Pet World: What to do when your ’Nervous Nelly’ overreacts to noise
We rescued a miniature Shih Tzu, and have had her for over a year now. She gets extremely nervous when we use the dishwasher or our washer and dryer. Is there something we can do to help her?
-Nervous Nelly's Mom, Marysville, Washington
Dear Nervous Nelly’s Mom,
Dogs can be sensitive to noise; de-sensitizing them can help them better cope. I recommend getting a canine pheromone collar for your Nervous Nelly to wear, and maybe give her an over the-counter anxiety supplement to calm her and set the stage for the desensitization training. For the short-term, get a sound machine and turn it on to mask the sound of the appliances when they run to reduce her reaction to them. When you turn on the sound machine, call her over to you, say a reward word, like “Bingo,” so she knows she did something right, and give her a treat. You also can give her something to do, like a Kong to chew on, if it will help distract her. Long-term, she will need to get used to the sounds she is afraid of hearing. Use your cell phone to record the sounds of your appliances as they turn on and run. Keep the volume low to start and play the sounds for her. As you do this, say her name, say her reward word, and give her a treat. If she looks upset at any point, turn the volume down more, if possible, and add the sound machine on low. If that doesn’t work, stop playing the sounds altogether and try again later. If she tolerates or ignores the sound, that’s good. Repeat the name, reward word, and treat every five to ten seconds building on the volume and the time in between for treats as she progresses. The goal is to get her to listen to your entire recording at a decent volume while resting quietly the entire time. She can learn to settle down around the sounds, but desensitization training takes time, so be patient.
I have a cat who meows incessantly between midnight and 1:00 am every night to go out. She wakes me up and it upsets me because I have to get up for work the next morning. I don't know what to do. If it were not for this waking me every night, I could live with her. I have tried putting her out before I go to bed, but most of the time she doesn't want to go out then and I can't catch her to make her go out. Do you have any suggestions?
–Sue, Chino Valley, Arizona
Lack of sleep can make you feel crazy, so here are a few things you can try to get her worn out and on your sleeping schedule. First, enrich her environment. Make sure there are boxes or baskets to hide in, toys to play with, and tall cat trees to climb. Place a cat tree near a window and leave the blinds open, so she has a bird’s eye view of the outside world. Cats need a lot of physical and mental stimulation.
Second, be sure to spend time playing with her, especially in the evening. There are all sorts of wire, feather and laser toys that will get her moving and tire her before bedtime. Third, cats like to hunt for their food. Give her some mental stimulation by moving her food around the house so she has to find it. Keep it simple. Don’t make it hard for her to find or she will meow at you to find it for her. For example, move the food bowl from the floor to a windowsill or from the kitchen to the family room, putting it in a different place each night. Don’t hide it. Keep it in the open, so she can find it. Feed her before bedtime to give her something to do during the night. Finally, get an indoor kitty fountain and use it only at night. Cats like to drink from moving water, and this will distract her. I don’t advocate for cats to be outside, since there is so much that can hurt or kill them. Some outdoor cats adjust well to being “walked” around the backyard on a harness or spending time in a catio, both of which can help tire her.
Changing a cat’s routine takes time. Until then, buy some ear plugs to drown her out so you can get some sleep.
(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)
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