Sunday, September 25, 2011


Helpful Buckeye is changing course this week and steering back into the world of dogs, to be specific.  Many of our readers sent e-mails during the 4-week run of articles on unusual cat behavior saying that they couldn't wait to get back to things about dogs.  Some of you even went so far as to suggest that dogs are much smarter than cats anyway and wouldn't exhibit any of those "stupid" cat behavioral problems.

But also, thanks for all the e-mails in which many of you reported that you enjoyed the articles even though you didn't have a cat.  That's a kind of comment that's nice to hear!  You can't please all the people all of the time.

Getting back to smart dogs, just how should we decide what constitutes a "smart" dog?  Is yours smarter than mine or are they both less smart than the dog down the street? 

Which Dog Breeds Are The Smartest?

How do you qualify a question that asks what the smartest dog breeds are?

Just how dumb or smart a dog is depends on what defines a "smart dog." Is it the ability to wrap people around her dewclaw and get her way, no matter what? Which dog is smarter, the one that does as he's told and works hard for his supper or the one that cocks her head, looks confused and is waited on because she's obviously too challenged to find her way to her own food bowl?

It's not a simple question. Just as you have book-smart and street-smart people, you have dogs that are smart in different ways. Dogs that we consider book-smart are the ones that tend to learn commands easily--and once these commands are learned, do as they're told. Owners of other breeds might agree their dogs may not have college futures, but they do have street smarts, and when it comes to getting their way, they're without peer.

The reason for these differences is all in the genes. Or more precisely, the tendency to follow human direction depends very much on what a breed was developed to do in the first place. Of the most trainable breeds, almost all come from herding or retrieving backgrounds, jobs for which the ability to follow human cues is vital. A good herder must be able to follow the shepherd's directions to move the sheep where they are wanted. A good retriever must be able to follow his handler's directions to locate fowl downed out of the dog's sight, or to avoid swimming into danger. Even lapdogs tend to have an obedient streak, since they've been selected as companions for generations.

It's easy to explain why some breeds are so obedient, but how can it be explained why some are so disobedient? Sometimes being disobedient, or at least independent, is a job requirement. Hounds and terriers, for example, were developed to trail or chase quarry without human direction; a hound or terrier that checked back with the hunter to see which way he should go would be a dismal failure on the hunt.

Other breeds tend to be disobedient simply because they're less civilized, so to speak. Breeds that DNA studies have shown to be more closely related to the wolf tend to think for themselves rather than rely on humans. These so-called progenitor breeds include the basenji, the Afghan hound, the chow chow and the Pekingese.

Domestication has selected for dogs that have an aptitude for training to a greater degree than typical wolves, which are notoriously hard to train. Yet nobody would ever think of accusing a wolf of being slow-witted. After all, is it smarter to do everything you're told or to make up your own rules?

Most people think they want a smart dog, but be careful what you wish for. Smart dogs need mental stimulation to keep themselves occupied. If you can't provide it, they can undertake their own projects, which may include various home-improvement jobs, such as pulling up that old carpet, redoing the wiring or rearranging your pantry. Unfortunately, no matter how smart they are, they seldom get past the demolition stage of one project before moving on to the next.

There's something to be said for a dog that's easily entertained.

Adapted from:

Another way to qualify how smart a dog might be is to look at different types of intelligence.  In his book, The Intelligence of Dogs, Stanley Coren breaks it down this way:

"The Intelligence of Dogs" is a book on dog intelligence by Stanley Coren, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Published in 1994, the book explains Coren's theories about the differences in intelligence between different breeds of dogs.

Based upon previous research, Coren recognizes that intelligence has a variety of different dimensions. Coren writes of three such dimensions:
  • instinctive intelligence,
  • adaptive intelligence, and
  • working and obedience intelligence.
Instinctive intelligence refers to a dog's ability to perform the tasks it was bred for, such as herding, pointing, fetching, guarding, or supplying companionship.

Adaptive intelligence refers to a dog's ability to solve problems on his own.

Working and obedience intelligence refers to a dog's ability to learn from humans.

The book's ranking focuses on working and obedience intelligence. Coren sent evaluation requests to American Kennel Club and Canadian Kennel Club obedience trial judges, asking them to rank breeds by performance.

When Coren's list of breed intelligence first came out there was much media attention and commentary both pro and con. However over the years the ranking of breeds and the methodology used have come to be accepted as a valid description of the differences among dog breeds in terms of the trainability aspect of dog intelligence. In addition, measurements of canine intelligence using other methods have confirmed the general pattern of these rankings including a new study using owner ratings to rank dog trainability and intelligence.

Adapted from:

Coren's book is available at:

For further determination of intelligence vs. smartness, consider this:

How Smart Is Your Dog?

You might think your beagle is the smartest canine on the block, but he's got the dubious honor of being among the least trainable of dog breeds. The snarling Doberman next door? He's a quick study.

Dog intelligence, like human intelligence, comes in various forms. And although the best in any breed can be nurtured by owners willing to put in the time and effort, there are fixed realities when it comes to your animal's inbred qualities.

If it's bred to hunt, herd, or retrieve, the dog is more likely to be quick on its feet, eager to work, to move, and to please you. It will learn faster. If it's bred to be a livestock guard dog or a scent hound, it may seem distracted and just a bit dense.

Yet, even if some breeds are more nimble - some might call them smarter - trainers say any dog can learn the basics like sitting and staying. It just might take them longer to catch on.

The key is knowing what your pooch is built for and how to motivate him.

