The Dogcharmer: Maysie

The cat is scaring her away from dinner.

Maysie —Courtesy Tom Shelby

Hi Tom,

We are having a pretty big issue with our dog Maysie that I don’t know if you can help with. Maysie has been having a really hard time with eating, and we think it is because she is afraid of our cat. When we feed her in the morning, she runs around to check where the cat is, then just sits or lies next to her bowl and shakes, and it seems to be getting worse. We have tried to separate her and the cat, locking the cat away when Maysie has food. We have tried to give her new food. We have tried to put her bowl in her crate, or other places. Once in awhile she will eat, if I sit next to her and encourage her. The only thing is, when she is at the house of our friend who takes care of her when we are working or away, she has no problem with eating. They have another dog, but no cat.

I talked to our vet, and he suggested maybe putting her on an antianxiety supplement, but I am not totally comfortable with that. Do you have any ideas? Is this something you could possibly help with? We are feeling pretty discouraged and worried about this, and not really sure what to do. Any help you could provide would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you,



Dear Amy,

It sounds like at some point, your cat scared Maysie while she was eating, or just about to eat. That’s your guess, and based on your observation it probably has some validity to it. Probably. It could also be that your cat had nothing to do with it, other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Perhaps a car passing your house backfired and scared the hell out of Maysie just as she was about to eat, and the first thing she saw was your cat as she jumped back from the food bowl in fear. Hence, she’s afraid to eat if she thinks the cat is around.

In my experience, it’s sometimes impossible to figure out why a dog all of a sudden develops an idiosyncratic behavior. When I lived on the sixth floor in an apartment in Queens, N.Y., one day my dog got off the elevator, and instead of heading directly to the left on a diagonal to my door, which she had done for years, she made a right and walked the perimeter of the whole hallway, touching every apartment’s doormat till she came around to our door. To my amusement, this was her elevator exit routine for about a month, then it abruptly stopped. I never did figure that one out.

Amy, here are some things you may want to try. First, let Maysie see you pick up the cat and put her in another room, closing the door. Then play with or train Maysie, being very upbeat and happy for three minutes or so, and then reward her with the food bowl being put down with a tiny amount of meat or cheese added, as a reward for her cooperation. I would not leave the bowl down for more than 20 minutes. Also, from my experience, if she misses a meal or two, the hunger might override her reluctance to eat. I might also suggest you get her a DAP (dog-appeasing pheromone) collar. It gives off a scent that is relaxing to many dogs. One of my daughters can tell when the collar is out of scent by the behavior of her dog. There’s also a lot of anecdotal evidence of the relaxing ability of Thundershirts for dogs. It definitely helps my dog deal with thunderstorms. You could put one on Maysie a half-hour before play and feed-reward time. More often than not, these types of sudden aberrant behaviors resolve themselves with a little time and effort. Good luck, and please keep me abreast of how it’s going.


The Dogcharmer