My Pet World: Ways to deal with a timid stray kitten and company

Question: My daughter planned to take in a stray kitten, but her two cats weren't friendly. She ended up giving the kitten to me. At first, he spent most of his time under the bed but now he's very loving toward me. If I sit down, he's in my lap. However, if a stranger comes in the house, the kitten disappears under the bed. He hides even when people he knows visit. Any advice? — J. P., Goldsboro, N.C.

Answer: "Probably this kitten was never appropriately socialized. Besides, some cats are just shy, as some people are," says cat behavior consultant Darlene Arden, author of "The Complete Cat's Meow" (Wiley, New York, NY, 2011; $19.99).

Don't force your kitty out from under the bed. Visitors (starting with those she knows) might be able to coax her out with bits of tuna or salmon. If your kitten is playful, and your guests like cats, they might be able to draw her out using an interactive cat toy (fishing pole toy feathers or fabric, or a Cat Dancer toy).

Arden, of Framingham, Mass., also suggests clicker-training your cat. First, offer treats each time you use the clicker (available online and at most pet stores). Your kitty will soon associate the clicker with something positive. Also, when she acts more outgoing, playful and demonstrative, click the clicker and offer a treat. (Don't overdo the treats or you'll have an overweight cat.) Once your kitty gets the idea, have someone else use the clicker, such as your daughter.

As for the hiding, if you place an empty box or two in the room, your kitten may jump in there and not feel a need to hide under the bed.

"It would be nice if the cat learns to accept at least one other person, in case something happens to you," says Arden. "However, it sounds like your kitten is perfectly loving toward you, and that's what matters most."

Q: I liked your recent column on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (Doggy Alzheimer's) and stressing the importance of walking dogs. On your advice, I take my dog for about a mile walk every day. At 77, I feel better and so does Lady (black Labrador Retriever), now 10-1/2. I think exercise helps her brain; she learns as fast as she ever has. Also, I think going up and down the stairs in the house keeps both of us in better shape. — J.M., Cyberspace

A: "There's very good evidence to indicate that walking keeps our gears moving, both our joints and our brains, and the same is true for dogs," says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the behavior clinic at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton, Mass., and editor of "Good Old Dog: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Aging Dog Happy, Healthy and Comfortable" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY, 2010; $26).

"Indeed, learning new things, and switching up the environment (rotating toys, etc.), along with regular leash walks, are the most powerful things you can do to prevent or delay cognitive decline," Dodman adds.

If you notice even slight signs of confusion or changes in your dog's sleep/wake cycle as she ages, see your veterinarian. Early diagnosis increases the odds of finding a way to deal with a cognitive issue if, in fact, that is the problem.

For example, pacing may not be an indication of confusion, but just a dog hesitating to lie down because it hurts. It's great that you and your dog are doing the stairs, although there may come a day when that task is daunting.

For cognitive issues, there's good news. Helpful measure can include a prescription diet (Hill's B/D), a drug called Anipryl and SAMe supplement tablets called Novifit, as well as other products, all available through veterinarians.

Q: Where we live in the woods, the bear population is increasing.

A bear actually walked into a neighbor's home. When her dog began to bark, the bear ran off. My neighbor has a large mixed-breed dog, as I do.

However, my dog, Charlie Horse, is so sweet that I worry he'd do nothing, and a bear could attack.

To test this theory I asked my neighbor to put on a bear costume I'd saved from a Halloween party. My dog wagged his tail and kept a safe distance, but seemed amused more than afraid. Could I train Charlie Horse to at least alert me if a bear approaches the house? — B.C., Cyberspace

A: Charlie Horse was likely entertained when your friend attempted to threaten him wearing the bear costume. He knew there was no bear and might even have recognized your friend by sniffing her under the costume.

There's no way to predict how your dog might respond to a real bear. However, it's very unlikely Charlie Horse would wag his tail and beg the bear to pet him. There's a good chance he would bark a warning. Some dogs will do what they can, holding their ground, as perhaps your neighbor's dog did. Others will quietly, or not so quietly, run and hide.

Emerging from winter hibernation, bears are hungry. Experts suggest keeping trash securely closed (use bear-proof trash bins), and never leaving food out in your yard. Remove plants with berries, a bear delicacy. Some people claim wolf urine (available at some feed stores) is a deterrent.

You could dribble it around the edges of your property. If it works at all, it will only be effective until the first significant rain. While a large dog can be a deterrent, I don't recommend leaving your dog outside unsupervised. It would be wise to install outdoor lighting and make lots of noise when you go outdoors at night.

You could encourage your dog to bark at any unusual sound -- which many dogs routinely do anyway. However, be careful what you wish for. I worry that in a month you'll write me again, complaining that your dog's barking has become unbearable.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.

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