But keep in mind that the smartest dogs often don't make the best pets, trainers and vets say. Your job is to find a breed that suits your lifestyle and to focus on bringing out the best in your dog.

Smartest Dogs

In his bestselling book, "The Intelligence of Dogs", neuropsychologist Stanley Coren, PhD, focuses on trainability as a marker of intelligence.

The University of British Columbia psychology professor relied on the assessments of 110 breeds by more than 200 professional dog obedience judges who scored breeds based on working/obedience tests.

The top dogs absorbed commands in less than five repetitions and obeyed them 95% of the time or better. Here's the list, along with a breed description by the American Kennel Club:

1. Border Collie: A workaholic, this breed is the world's premier sheep herder, prized for its intelligence, extraordinary instinct, and working ability.

2. Poodle: Exceptionally smart and active. Bred to retrieve things from the water. The miniature variety may have been used for truffle hunting.

3. German Shepherd: The world's leading police, guard, and military dog -- and a loving family companion and herder.

4. Golden Retriever: Intelligent and eager to please. Bred as a hunting companion; ideal as a guide and as assistance with search-and-rescue operations.

5. Doberman Pinscher: Known for its stamina and speed. Bred to be a guardian and in demand as a police and war dog.

6. Shetland Sheepdog: The "Sheltie" is essentially a miniature working Collie. A rough-coated, longhaired working breed that is keenly intelligent. Excels in herding.

7. Labrador Retriever: An ideal sporting and family dog. Gentle and intelligent.

8. Papillon: A happy, alert breed that isn't shy or aggressive. Known as Dwarf Spaniels in the 16th and 17th centuries, they reach 8-11 inches high.

9. Rottweiler: Robust and powerful, the breed is happiest with a job. Suitable as a police dog, herder, service dog, therapy dog, obedience competitor, and devoted companion.

10. Australian Cattle Dog: Happiest doing a job like herding, obedience, or agility. Energetic and intelligent.

Do Smart Dogs Make Better Pets?

You might think a smart dog will do what you want it to do. Not necessarily.

"Smart doesn't mean easy," Coren says.  "A Doberman is going to get bored and destroy your sofa and Ming vase collection if you're out of the house for 8 to 10 hours a day, while an English bulldog may take 8 hours to figure out you're gone," Coren says. "You'll come home and he'll greet you and your pottery is still on the shelf."

A border collie is bred to work all day, so if it doesn't have an opportunity to work or exercise, it will be miserable, says Chris Redenbach, an Atlanta-based dog trainer who runs The Balanced Dog, a training program. "Typically, it'll come out in other areas, like destructiveness, running away, nipping at kids."

Having a smart dog "is like having a very smart kid," Redenbach says. "They're always into something and will get into trouble if they're bored.

Coren says his beloved beagle, a breed that scored low in obedience tests, is perfect around Coren's nine grandchildren because he doesn't seem to mind - or remember - them pulling on his ears.

Veterinarian Sophia Yin, an animal behaviorist in Davis, Calif., tells people to seriously evaluate the amount of energy they have compared to the breed they want to get.

"Are they the type of person who can exercise it a few hours a day? How much time are they willing to invest in training the dog, because the more energetic the dog is, the more training he might need," she says. "When they think they want a smart dog, it's a huge misconception. They don't need smart; they need attentive."

Can You Teach a Dumb Dog New (Any) Tricks?

If your canine seems clueless, it may be that it has been bred to be more independent, or not so eager to please its owner, Yin says.

Training will require more patience and the right kind of motivation, whether it's praise, petting, or treats.

"For breeds, instincts make a difference, but for the basics - 'sit,' 'come,' 'down' - they'll all learn at the same rate. With good technique, the difference might be a month," she says.

Her Australian cattle dog, for example, stays at her side when they're out and loves a pat on the head. Her Jack Russell terrier, a high-energy breed that didn't make the smart list, has to be rewarded lickety-split with a treat or he'll lose interest in learning. A pat on the head just won't do it.

The beagle, a breed trained to work independently, probably needs more training time, Yin says. And the bulldog, which scored well below average on obedience tests, can learn quickly - as long as he doesn't feel pushed around or punished.

The beagle and bulldog are among the dog breeds on the bottom of Coren's list. These dogs had to hear commands 80 to 100 times or more before they obeyed them even 25% of the time. They include:

1. Shih Tzu

2. Bassett hound

3. Mastiff/Beagle (tied)

4. Pekingese

5. Bloodhound

6. Borzoi

7. Chow Chow

8. Bulldog

9. Basenji

10. Afghan hound (least obedient)

Redenbach doesn't like categorizing dogs as smart or dumb; she says that's too simplistic. Like Yin, she says positive and consistent training will make a good dog.

"The number of intelligent dogs I have met has been on the increase over the years, because the better trainer I become, the smarter I see they are," Redenbach says.

Adapted from:

For an interesting (and humorous) look at the Top 10 and Bottom 10 breeds for intelligence, go to:

So, just what is it about Border Collies that rates them as #1?

Recent research by the American Psychological Association proves what any dog owner already knew: dogs are smart!

But, exactly, how smart are dogs? Chaser, a Border Collie (considered to be one of the smartest dogs) can distinguish the difference between nouns and verbs and correctly identify over 1,000 different objects!

Chaser enjoyed the attention of scientists, led by her owner and trainer, retired psychology professor John Pilley. Chaser responded correctly to identifying a noun as an object 95% of the time, according to USA Today. Not only was Chaser able to pick out the correct toy out of over 1,000 every time, she was able to identify toys she's never seen by process of elimination - all based on verbal commands. Chaser definitely qualifies as one of the world's smartest dogs.

