Dear Matthew: I really love my dog, and I like to play games with him. Sometimes, I'll just sit on my couch and get into staring contests with him. After a little while, he seems to get really nervous and run away. Why is he doing that? Does a look really get him that upset?

Is this a sign that my dog is timid or otherwise messed up?- Jerry in Topeka, Kan.

Dear Jerry: If you have a problem with your dog acting nervous when you stare at him, then the easy answer is for you to not stare at him anymore. Pretty straightforward, huh?

But if you really want to know why your dog acts this way, it's not because he's timid or "messed up." Dogs instinctively feel that long, hard stares are menacing and threat-en-ing. How would you feel if some stranger came up and started staring intently at you? It sounds like your dog is fairly easygoing, since a dominant dog would probably respond to your stares with aggression.

So, rather than worry about whether your dog is a wimp or not, I suggest you find better ways to interact with your pet. Trust me, it'll be the best solution.

Dear Matthew: I recently bought a new sofa for my apartment; but apparently, my cat does not approve. You see, she's taken a preference to my couch and started completely neglecting her scratching post. Up until now, she's never attacked my belongings, so I'm afraid I don't know how to deal with this.

In only a matter of weeks, she's already started to make my brand-new piece of living-room furniture look like something you'd find on a scrap heap.

Before the damage gets any worse, I'd like to find a way to get Sheeba to behave. Any advice you could give me would be highly welcome.

- Leigh in Detroit

Dear Leigh: Since scratching furniture is a fairly common cat-associated problem, you shouldn't be surprised Sheeba has taken to this nasty habit. Fortunately, you should be able to fix things with a little bit of work.

Sheeba has shown a preference for her scratching post up until now - she just has yet to learn that the new couch is as off limits as the rest of your furniture. With a little work, she'll get the picture.

Whenever your cat begins scratching the couch, either spray her with a water gun or distract her in some other way, perhaps making a loud noise. Then, pick her up and place her near her scratching post. You can even put her paws up on the post, so she knows what you expect.

Another possible technique is to cover the areas that Sheeba is scratching with aluminum foil, sticky tape or balloons - anything to discourage your cat from clawing.

With a little work and dedication, it's only a matter of time until Sheeba comes around. A little perseverance and work will pay off in no time.

Dear Matthew: My Labrador has a digging problem. Every time I put him outside, he starts tearing up my yard.

The last straw is when I took him over to a friend's house, and he started digging up her plants. I'm in big trouble now! Help!

- Luke in San Marcos, Texas

Dear Luke: Your dog could be digging for any number of reasons, and determining why is the key to solving the problem.

Some dogs dig holes to sit in when they want to cool off. So, if your Labrador doesn't have enough shade or water, find him some.

Dogs also will dig ditches out of boredom or because of an excessive amount of energy. Be sure you take your pet for a walk at least twice a day. If he's too tired to dig when you get back, your problem is solved.

Another possible explanation for your pet's actions is that he's following some sort of scent - perhaps he smelled something interesting in your friend's yard. He also could be trying to bury something, such as bones or other tidbits.

The way to solve the problem is to put big rocks in the holes your dog digs. That way, when your dog tries to dig in the same spot again, he won't be able to get far.

You should also keep a hose or a squirt gun handy, giving your pet a shot of water whenever he misbehaves

Finally, try putting your dog on a leash and taking him into your yard. When he starts to dig, give the leash a tug, and say, in a firm voice, "no!"

Try these techniques, and you should see improvement - or your dog will have dug you a nice swimming pool!