Tag Archives: Mikkel Becker

aggressive cat shows teeth and hisses

Cat with two personalities

Have you ever known a cat who veered from nice to naughty and back again? That was the problem facing a reader, and as I always do when faced with behavior questions, I recruited my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, to respond.

Q: Our cat seems to have two personalities. She is an 8-year-old rescue that we have had for a few months. She can be sweet when she wants to sit by us or when she jumps up on our bed, but more often, she is on the defensive. When we bend down to pet her, she usually tries to bite. Sometimes she reaches out for passing legs. No one dares pick her up. Any suggestions? Do you think it had something to do with her previous life?

A: Cats are more comfortable when they are the ones doing the “choosing” when it comes to initiating closeness or interaction with a person, especially if they’re fearful. Acting out when being petted could be a defensive response caused by fear. Swatting at legs as people walk by could be a type of predatory play behavior.

A consultation with a Fear Free-certified veterinarian, veterinary behaviorist or certified applied animal behaviorist who can see your cat’s behavior in person could help you get a better picture of why your cat acts the way she does or uncover underlying health issues that may be contributing to her behavior.

What animals learn during early life can forever impact their adult personalities and comfort level with humans and their environment. Animals can still learn throughout life, but their basic resilience in the face of stress is formed early. That said, you can do some training exercises to build your relationship, communication and her confidence. One is to turn petting into a positive by pairing the reach of your hand with a desirable reward, such as a favorite treat or toy. A skilled behaviorist or trainer can offer other suggestions. — Mikkel Becker

Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.

Brown Tabby Maine Coon cat in between 2 layers of duvet on the bed.

How to keep your cat from feeling abandoned while you’re away

Will your cat be lonely while your family is on vacation? That’s what a reader wanted to know, so I turned to my daughter, Fear Free Certified trainer Mikkel Becker, for an answer. Here’s what she had to say.

Q: Since my husband retired, our 12-year-old Maine coon has become super attached to him! She is in his lap every chance she gets, and if we go out in the evening, she is always waiting for us in the window. We are going away on vacation soon. We have a person coming in daily to take care of the litter box, food and water, but I am worried about how our cat will handle being without my husband. How can we make it easier for her?

A: It’s great that your cat has developed such a strong bond with your husband, but I can see why you might be worried about going on vacation. Here are some tips to help her feel more comfortable and less lonely.

Make sure she meets the pet sitter at least a couple of times before you leave. Cats like to take their time when getting to know strangers.

Unless your cat approaches the sitter on her own, the sitter should face away from her but toss treats in her direction. If your cat has a favorite toy, the sitter could also offer to play with it, again while not looking directly at the cat. Have the sitter prepare and set down the cat’s food while you’re there, too. Your cat will see that the sitter has nice “cat manners” and will associate him or her with good things — treats, toys and dinner.

Have your husband leave a T-shirt that he’s worn for your cat to snuggle with. Access to his odor will help her feel comfortable during his absence. A diffuser that releases a feline pheromone, such as Feliway, can also help to create a calm atmosphere for your cat while you’re gone.

Read more, including everything you need to know about walking your dog, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.

When your puppy eats your sofa

A reader has a not-uncommon problem: A sofa-eating puppy. I asked my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, to help her out with some tips.

Q: My 4-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy ate my sofa. Literally! What can I do? I can’t afford to buy much more new furniture.

A: Congratulations — you have a normal puppy! That’s the good news. The bad news is that without plenty of training and supervision, things can get worse before they get better. Puppies are hard-wired to explore their environment, and since their paws don’t have opposable thumbs, they use the next best thing: their sharp teeth.

But you don’t have to lose any more furniture. Chewing and scratching provide pets with exercise and mental stimulation, but they don’t have to be destructive — at least not to anything other than their approved toys. Puppy kindergarten followed by advanced training, as well as plenty of interactive exercise and playtime, can help you teach your pup how to channel his chewing — and his energy, in general — into more productive and acceptable activities. Here are some tips.