More studies conducted by University of Florida in Gainesville showed that dogs are extremely attuned to human body language and behavior.

Two years ago, Stanley Coren of the University of British Columbia presented research that stated that "dogs can learn about 165 words, can count to four or five, and have a basic understanding of arithmetic. He said the mental abilities of dogs are close to those of a human child of about 2 or 2½ years old, but abilities vary by breed" according to USA Today.

Not bad, for just a dog, right?

Adapted from:

More information on the Top 10 smartest breeds:

#10 Australian Cattle Dog

The Australian Cattle Dog is a very active breed. They need to be exercised on a regular basis, both mentally and physically. As they were originally bred to herd in cattle in Australia (hence the name), they are freethinking, resourceful, and very protective of their property, including people!

#9 Rottweiler

The Rottweiler, #9 on our list, has a fearsome reputation that is largely undeserved. The Rotti is only average in intensity, and make a great family dog. Not only is the Rottweiler intelligent, but extremely courageous (one of the best guard dogs) and reliable.

#8 The Papillon

Does this dog scare you at all? Well it should, because Papillons are actually a lot tougher than they look! Some would characterize Papillons as a little moody and aggressive, but they are simply very possessive of their masters and “home turf”. It may surprise some that the Papillon is considered one of the most affectionate dogs. Another very intelligent dog, and very easy to train.

#7 Labrador Retriever

An extremely loving, affectionate, and patient dog, the Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular breeds of dog in the world. They love to work, and need a lot of exercise. Without proper exercise, Labs have been known to develop weight problems. Because of their good nature, and love of children and other dogs, they are a very popular family dog.

#6 Shetland Sheepdog

Many Shetland owners swear that their dog has nearly human intelligence! Shelties were originally bred to herd hundreds of sheep and cattle, requiring great concentration and, of course, intelligence. They can be a little wary of strangers and children, but are very loyal and affectionate within their own family. In fact, the Sheltie very much craves human companionship.

#5 Doberman Pinscher

Dobermans are an extremely loyal, assertive, and fearless breed. They have incredible stamina, and love to work (they are one of the top 10 best guard dog breeds) Although known as a dominant breed, Dobermans can vary greatly as far as temperament goes. Some can be quite docile, and even work as therapy dogs in hospitals! Dobermans can be great family dogs too, if trained properly from an early age. Although not vicious, you can count on a Doberman to aggressively protect its master if necessary.

#4 Golden Retriever

Consistently ranked as the most popular breed of dog, the Golden Retriever personifies everything we love about dogs-loyal, loving, patient, great with children and eager to please. With such great intelligence, it’s no wonder that Golden Retrievers excel in obedience competitions and at performing tricks. It should be no surprise that the Golden ranks highly on our list of top 10 most affectionate dogs.

#3 German Shepherd

German Shepherds are extremely intelligent, courageous, and have a very strong protective instinct (they are one of the best guard dogs). As long as they are trained in obedience from an early age by a loving but firm hand, they can be great family dogs, and excellent with children. Because of their intelligence, a German Shepherd needs a purpose or job in life to be truly happy. This intelligence, coupled with their courageous nature make German Shepherds excellent police and search dogs.

#2 Poodle

Yes, the Poodle is at number two. The standard Poodle is highly intelligent and one of the easiest breeds to train. They love to be around people, and really hate to be left alone. Some standard Poodles are good guard dogs, and some can even be trained as hunters! Overall, Poodles are a sensitive, pleasant and happy breed.

#1 Border Collie

Like many intelligent breeds, the Border Collie needs a job to do. If they don’t have a purpose in life or some kind of job, they will not be happy. Border Collies should definitely not be left at home alone all day, and if they are, they can become quite destructive. They need constant companionship, praise, and extensive exercise. So if you work and live in the city, a Border Collie probably isn’t the dog for you! Because of their legendary intelligence, Border Collies set the standard in competitions for such skills as agility, obedience, and of course, sheepdog trials.

Adapted from:

As the closer for this week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats, watch this very entertaining and informative video of the Top 10 smartest dogs, brought to you from Animal Planet:

OK, I'm sure we've stirred up the debate amongst our dog-owning readers.  Is your dog the smartest dog you've ever seen?  The smartest dog in your neighborhood?  How about the smartest in your house?  Let Helpful Buckeye know where you stand on this question at:

The Pittsburgh Steelers went to Indianapolis to play the Colts tonight.  Most people expected an easy Steeler win but Helpful Buckeye knew the Steelers would keep this one close...and, close they kept it...until the last drive of the game.  A 3-point win is still a win, but the Steelers continue to look for an answer to their inconsistencies.


Helpful Buckeye's plans for the Quadathlon of 2011 have somewhat unraveled.  My much anticipated biking trip in the Colorado Rockies was postponed due to being in Pennsylvania to help my Dad get situated with his health problems.  Then, I had to postpone the rim-to-rim hike across the Grand Canyon due to being away from home for my Dad's funeral for almost 4 weeks.  It would have been foolhardy to attempt that hike without any conditioning for over 4 weeks.  As it turns out, I wouldn't have been able to make the hike anyway...I tore one of my calf muscles playing racquetball last Sunday and can barely walk.  The question now becomes, "Can I get back into a proper training regimen on my bike for the 79-mile bike race down in Tucson the week before Thanksgiving?"...which would have been the 4th event of my Quadathlon.  The 2 events that I had to postpone will be doable in 2012...after all, the Rockies and the Grand Canyon have been there for a long more year won't change their challenge.  I'm already making plans for those, lining up our travel buddies, considering that reservations need to be made well in advance at both locations.

