Confounded by your canine
Frustrated by your feline?
Pet expert Arden Moore – America’s Pet Edu-tainer™ — is here to deliver the real truth about cats, dogs…and you, with her column appropriately called, “Oh Behave!”
Stashing Away for a Rainy Dan
Q. My Brittany Spaniel, Chelsea, has a weird habit. When I feed her kibble, she picks up each piece from her bowl and places it on the kitchen floor or in other rooms of the house. After she had removed all the kibble from her bowl, she tracks down each piece throughout the house. Why does she do this?
A. Chelsea’s odd eating habits are a throwback to her ancient roots as a hunter and scavenger. Her ancestors could not count on people to serve them two meals each day. Because food was not always available to wolves and other wild dogs when they needed it, they would stash parts of their kill in various places so they could return to it later when they were hungry and couldn’t find prey. Some domestic dogs, particularly hunting breeds like spaniels, still retain this instinct. In fact, some dogs will actually hide each piece of kibble in corners or under furniture before they go back and eat it.
Even though Chelsea receives regular meals this ancient instinct is telling her to stash the kibble in different places so she can return to it later to eat it. Of course, “later” may only be a few minutes after she has performed her food-relocation ritual. But in Chelsea’s mind, her behavior helps ensure a constant course of food in the future. My dog, Chipper, does this occasionally with her chew bones. She will sit politely for me to hand over the meaty treat and then dash out the doggy door to bury it in the backyard.
To human observers, this food-spreading behavior doesn’t make sense unless you think about the instincts that is driving it. Just remember as you watch Chelsea spread her food around that she is heeding the call of the wild. If you don’t want kibble surprises all over your house, I recommend that you keep bedroom and bathroom doors closed during feeding time. Stepping on hard kibble with bare feet is no delight!
Guilt-ridden or Just Plain Bored?
Q. Increased work demands have recently called for me to travel a lot more, and my cat, Keeper, a beautiful Bengal, is sometimes home alone for a night. I have friends who stop by to feed him if I am gone more than overnight, but he is still alone more than he is used to be. When I came home from my last trip, he had shredded the toilet paper, clawed a corner of my couch, and tipped over a container on my desk that sent paper clips flying all over the floor. When I saw this, I marched up to him and yelled at him. He fled and hid under the bed for awhile. Are cats capable of plotting revenge and do they feel guilt when they do something we don’t want them to do?
A. In the animal kingdom, humans have a monopoly on feeling guilty. Cats, dogs, and the rest of our animal companions do not experience or express guilt. It is tempting to anthropomorphize your cat, giving him human reasons for his misdeeds and for running away when you chastise him. But the truth is that guilt is self-reflective, an emotion only people feel, according to top psychologists.
Guilt is a human response to behavior that we recognize as wrong or socially unacceptable. Cats do not have the capacity for that type of abstract thinking. However, cats are definitely capable of experiencing fear and submission. It is easy to confuse feline fear with guilt.
In Keeper’s case, he is most likely bored by those long stretches of being home alone. Bored cats, especially active breeds like Bengals, will look for ways to amuse themselves, even if that something (clawing couches, turning toilet paper into confetti, and pawing piles of paper clips) is not desirable from your point of view. In other cats, these actions could illustration separation anxiety. Whether a cat is bored or anxious depends on his temperament and relationship with his owner.
Keeper cowered and hid under the bed when you yelled because he was frightened of your angry voice, not because he was feeling guilty about his “bad” behavior. He had no idea why you were angry, only that you were acting scary and threatening.
My recommendation is first to take away feline temptations. When you’re not home, shut the bathroom door, put a covering on your couch to stop his claws, and tidy your desk. Next, provide Keeper with acceptable outlets for his boredom. These might include battery-operated toys that move when he touches them, a sturdy window perch for him to keep tabs on the neighborhood, or a circular trackball toy that encourages him to paw at the ball. You could try turning on the radio or television to add some sound to ease his solitude. There are videos of fish and birds and other cat-enticing images that might occupy his attention in your absence.
When you do come home from those business trips, ignore any messes and greet Keeper with happiness and affection. Spend some time playing with him and petting him so that he doesn’t feel alone even with you back in the house. You may discover that he comes rushing up to greet you after an absence.