Dear Chamois: From sex-mad dogs to untrained ferrets, our expert answers your pet queries

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The Independent Online

When dogs exhibit this behaviour it can be embarrassing, but "humping" is natural for them. There are two main reasons why they do it: one is for sexual reasons and the other is to establish their rank in a pack. If your pooch hasn't been neutered then maybe you should consider this option since it can reduce the problem by 60 per cent. It can take several months for the dog's behaviour to change and you may also need to implement a behaviour- modifying programme. To decrease the likelihood of your visitors being assaulted, make sure he has a good walk before they arrive; and keep him on a lead when your friends are at your house so he can't get to them. If he starts any funny business, lead him away from the person and give him a "sit" command; he may even forget what he was doing!

What's the best way to remove dog hairs from my fabric sofa?

Even the cleanest house can look dirty if there's pet hair all over your upholstery and your clothes. Make sure you brush your pet regularly and keep their hair short to minimise the amount of fur around. To get fur off your sofa, mix half a cup of fabric softener and two cups of water in a spray bottle, spray it on the sofa, leave for 10 minutes and vacuum it off (make sure you patch test first).

My neighbours keep chickens in the walkway between our houses. I don't mind them being there, but they keep me awake with their squawking. Am I entitled to some of their eggs?

Have a chat with your neighbours and ask them to keep the chickens locked up at night for your sanity and their safety. Hens are usually quiet unless they are worried about predators; perhaps this is the reason they're making so much noise at night. The least your neighbour could do is give you a few eggs in return for the inconvenience.

I've got a tiny flat, but would love a dog. Which small breed would you recommend?

You might consider giving a home to an older dog; one benefit is that the dog will already be house-trained. Pugs are lots of fun, and quieter than some of the terrier-type dogs. They like going out but also like to sleep, as long as you provide a soft bed for them. Pugs are very greedy so don't over-feed your new companion. Try your local rescue centre or contact the Kennel Club ( for a list of breed rescues.

I have a 12-week-old poodle pup but he doesn't like walking. How can I encourage him?

Before puppies have their vaccinations we often carry them around – and when the day comes for them to stand on their own two feet, some of them find it all a bit overwhelming and just will not walk. You need to build his confidence. First, get the right equipment. Check that his collar is fitted correctly and can't slip over his head while you're trying to coax the reluctant creature into a walk; you could also use a harness. Patience is the key. Take him out to the park, put him on the ground and wait. He will move eventually but it will take time. Do not drag him because he will only resist and make the matter worse. When he's walked a few paces, give him a treat, tell him he is a good boy and take him back inside. Practise with lots of short sessions every day, and he'll soon get the hang of it.

I am going on holiday and I'm not sure what I'm going to do with my cat. What are the options?

Firstly, there are catteries that you can send your cat to. These are usually outside and your cat will have a restricted amount of space. Some cats hate this and some love it. Usually, however, it's less costly than a cat sitter. Your vet should have a list of cat sitters; and sometimes the vet nurses do it themselves. Make sure you get to know the person first because they are coming into your home and will need to have a set of keys. They can come to your home between one and three times a day – depending on your requirements – and some will stay over so your cat doesn't feel lonely. Another option is an automatic cat feeder, but I wouldn't recommend these. If you do use one, test it to make sure it opens at the times you require it to.

Can I get my ferret to use a litter tray?

Ferrets are very clever, so much so that some people find them cleverer than dogs, but they can be unreliable with litter training. Firstly, ferrets love to eliminate in corners so it might be a good idea to put a litter tray in a corner of his cage and keep him confined until he starts pooing in there. Once he is reliable with his toilet training, open the crate but restrict the amount of freedom he has. To help speed things up, put an additional tray outside the crate and place him in his toilet frequently during his playtime. If he has an accident, do not scold him. Ferrets are fairly clean creatures and they will not toilet in their bedding. If you decide to remove the tray from the crate and place it around the room then it's a good idea to also place some of his beddings around as well so that he will be able to distinguish his toilet from the bed.

My gerbil really loves mints, so I keep a little stash for treats. Do you approve?

If you haven't noticed any ill-effects so far, then the chances are that a few mints won't hurt him. But if you want to be on the safe side, there are many gerbil treats available on the market. If you have a look in your fruit or salad bowl, you will certainly find some tasty treats for your gerbil; among the things they like are carrots, apples, cauliflowers, peas, swedes, tomatoes, bananas and cucumbers.

Why do my cats always spend so much time grooming themselves yet never manage to clean the discharge in their eyes?

Cats take a lot of pride in themselves and the way they look. Their bodies are adapted to this grooming regime. Their tongues are equipped with comb-like spines to help the process. They also like to moisten their paws to clean around their face and head areas. As you've got cats that live in the same household, grooming each other will be an important social-bonding experience. You can help your cats to remove their eye discharge if you see they can't do it themselves, but be careful how you do it. If it is thick and yellow and the eye looks sore, the cat may have an eye infection and should be taken to the vet for treatment as soon as possible. Otherwise, use moist cotton wool with warm water, and wipe gently around the eye area but not in the eye itself. If the crust is stubborn, simply hold the cotton wool over the eye for a few seconds to loosen it.

Why has the skin fallen off my pet bearded dragon?

Don't be alarmed. Your bearded dragon is not ill; it is just going through the natural process of shedding in which the old skin comes off. During this time your dragon may be very cranky and could even try to bite you. There may also be a significant loss of appetite in your reptile; some stop eating for the duration of their shedding. You need to try and make your dragon as comfortable as possible. Usually beardies retain water to make themselves bigger in order to start the exfoliation process. Then the stretched skin falls off more easily and in large pieces. If you can't find the fallen skin, don't worry; he's probably been eating it. Rubbing themselves against rocks or cage furniture also helps the process. To soothe him, bathe him in warm water twice a day to loosen the skin; you may also put a small tray of water in his cage so he can wallow in it.

Remember that if an animal shows signs of distress, an early visit to the vet is always recommended