As mentioned a few months ago, Desperado and Helpful Buckeye have been awaiting the return of cooler temperatures at the lower elevations in Arizona so that we could resume our quick-hitting trips to various parts of our state.  The Arizona Centennial celebration, coming up in February, has aroused a lot of interest in Arizona history and we plan on adding to our already growing list of interesting Arizona experiences.  More on that as it happens.

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Well, it's been almost 4 weeks since Desperado and Helpful Buckeye left home for our funeral trip to western Pennsylvania.  We finally got home a few days ago.  After picking up our held mail, running some important errands, and doing several loads of laundry, we have started to settle back into our normal routine here in the mountain town of Flagstaff.

Questions On Dogs and Cats should get back to being a little better illustrated, now that I again have access to my stash of photos.  Several of our readers commented on the fact that the photos didn't change for a few weeks and that there weren't any photos at all in last week's issue.  That will all be corrected in this issue.  In addition, I'll throw in several great quotes about cats from the master, Mark Twain.  Thanks for your collective patience!

The topic of unusual cat behavior has been with us for the last 3 issues and will finish up this week.  The last of the unusual behaviors to be discussed will be one that is actually being taught to cats by their owners.  If you haven't already guessed what that would be...what about cats being trained on how to use a toilet for their "potty"?  That's right...your toilet!

Potty-trained Cats

Barbara Ogburn was waiting for guests to arrive for a dinner party when her Siamese cat Toby went to use his litter box.

"The guest bathroom smelled horrible and there was litter everywhere," Ogburn said. "I looked at him and said, 'Dude, your litter box is gone.'"

Someone had given Ogburn a Litter Kwitter, a three-step training kit that teaches cats to use a toilet instead of a litter box. She decided to try it, and it worked. Now Ogburn, who's had cats since she was a child, says she will never again have a litter box. No more buying litter, lugging it home, or cleaning it up.

Litter Kwitter and other toilet-training kits on the market for cats work like this: The toilet seat is fitted with a series of plastic rings the cat can step on so it doesn't fall in. The hole in the rings gets larger over time, until the cat can simply balance on the toilet seat.

But training a cat to use the toilet is not as easy as getting a cat to use a litter box. Cats instinctively bury their waste to hide it from predators, and litter fosters that instinct in a way that using the toilet does not, according to Steve Duno of Seattle, a veteran pet behaviorist and trainer who has written 18 books.

That's why, when switching to the toilet, some cats will scrape the bowl, the tank or the wall next to the toilet. Outdoor cats are not good candidates for toilet-training.

In addition, some cats tolerate change in their routines, while for others, even a slight change in feeding schedules will make their worlds fall apart, said Dr. Meghan E. Herron, chief veterinarian at the Behavioral Medicine Clinic, part of the Department of Veterinary Clinical Services at Ohio State University.

"Cats are slaves to routine and very wary of danger to themselves," Duno added.

And there is nothing about the size or height of a toilet that is normal to a cat, Herron said. "One bad experience with a toilet can make them never use it again," she said.

Duno, who has toilet-trained several cats, says he's "known cats that have fallen into the toilet and that's it, you're done right there."

You also need patience. "Cats learn at a very metered pace," Duno said. "If you go too fast, your cat might find other places — furniture, plants, rugs or closets — to go," Herron said.

When you talk about toilet-trained cats, most people think of Mr. Jinx, Robert De Niro's beloved, toilet-flushing, mayhem-making cat in "Meet the Parents," "Meet the Fockers" and "Little Fockers."

Dawn M. Barkan trained all the Himalayan cats that portrayed Mr. Jinx in those movies, including two rescued cats, Peanut and Charlie, who still live with her.

Misha, who has since died, did the original scene, but "we didn't really train him to use the toilet," said Barkan, who freelances for Los Angeles-based Birds & Animal Unlimited. "It's movie magic." The cat sat on a prop designed to look like a toilet and pressed a button so that the toilet appeared to be flushed. Sound effects were added later. The idea for Litter Kwitter came from "Meet the Parents," said Jo Lapidge, who with her husband Terry invented the kit.

After research and tests, the Sydney, Australia, couple launched their company in 2005. Since then, they've sold 750,000 kits.

Lapidge says the kit has an 80 percent success rate that "would be higher if humans stopped to follow all the instructions and showed a bit more patience."

In addition to toilet-training products with plastic rings — ranging in price from lightweight plastic for about $10 to Litter Kwitter at $50 — there are also online how-to sites and books that explain how to toilet-train your cat.

Online customer reviews for the products are mixed. Even those who say they've been successful often say it took several months to complete the training, with the cat having accidents along the way. One commenter for a toilet-training kit for a product called CitiKitty gave it five stars but cautioned that the process was "messy."

There is one disadvantage for cat-owners who successfully train their animals. Owners may be alerted to health problems by how often a cat uses its litter box or the odor, color or texture of waste. With a toilet, "you can't monitor the cat's health through elimination evidence," Duno said.

In addition, as a toilet-trained cat ages, it may have a hard time leaping onto the seat.

Herron cautioned that a cat is likely to find another place to go rather than wait in line at a bathroom door, so a spare or guest bathroom the animal can use works best.

