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Ask Marc: Pet Behavior

From growling to biting to clawing, Marc Morrone answers questions about pet behavioral issues.
Martha Stewart Living Television

When our 3-year-old Pomeranian, Dolly, is in bed with our mother, she growls and tries to nip at us when we try to pick her up. How can we stop this behavior?
Positive reinforcement works best in these situations. When you approach Dolly in the bed, instead of just confronting her, show her a bit of cheese or some other favorite treat. Lure Dolly off the bed with the cheese and then give her the treat and pick her up and carry her out of the bedroom. If you are consistent about this, Dolly will quickly learn to jump right off the bed when you enter the room.

How can I stop my 3-year-old cat, Nato, from play biting?
Nato is play biting with you because he is using you as a cat substitute. When cats play with each other, they play bite -- but our hands are a lot more sensitive than a cat's paw. You really should not encourage Nato to think of you as a cat toy. Get a large sock and fill it with crumpled paper and catnip. When Nato does treat you like a toy, just distract him with the sock and encourage him to play with that instead of you.

What can I do to keep my chinchilla, Louie, from escaping from his cage?
Most rodents are natural-born escape artists and it is impossible to explain to Louie that opening his cage to explore his world is bad. Just go to a hardware store and get some C-clips or spring locks and put them on the door of his cage. Louie will just have to imagine his outside world from now on.

How can I train my kitten, Loca, not to claw the furniture?
You have to make the furniture unattractive to Loca by using cat repellent and double-sided tape. This will only work if Loca has a strong scratching post available to her that is scented with catnip and otherwise made attractive to her. You have to trick her into thinking that the scratching post is more fun to claw at then the furniture.

I have a ferret named Lillith. I see you have ferrets and rabbits walking around in one area on your show. Will the ferrets hurt the rabbits?
Rabbits do not have many friends in the world, and most any animal can hurt them if they want to: dogs, cats, large birds, and ferrets, too. However, animals are individuals -- Splash is an extremely gentle ferret and never hurts any animal. However, do not assume that Lillith will be as gentle as Splash. Be sure to keep them separated when they are out of their appropriate cages.

How can I stop my parakeet from biting me when I take it out of the cage?
Parakeets love millet sprays. You can use their favorite food to stop the biting with positive reinforcement. Offer your parakeet millet sprays in its cage every day until it learns to really enjoy it. Then, stop putting it in the cage and offer it to the bird only when it comes out of the cage and is sitting on your finger.

Comments (16)

  • Sharon P 12 Sep, 2013

    We have a male Maine Coon cat. We got him from a rescue shelter, and were told he was 1-3 years old in 2005. His personality is "leader of the pac". He goes through cycles of anxious behavior where he meows repeatedly until he gets his way. Is there anything we can do to stop/curb this behavior.

  • 4Carole 27 Sep, 2012

    We recently adopted a dog who is a 4 year old neutered male. He is well behaved with the exception that he marks his territory in the house. What can I do to stop this behavior?

  • Kim Dowdy 7 Jul, 2012

    HELP! We adopted a shelter dog 4 weeks ago. She was suppose to be house and crate trained. Either she was not or she has forgotten. We have tried everything. She will not stay in the crate at night with out whining all night long and if we leave her out, she poops either in the floor or on the sofa. Sometimes she even decides to pee. What do I do????????????? HELP PLEASE!!!!

  • Michael88 1 Mar, 2012

    Marc I have a mother cat and she has 2 males and 2 females. The problem is we have to keep them in seperate rooms or the 2 males wont to fight and attack the mother how can we solve this problem so they all can live to gether thanks. Michael

  • Hemilover 2 Feb, 2012

    Dear Marc~ I have 2 hemi cats. The larger one that I got first slaps the smaller one in the eyes across her face and has caused eye infections twice. Is there anything I can do to stop this behavior and protect the abused cat.

  • TusaBella 10 Jan, 2012

    I have a young cat, about two years old, that is severely scratching her neck and head area. She has removed her fur to the skin area. I tried an anti scratch medication. It worked for a short time. The severe scratching has started again. Please help.

  • dogcatratpets 5 Sep, 2011

    Hi Marc,

    I really want a pet rat... Should I get a boy or girl? I know the difference but am not sure if I want a lap-pet or an active, fun-loving creature. What can I do to decide?

  • DMTennison 29 Jul, 2011

    Dear Marc,
    My mom & I have a zebra finch. We have noticed that he likes to run his tongue and beak across the bars of his cage. Just wondering if there is a specific reason he would be doing this. He does this in several different spots.

  • JJPEDRA 13 Apr, 2011

    I have a 4 year old neutered male long hair cat Horus, who lately has been peeing on my bed. His litter box is cleaned twice a day, he eats Science Diet dry cat food and drinks water regularly, how do I correct this behavior?

  • laurakhayman 14 Mar, 2011

    How do I get my one year old boston terrier to stop using the same spot on the carpet as a bathroom? He now has the older dog that never did this doing it as well. Many thanks, Laura Worman

  • mryhgb 23 Feb, 2011

    My African Grey parrot dropped his pretty red tail feathers about 3 years ago and has never grown them back in. Sometimes several will start growing in but they also drop before maturing. Why is this happening? Thanks, Mary Anne Higbee

  • romeo1 8 Feb, 2011

    What are the best way to train/teach cats not to jump up on kitchen counters,besides using empty pop cans lined up,which is very inconvient?

  • romeo1 8 Feb, 2011

    We have 3 cats,one is still a kitten.When it comes to food he wolfes his down

  • ldyrokker 13 Jan, 2011

    My cat was just diagnosed with diabetes. What do I do next? I'm very upset about it. The treatment is very expensive.
    Please help!

  • pmld411 10 Jan, 2011

    I have a hairless male rat.I have not seen anything from Mark about rats!Is there a reason?

  • JMarsden 19 May, 2009

    I just bought two parakeets, and I want to tame it and train sometime. But I need to get its wing's clipped.