / Your Scene

The Heidi Chronicles, Chapter 52: Stay tuned ...

Heidi blog head shot This is Heidi. Last year, she was "discovered" in the park by a pet talent agency; since then, she has embarked on a one-dog quest to break into the business. This is her Hollywood story as chronicled by Diane Haithman. And this is her "head shot": That longing look was achieved by placing a biscuit just out of reach.

As of last Friday, I am no longer a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times. Ergo, this is the last chapter of "The Heidi Chronicles" for L.A. Unleashed. I'd like to thank the blog for unleashing an obsessed doggie stage mother, and providing a forum for documenting the approximate first year of Heidi's attempt to take Hollywood by storm.

I'd also like to thank Heidi's fans and her entourage of one, Layla the Labrador mix, for sticking by Heidi through thick and thin. However, I visited Layla and her parents, Jim and Irene Dorsey, recently and Layla seem thrilled to enjoy a little quality time without Heidi, just this once. Recently, the patient Layla has been somewhat taxed by the many canine guests at the Dorseys, including small and frequent visitor Kiki Newberg, a Norwich terrier cute enough to get away with murder one.

But I encourage Layla, Kiki Newberg and all of your dogs to be sure to tune in for "Don't Walk on the Grass," the Nov. 1 episode of "Desperate Housewives." Heidi and I are waiting to see whether our background appearance in a restaurant scene made the cut.

And despite my own recent career change, let it be said that Heidi fully intends to continue her pursuit of Hollywood stardom.

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Better canine citizens in Paris? Oui oui!

Brasserie_IG-500 The French love their dogs, and take them everywhere. And with over 500,000 dogs living in Paris, it's no wonder that the parade of pampered pooches is a constant of Parisian life. They sit on subway cars, on their own chairs at brasseries. Most places humans go, dogs are also allowed. But is it our imagination, or do Paris' dogs seem to be better behaved than our stateside pets? It's almost as if someone slipped a little Xanax into their kibble.

With the dog population growing stateside, perhaps Paris is just a small glimpse of what we may see in the future as laws become more lax and people begin to expect royal treatment of their fur-person family members.

Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D. a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and author of "For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotions in You and Your Best Friend," says our perception is actually close to reality. "We have noticed that the dogs we see in Paris are well-behaved," she said. "It's more than likely because they are allowed to interact in public situations and they and their owners are more conditioned to train them to behave."

What follows is photographic documentation of pooches behaving well in the City of Lights...

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