One benefit in addition to doing away with litter: Toilets diminish the risk of humans contracting parasites or infectious diseases like toxoplasmosis.
 Finally, no matter how happy you might be to have toilet-trained your cat, Duno said this is one animal behavior that shouldn't be rewarded with a treat.

"You are choreographing it, but you are not actively encouraging it," Duno said. "You can't be there to praise the cat. It's too distracting."

Adapted from:

As for training a cat, here's Mark Twain's take on that: "A cat is more intelligent than people believe, and can be taught any crime."  Notebook, 1895

Is it possible that cats can adore, yet manipulate someone?  Yes, says a researcher from Austria.

Cats Adore, Manipulate Women


• Relationships between cats and their owners mirror human bonds, especially when the owner is a woman.
• Cats hold some control over when they are fed and handled, functioning very similar to human children in some households.
• While the age, sex and personality of owners affect these relationships, the sex of the cat doesn't seem to matter.

The bond between cats and their owners turns out to be far more intense than imagined, especially for cat aficionado women and their affection reciprocating felines, suggests a new study.

Cats attach to humans, and particularly women, as social partners, and it's not just for the sake of obtaining food, according to the new research, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Behavioural Processes.

The study is the first to show in detail that the dynamics underlying cat-human relationships are nearly identical to human-only bonds, with cats sometimes even becoming a furry "child" in nurturing homes.

"Food is often used as a token of affection, and the ways that cats and humans relate to food are similar in nature to the interactions seen between the human caregiver and the pre-verbal infant," co-author Jon Day, a Waltham Centre for Pet Nutrition researcher, told Discovery News. "Both cat and human infant are, at least in part, in control of when and what they are fed!"

For the study, led by Kurt Kotrschal of the Konrad Lorenz Research Station and the University of Vienna, the researchers videotaped and later analyzed interactions between 41 cats and their owners over lengthy four-part periods. Each and every behavior of both the cat and owner was noted. Owner and cat personalities were also assessed in a separate test. For the cat assessment, the authors placed a stuffed owl toy with large glass eyes on a floor so the feline would encounter it by surprise.

The researchers determined that cats and their owners strongly influenced each other, such that they were each often controlling the other's behaviors. Extroverted women with young, active cats enjoyed the greatest synchronicity, with cats in these relationships only having to use subtle cues, such as a single upright tail move, to signal desire for friendly contact.

While cats have plenty of male admirers, and vice versa, this study and others reveal that women tend to interact with their cats -- be they male or female felines -- more than men do.

"In response, the cats approach female owners more frequently, and initiate contact more frequently (such as jumping on laps) than they do with male owners," co-author Manuela Wedl of the University of Vienna told Discovery News, adding that "female owners have more intense relationships with their cats than do male owners."

Cats also seem to remember kindness and return the favors later. If owners comply with their feline's wishes to interact, then the cat will often comply with the owner's wishes at other times. The cat may also "have an edge in this negotiation," since owners are usually already motivated to establish social contact.

Although there are isolated instances of non-human animals, such as gorillas, bonding with other species, it seems to be mostly unique for humans to engage in social relationships with other animals. In this case with cats, it's for very good reason. Cats could very well be man's -- and woman's -- best friend.

"A relationship between a cat and a human can involve mutual attraction, personality compatibility, ease of interaction, play, affection and social support," co-author Dorothy Gracey of the University of Vienna explained. "A human and a cat can mutually develop complex ritualized interactions that show substantial mutual understanding of each other's inclinations and preferences."

Dennis Turner, a University of Zurich-Irchel animal behaviorist, told Discovery News that he's "very impressed with this study on human-cat interactions, in that it has taken our earlier findings a step higher, using more modern analytical techniques to get at the interplay between cat and human personalities."

Turner, who is also senior editor of The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behaviour (Cambridge University Press), added that he and his colleagues "now have a new dimension to help us understand how these relationships function."

Adapted from:

Again, from Mark Twain: "That's the way with a cat, you know -- any cat; they don't care for discipline. And they can't help it, they're made so. But it ain't really insubordination, when you come to look at it right and fair -- it's a word that don't apply to a cat. A cat ain't ever anybody's slave or serf or servant, and can't be -- it ain't in him to be. And so, he don't have to obey anybody. He is the only creature in heaven or earth or anywhere that don't have to obey somebody or other, including the angels. It sets him above the whole ruck, it puts him in a class by himself. He is independent. You understand the size of it? He is the only independent person there is. In heaven or anywhere else. He's your friend, if you like, but that's the limit -- equal terms, too, be you king or be you cobbler; you can't play any I'm-better-than-you on a cat -- no, sir! Yes, he's your friend, if you like, but you got to treat him like a gentleman, there ain't any other terms. The minute you don't, he pulls freight."  The Refuge of the Derelicts

As a fitting conclusion for this series on unusual cat behavior, Helpful Buckeye offers this presentation on how to interact with your cat. Once you have a better understanding of why your cat does the things it does, your interactions with your cat should improve immensely.
 Social play refers to games with others. That can be wrestling with littermates, playing tag with other pets, or ambushing the ankles of a favorite human. Social play reaches its peak in kittens aged 9 weeks to 16 weeks, and decreases thereafter. Adopt two kittens together to avoid becoming a target of kitten play aggression.

How to interact with your cat

Watching cats play makes us smile, laugh out loud, and maybe even join in the fun. While adult pets play less than rambunctious babies, all cats play to some extent through their entire life. It's not only fun for you both, but healthy as well.

