Ask the Vet – Part 3

Here is the final installment of “Ask the Vet”, your pet health questions answered by the Ontario SPCA health care team.

1. Do you have any ideas to help my Aussie with severe anxiety around strangers (especially men)?

We always recommend seeking out a professionally trained behaviourist to help you with any unwanted behaviours.  Following these steps may also assist you with desensitizing your dog:

  • First, pick out your dogs rewards – gather the most rewarding treats your dog responds to – this could be pieces of hot dogs, cheese, liver treats.
  • Enlist some dog-loving male friends to help you out.
  • Pick out a neutral spot to meet your friend (on leash).
  • Locate the behavioural threshold.  The behavioral threshold is the distance at which your dog begins showing signs of anxiety. When you are outside this line he is okay, but when you move too close, he becomes nervous about the other person. Check his behavior.  Is he showing signs of aggression or fear? If so, move him farther away from your guest. If not, give him a treat and praise him. If your dog continues to be calm with your friend nearby, have your friend step closer to your dog. Your friend should not talk to, touch, or look at your dog.
  • If your dog greets him, reward him with praise and treats. If your dog shows signs of fear when your friend steps closer, then have your friend step back.
  • Gradually increase the level of interaction, beginning with being in the same room, then having your dog take a treat from your friend and finally to having your friend pet the dog.  The key to success is patience and consistency!

2. What is the earliest age I can bring my female dog in to get spayed?

If you are thinking of bringing your female dog into one of our Ontario SPCA Spay/Neuter Services locations, we accept dogs or cats from the age of 4 months until 5 years old.  For spaying or neutering at a regular veterinary office, please call them directly to inquire about their services.  Additional information can also be found at

3. Every time someone rings our doorbell, our two dogs bark. Is there anything we can do to help stop this behaviour?

For most dogs, barking at an intruder is a natural reaction.  Here is one technique that might help curb all that barking:

Teach your dogs to react to the doorbell by going to their special place (their bed or perhaps a mat near the door) and lying quietly while the “intruder” comes into the house.

  • Start by tossing a treat on their mat and telling them to “go to your place”.
  • Have them go to their place before you give them the treat.
  • When they’re reliably going to their mat to earn a treat, up the ante by opening the door while they’re on their mat. If they get up, close the door immediately.
  • Repeat until they stay on their mat while the door opens.
  • Then increase the difficulty by having someone ring the doorbell while your dogs are on their mat. Reward them if they stay in place.

Keep these tips in mind while training:

  • Don’t yell at your dogs to be quiet—it just sounds like you’re barking along with them.
  • Keep your training sessions positive and upbeat.
  • Be consistent so you don’t confuse your dogs. Everyone in your family must apply the training methods every time your dogs bark inappropriately. You can’t let your dogs get away with inappropriate barking some times and not others.

Another suggestion is to stimulate your dog. Make sure your dog is getting sufficient physical and mental exercise every day.  A tired dog is a good dog and one who is less likely to bark from boredom or frustration.

4. My cat tends to scratch our furniture while we’re at work and it’s destroying all our sofas and chairs. What can I do to get him to stop?

A cat scratches because it’s a form of exercise for the cat’s muscles from the claws right through to the legs and shoulders and down the back, and as a means for toning.  In addition, scratching also sharpens claws and cleans them. A cat that doesn’t scratch will have underdeveloped muscles, something that can lead to other health problems. Cats also scratch to scent-mark territorial areas with their paws, which have scent glands usually indistinguishable to humans but very distinct to other cats, dogs, and many other animals.

There are many different suggestions for deterring cats from scratching in unwanted places.  Here are a few ideas:  Keep your cat’s claws trimmed, shut doors to rooms with very special furniture, furnishings and objects, and purchase at least one scratching post for your cat. Train your cat to make use of the scratching post and nothing else for scratching. Put the post somewhere firm that it cannot topple over when the cat or kitten uses it. A sensible option is to place the scratching post next to a piece of furniture that has been the object of scratching attention, or where it might be likely that a new cat would try to scratch were it not for the scratching post.  If you want to make the post more inviting, try rubbing catnip, spraying catnip oil or even cat pheromones (available in most pet stores) along the length of the post.

You may also want to apply double sided tape to the furniture.  Cats dislike the sticky feeling and won’t continue to stick their claws wherever it’s sticky (the hairless skin of the cat’s paws is extremely sensitive to touch).  For larger furniture, adhere masking tape over the arms, or on the back of the furniture where the cat will often enjoy playing.  Laying/taping sheets of foil along your furniture is also an alternative to tape, as cats don’t like the sound and feel of their claws on the foil surface.

Remember, if you have any immediate concerns, please contact your local veterinarian.  You can also check out additional resources here.

Jan 24, 2013
by Laura