  • Put his brain to work with puzzle toys that make him think. Some favorites are the Snuffle Mat and the Nina Ottosson Twister. Believe it or not, a good mental workout can leave him too tired to even think about eating your furniture.
  • Provide interesting and long-lasting chew toys. I like the Kong not only for durability but also for its “stuffability.” Load it up with peanut butter, baby carrots, kibble and other tasty treats, freeze it, and then let him go to work trying to get all the goodies out.
  • When you see your puppy chewing on something he shouldn’t, get his attention so he turns away from it, and then give him an acceptable chew toy. Praise him when you see him chewing on his toys; it’s important for him to learn what’s OK for him to chew as well as what he shouldn’t. – Mikkel Becker

Read more, including about the new canine family tree, in this week’s Pet Connection!

When cats act like they might attack

A reader wrote asking me what to do about her cat, who has been hissing and twitching her tail when strangers come into the home. I asked my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, to share her thoughts.

Q: My cat is aggressive to people who come into our home, whether it’s workers or guests. She crouches, flicks her tail back and forth and hisses. I’m afraid she’ll attack someone. Why does she do this, and what can we do?

A: Cats who behave aggressively may be warning strangers off their territory or expressing fear of a new person. Whether cats are territorial or fearful, they start with body language and vocalizations to try to drive off the person or animal who’s invading their home or scaring them. It’s an impressive display, and you are right to be concerned that an actual attack could occur.

While it might be nice for some people to know an attack cat has your back, most of us want people in our home to feel welcome and not at risk. A cat’s teeth and claws are formidable weapons that can cause real harm.

If this problem has begun suddenly, take your cat in for a veterinary exam to rule out health problems that could be causing the behavior. Conditions that can cause cats to be irritable include hyperthyroidism, arthritis and cancer.

For a cat with a clean bill of health, manage the problem by putting her in a safe place before you let people into your home. A “safe room” might be a bathroom, a guest bedroom or an outdoor “catio.” Whatever area you choose should contain all your cat’s needs: food, water, toys and a litter box.

Keep your cat there until guests or workers leave. If your cat will be in an area where she can see and be seen, ask guests to ignore her — no talking to her, trying to pet her or even looking at her. Consult a behavior expert about ways to desensitize and counter-condition your cat to visitors. — Mikkel Becker

Read more, including the health risks faced by dogs with “smashed” faces, in this week’s Pet Connection!

How to keep your cat from jumping on the table while you’re eating

So, what do you do if your cat demands you let him join you not just at the table, but on it, during meals? That was the question a reader asked, and I turned it over to my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, for an answer!

Q: Our 10-year-old cat has recently begun demanding table food. When we sit down to eat at the dinner table, he jumps on top of it. I immediately pick him up and put him on the floor. This is repeated several times. Today, I was eating soup and ignored him, so he pawed my ear. What do you suggest for behavior modification? I’m thinking of putting him in the bathroom while we eat.

A: You are fighting a battle on two fronts: the feline love of being up high, and your cat’s desire to share your food, which is obviously more interesting than his own. You’re on the right track as far as being consistent about putting him back on the floor right away when he jumps up on the table. Don’t do it in an angry manner; be matter-of-fact, but don’t let him get away with it. I have some other suggestions as well.

One is to feed him before you sit down to eat. If he has already eaten, he may be less interested in checking out your food.

You may also try teaching him to go to an alternative space, such as a nearby perch — where he can be up off the ground and still see you — or the sofa or his bed. Reinforce your cat being in this spot by rewarding him intermittently with a treat, attention or play.

Conversely, make the tabletop unpleasant by covering it with aluminum foil. Cats don’t like the feel of it beneath their paws.

There’s also nothing wrong with putting your cat in a different area, such as the bathroom, while you eat. It’s a valid way of managing the problem and can be a great strategy until your cat learns to stay off the table during meals. — Mikkel Becker

Read more, including how to help pets fight the battle of the pudge, in this week’s Pet Connection!