How Cats Play

By 4 weeks of age, kittens practice four basic techniques: play fighting, mouse pounce, bird swat, and fish scoop. The first play displayed by kittens is on the back, belly-up, with paws waving. Feints at the back of a sibling's neck mimic the prey-bite used to dispatch mice (toy or real). Kittens also practice the simpering sideways shuffle, back arched high, almost tiptoeing around other kittens or objects. Soon, the eye-paw coordination improves to execute the pounce, the boxer stance, chase and pursuit, horizontal leaps, and the face-off where kittens bat each other about the head. These skills falls into the following play categories:
  • Object play is interaction with toys--and for a kitten, everything is potentially a toy. Chasing, pawing, clawing and capturing are the names of the games. Movement and sound stimulates play behavior, so choose lightweight, easy-to-bat-around toys that make interesting noise. Try a ping-pong ball in an empty tub. That helps prevent " gravity experiments" when cats push breakables off high shelves to see what happens.
  • Self-directed play such as tail chasing or pouncing on imaginary objects is thought to be a replacement for social play when a play partner isn't available.
  • Locomotory play simply means the cat is in motion. That can involve solo play of running and pouncing on imaginary targets or involve others.
Why Cats Play

In years past, we assumed play simply allowed juvenile animals to practice skills they'd need later as adults. But adult cats continue to play, even though they have no need to "kill" what's in the food bowl. It was suggested that adult cats play as a substitute for frustrated hunting activities. But even feral cats and wild feline cousins continue to play as adults. Today we know play has many purposes and benefits.

  • Play helps kittens develop eye-paw coordination and strengthen muscles. Adult cat play keeps tubby tabbies trim.
  • During play, kittens learn the feline rules of the road. They learn to inhibit tooth and claw, and that chomping on their own tail hurts.
  • Play teaches kittens about their world. They learn cause-and-effect through play, i.e. that swatting a wad of paper sends it bouncing away.
  • Playing together reinforces social bonds. Because your cat considers you its best friend, playing with it strengthens the bond you share. Interactive toys like feather wands and fishing pole lures teach the cat that you are the source of fun.
  • Cat play relieves stress and tension. It allows hissed-off cats to release energy in a legal, productive way by stalking and "killing" that arrogant toy mouse instead of your toes under the covers. Directing claws at legal scratch objects lets cats vent while preserving your furniture.
  • Play boosts the confidence of shy cats when they capture the feather lure at the end of a fishing-pole toy. The cat can stay a safe distance but still have fun. Play distracts fearful cats in scary situations like a new house. And play changes cat-titude about strangers so there' s a benefit to interaction.
  • Play exercises the mind as well as the body. Playing with adult and senior cats lubricates the mind to reduce the chance for kitty Alzheimer's.
Play is serious business for cats. In a stress-filled world, we all benefit from a daily dose of giggles. Take a lesson from your kitty and find time to play every day.

Adapted from:

Mark Twain offers this advice for those who play a little too rough with a cat: "That cat will write her autograph all over your leg if you let her."  From memoirs of Twain's secretary Mary Howden which were published in New York Herald, December 13, 1925
Helpful Buckeye hopes that all of our cat-owning readers now have a much better understanding of why a cat behaves the way it does...and that the rest of you at least enjoyed reading about some of the quirky behaviors of the USA's most popular house pet.


The Pittsburgh Steelers actually played like they wanted to win the game today.  Even though it was against Seattle, they were able to get back to Steeler football and controlled the running game.  Combined with the Ravens' unexpected loss, we're right back in good shape again.  There is a lot of football to be played yet this season.


Helpful Buckeye says "Thank you" to my 2 very favorite Okies, Charlene and Ken, for diligently watching over my 7 herb plants while Desperado and I were away from home.  The herbs came home looking very healthy and we've already used some of the basil, lavender, and Italian "flat-leaved" parsley since getting them back.  My lavender isn't quite as far along as this one, but with any luck, I'll get it there over the winter.

I've saved the last of the Mark Twain quotes for the closing: "You may say a cat uses good grammar. Well, a cat does -- but you let a cat get excited once; you let a cat get to pulling fur with another cat on a shed, nights, and you'll hear grammar that will give you the lockjaw. Ignorant people think it's the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain't so; it's the sickening grammar they use."  A Tramp Abroad

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Helpful Buckeye apologizes for the omission of last week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats.  I had prepared a new issue for publication but, due to confusion on my part, had scheduled it for this weekend.  So, you'll still be able to read a fresh issue this weekend.  Hopefully, all of our readers were busy enough with other stuff over Labor Day weekend that they didn't miss my goof-up.

In this week's issue, we'll discuss a few specific behavior problems that most cat owners have had to deal with at some point in their time together.  The first is the most problematic and involves what cats can do with their claws.

Cat Scratching—7 sofa-saving training tips

Understanding Why They Scratch and Claw
Kittens and adult cats claw for many reasons. Clawing feels good and provides a great shoulder and leg workout. Clawing keeps feline nails healthy by cleaning off old layers. Clawing marks kitty territory with visual cues (including your shredded upholstery) and paw pad scent.

Your cat's clawing behavior may raise
your blood pressure, but it relieves feline stress, sort of like the kitty equivalent to human nail biting. In fact, upset cats often target items that smell like their beloved human (your bed, your favorite chair), not because they're angry or vindictive, but because they love you so much and scent-sharing makes them feel better. Once you understand their motivations, you'll be able to better train them toward less-destructive clawing.

Using Kitten Aptitude Training

These seven tips and strategies can help you redirect your cat's clawing behaviors:

1. Offer Cat Scratching Options That Suit Your Pet:
Irresistible choices match the cat's desires for texture and style. Does your cat scratch horizontally or vertically -- or maybe overhead while scooting on her back? Does he target upholstery, carpet, soft fabric or hardwood? Choose cat scratchers accordingly. Scratch objects should be taller or longer than the cat's full-length stretch as an adult (because kittens do grow!) and sturdy enough it won't tip over under a full-out scratch assault.

2. Learn the Best Locations for the Scratchers:
Clawing is territorial marking ruled by location. Cats want the whole world to see their scratch-graffiti, so don't hide the post away in a back room. Take a cue from the location of the shredded sofa or carpet on the stairs. Important pathways, lookouts (near windows), feeding stations and potty locations all fit the feline real estate criteria.

3. Use the 1+1 Rule for Cat Furniture:
Provide a scratch object for every cat in the house, plus one. That means two cats should have at least three legal places to scratch. Some cats won't want to share and having posts in multiple locations means even a singleton cat has no excuse to use the bedroom mattress instead.

4. Actively Entice Your Cat:
Use a feather toy or other irresistible lure to draw the kitten's attention to the right target. Tempt the kitten to climb and claw, and praise with soft, happy encouragement. Older kittens and adults that react to catnip may be attracted to a catnip-spiked claw object. A tattered, scratched-up post looks good to a cat, so don't replace it. And catch kitty in the act of doing it right, and praise, praise, praise!

5. Focus Training Efforts:
Make the "legal" scratch object irresistible while making furniture unattractive -- at least until the kitty accepts the proper post.

- Place the legal scratch object right in front of the scratched sofa. You know the cat already likes the location, so keep the scratcher there until the cat changes scratch-allegiance to the legal target.

- Make your sofa less appealing for your cat's claws. Consider using double-sided tape on prime scratching spots, as it feels nasty to paws. Another option, depending on the color of your furniture, is to dust baby powder or cinnamon on the furniture for a scented and poof-in-the-face reminder if claws hit.

- Interrupt wrong behaviors with a hand-clap or short hissing sound, and then redirect to the right object and praise.

6. Time Training Carefully:
Cats love routine and often scratch at the same times and places each day: after naps, after meals, as a greeting display (when you come home), after play. Schedule claw-training during these times.

7. Keep Claws Trimmed:
Needle-sharp kitten claws are easy to clip with human nail clippers. Try clipping one claw each night when Junior sleeps on your lap. Gently press the pad to express the claw, and clip just the sharp end, avoiding the pink. Dull claws do less damage even if Junior forgets and scratches in the wrong place. Kittens that accept claw trims grow into adults that accept paw handling, too. Vinyl nail covers (in fashion colors) also are an option. These glue onto the cat's claws to prevent clawing damage but grow out and must be replaced regularly.

Remember, every kitten is different. Some rarely scratch at all, while others become scratch-aholics, especially during emotional upset. Kitten Aptitude Training offers basic help to positively manage your kitten's claws-and-effect.

The ASPCA has some pretty strong things to say about the concept of declawing a cat:

How to Solve Kitty’s Destructive Scratching

As all cat lovers know, our feline friends love to use their claws in all sorts of interesting ways. As part of their daily rituals, cats instinctually pull the claws on their front paws through surfaces that offer resistance. Cats who live outdoors favor logs and tree trunks for this purpose. Unfortunately, in a domestic setting, this instinct often translates to scaling the drapes or reupholstering a nubby sofa.

So what do you do if Fluffy is determined to redecorate your house in the latest version of feline-scratch chic? First, what not to do: Please do not declaw your pet. The term “declaw” is a misnomer, as it implies the removal of a cat’s claws only. In reality, declawing involves amputating the end of a cat’s toes, and is comparable to removing your own fingernails as well as the bones to which they are attached. Ouch!! Declawing surgery also includes many risks, and is accompanied by severe pain.

The ASPCA is strongly opposed to declawing—and other elective surgeries such as debarking dogs—for the convenience of pet parents. One effective way to treat your cat’s penchant for destructive scratching is to provide her with appropriate surfaces and objects to scratch, such as scratching posts made of cardboard, carpeting, wood, sisal or upholstery. Check out these other helpful tips from our behaviorists:

·         Encourage your cat to investigate posts by scenting them with catnip.

·         Discourage inappropriate scratching by removing or covering attractive objects.

·         Clip your cat’s nails regularly.

·         If you catch your cat in the act of scratching an inappropriate object, try startling him by clapping your hands or squirting him with water. (Use this procedure only as a last resort, because your cat may associate you with the startling event and learn to fear you.)

For an interesting view on whether cats exhibit a preference for one paw over another (in other words, right-pawed vs. left-pawed), watch this short video:

The second unusual cat behavior to get used to is a cat's desire to be higher than many of its' surroundings:
From: Amy D. Shojai, a certified animal behavior consultant and the award-winning author of 23 pet care books, including Complete Kitten Care and Complete Care for Your Aging Cat.

Countertop Cruising Cats

Cats become pests with their determination to stay above it all. They cruise kitchen countertops, lounge atop doors and leap to refrigerator tops to ambush treats.

The urge to be the top cat seems a universal cat vice. By understanding why cats scale the heights, cat owners can provide legal outlets that keep both their cats happy and out of the butter dish.

Why Cats Love Heights

Cats come pre-programmed to seek elevated lounging spots. Think about it: cats in the wild want to see enemies (and potentially munchable critters) while remaining invisible. A cat quite literally believes it "owns" the space it can see.

Cats also control each other's interactions--or even the dog's movements--with pointed stares. This packs even more punch from an elevated perch, giving the cat ownership and control over even more territory. The cat that commands the highest perch is the high-cat-on-the-totem-pole in that particular room.

What's the Attraction?

Individual cats may have specific preferences for lounge spots. But in general, there are five reasons cats seek a particular place.

Height....The taller the perch, the more important the cat.

View....Perches near important pathways like windows or stairways offer high value.

Warmth....Cats are furry heat-seeking missiles, so the tops of warm TVs, computer monitors, or lamps can prove irresistible. My cat loves to sleep in the paper well of my printer.

Comfort....Lounging requires a soft, comfy surface like the seats of chairs.

Food....Kitchen counters and stovetops smell yummy or even have snacks within paw reach that keep the cat burglar returning to the scene of the cat crime.

You won't keep your cat on the ground. Cats tend to avoid low spots with no view, or that are cold and uncomfortable. So give your cat what it wants with irresistible "legal" perch options while also making forbidden spots unattractive.

Grounding High-Rise Cats

Evaluate your cat's favorite perches, and make your choice better. My cat, Seren, loves to lounge on top of the piano (height) beneath a lamp (warmth) next to the window (view). To purr-suade her otherwise, we placed a three-tiered cat tree that's taller than the piano and has a softer surface (comfort), still under the lamp beside the piano, and still in front of the window.

- For your home, have at least one cat tree (or acceptable high-value lounge spot) for each cat. Otherwise, they may argue over who gets first dibs.

- Make the legal lounge taller than the forbidden object, but nearby so the location remains attractive. An empty bookshelf can work, or even an inexpensive ladder. Put a cat bed stocked with cat treats on the paint rack.

- Make off-limits spots unattractive. Booby-trap counters so they're no longer comfy. Double-sided tape products like Sticky Paws applied to placemats can be scattered on forbidden surfaces, for example.

- Cats hate weird textures too. Aluminum foil that covers stovetops can keep some cats at bay.

- For hard-case cats, invest in clear plastic carpet runner to line the countertop, dining table or other illegal location. Just place it nub-side up, and your cat will seek a more comfy spot on which to lounge.

Choose which battles to fight, because it's hard to win them all, and you want your cat to like you. My cat isn't allowed on the mantel where she plays gravity experiments with fine breakables. But she won the battle of the dining room table where she lounges in a plush cat bed beneath a stained-glass lamp. I've also trained her to exit the printer when I need it. In families, sometimes you must compromise.
The third possibly disturbing example of "unusual" cat behavior would be cats that run around the house through the night, as told by the folks at Pawnation:
Cat Running around at night

We know you love your cat. But sometimes understanding his or her behavior can be a big challenge.

That's we we've asked cat expert Cyndee Gause, a sphynx breeder and passionate cat person, to answer your questions about taking care of your cat. Gause has been a cat lover all her life, and began actively showing cats in 2004. She has several national and regional winning cats, and runs a
small sphynx cattery in Atlanta, Ga. Cyndee is an active member of several CFA Clubs, as well as a member of the CFA Sphynx Breed Council

How do I keep my cat from howling and racing around in the middle of the night? She wakes me up every time!

Meowing and restlessness from cats can be caused by many different factors. If this is a new behavior, my advice is to have the cat checked by a vet to rule out any possibility of a medical problem. If the cat is given a clear bill of health, then it's more likely a behavioral problem.

Cats are very demanding creatures; they often meow to get our attention, whether it's for food, play or tummy rubs. Of course, getting them to do this on your terms is not always easy.

Setting up specific play times during the day and/or right before bedtime and keeping to a schedule can help your cat learn when acceptable play times are. When it's bedtime, you may need to confine your cat to a separate area of the house. When you stop responding to the meowing, they eventually stop. Supplying the cat with toys to play with during the night may also help keep the cat occupied while you are trying to sleep.

You can also try modifying her behavior by letting her know when she's acting unacceptably. Never yell at or hit your cat. Instead, try shaking a jar of pennies at her with a firm "no." This lets her know that you do not approve of the behavior.

There are several products designed to calm cats that are available at most pet stores.  Feliway 
is a line of products that come in both a spray and plug-in diffuser, and are designed to use pheromones to keep a cat calm.  Calm Down is an oral supplement that uses natural herbs to help relieve stress and calm cats.

Cats are active by nature, and if you have a single cat, sometimes giving it a playmate may help. This doesn't always work, as some cats prefer to be "king of the castle," but others prefer company and another cat may just do the trick!

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers this interesting and informative podcast about cats that are active at night:

In next week's issue, Helpful Buckeye will finish the topic of unusual cat behavior.


The main part of the NFL season kicks off today, featuring the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Baltimore Ravens.  The Ravens were ready for this game and the Steelers were not.  I don't know if this was a hangover from the Super Bowl or just a good old-fashioned butt-whupping...either way we're in a hole already.

The LA Dodgers have actually worked their way back to a .500 record and might even challenge the Giants for 2nd place.  This is remarkable considering all the distractions of the financial woes of their owners.


Desperado and Helpful Buckeye are in Iowa City, Iowa, this weekend, on our way back to the high country of northern Arizona.  Nebraska, Colorado, and New Mexico will take us the rest of the way.  We've got a lot of things to attend to after this roller coaster of a summer, but the path ahead should be leveling out considerably.  We are also looking forward to the beautiful fall weather of Flagstaff.

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~