Pet Connection

Careful Breeders Let Littermates Learn From One Another

I've just spend the better part of a week with a litter of 6-week-old puppies. I've played with them, let them untie my shoelaces again and again, taken pictures of them, and just plain enjoyed being around them.

Maybe it's not your dream vacation, but it certainly is mine.

The pups belong to my friend Linda, who breeds some of the best Rhodesian ridgebacks imaginable, dogs with near-perfect appearance for their breed and great temperaments for any breed. She doesn't have puppies in her home that often, so enjoying these five was a rare treat. A glimpse at future champions, too, if breeding has any say in the matter: The mom is a sister to a dog who won big at Westminster, and the dad has a best-in-show win on his resume. The waiting list for any of Linda's puppies is years long.

Puppies are puppies, though, and these fat little babies knew nothing about their pedigrees, nor cared. Their days were spent wrestling, playing and exploring. Gentle introduction to new experiences is important, and Linda knows it. Her pups are constantly handled, given lots of room for safe exploration, and introduced at an early age to such horrors as nail trims and grooming.

Some of the most important lessons they learn, though, come from their mother and from each other. And too many puppies don't get a chance to learn all they should before they go to new homes. Despite all the research on the importance of staying with littermates longer, some breeders can't seem to get rid of their puppies fast enough, sending them out the door the minute they're weaned, as early as 5 weeks of age.

Many experts believe pups shouldn't go to their new homes until they are 7 weeks old, at least, and Linda keeps hers even longer, placing them at 9 weeks. Puppies learn some valuable lessons in the weeks after weaning, including how to get along with other dogs, and that biting hurts. These are lessons, all learned in puppy play, that no dog should be without.

Every litter I see is educational for me as well. Dogs are born knowing more about canine behavior than I'll learn in my lifetime, which is one of the reasons I love to watch puppies. Within a few minutes the personalities of any litter of puppies become evident to the careful observer. Linda's puppies are all called by their collar color until placed -- red, green, yellow, purple and blue.

In this litter the pushiest is a pup called Green. He is always on top in every wrestling match, and first into every new experience. When my dog Benjamin, who loves puppies, went into the pen to play, the puppies scattered in fear -– but Green was chewing on Ben not a minute later. Following Green's example, the rest were soon climbing on Ben, to the delight of the big retriever.

The night before I was to head home, Linda and her husband, Craig, took me out to a nearby restaurant for dinner. We encountered a fellow who was selling puppies, Labrador and golden retrievers, out of the back of his pickup truck -- a situation that couldn't be more different from that of the puppies back at the house.

We said little, but managed to talk a waitress out of buying a pup on impulse. Who knew where these puppies came from? We warned her about congenital defects and explained to her about socialization. I doubt the lost sale slowed the puppy man down at all. The weather was beautiful and the seaside town was packed with tourists. The puppies were likely sold before the end of the next day.

I can only pray they found good homes and will be healthy and emotionally sound. My bigger wish, though, is that someday everyone will understand the risks they take with such a seller.

With shelter pups and older purebreds and mixes just begging for homes, you needn't limit your search to purebred puppies. But if you must, you're better off finding a breeder like Linda, who breeds the best and knows how to raise a puppy right.

PETS ON THE WEB

"Fun" is the word ferret lovers seem to use most when describing their pets. The animals are a joy to watch, always playing, investigating and getting into trouble. While they're not legally kept everywhere -– California is the biggest hold-out against ferret legalization -– ferret popularity is growing everywhere else.

A Web site with good basic information is The Ferret Owner Manual (www.thechipster.com/fert-man.html), with well-organized sections on raising, training, feeding and grooming, among others. Other ferret sites worth a look include The Ferret Zone (www.ferretzone.com/) and Ferret Central (www.ferretcentral.org).

THE SCOOP

A perch is more than something to stand on for your bird. Chosen properly, it's also an important tool for helping to keep your bird physically and emotionally sound. When choosing perches, think variety, and select an array of textures. Choices you'll find at the bird store include rope, natural wood and concrete, and each should find a place in your bird's cage.

Some of the best perches around won't cost you anything more than the time it takes to trim them from your trees. Limbs from most fruit and nut trees make fine perches, as do those from ash, elm, dogwood and magnolia. Cut the branches to fit the cage, scrub with detergent, rinse well, and let them dry in the sun before putting them in the cage. A final check is for insect pods -- just break them off and dispose of them in an outside trash can.

QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK

Q: I am writing concerning your article on head halters, where you recommend people throw their correction collars away. I use a halter on my son's 3-year-old female Rottweiler because of aggression. Never would I think of not using a backup. A correction collar is the only kind of collar that allows the halter to work properly and still have the dog on leash should the halter come off.

To even suggest that dog owners "throw the darn thing away" is absurd! A dog that pulls obviously isn't trained to walk on a leash in the first place, and should the halter come off the dog without a backup collar, you are looking at not only losing total control of your dog but worse! The head collar is not foolproof, but to back it up with the correction collar is the only way to make sure the dog and owner stay together and enjoy many more walks together. -– C.S., via e-mail

A: Some brands of head halters seem easier to slip out of than others. Anyone thinking of using a halter should consider working with a trainer to ensure the correct halter and fit for the dog. A trainer can also help you teach your dog to accept the halter more easily, and help you both learn the skills you need to walk with one.

I agree a backup collar is important, but you needn't use a chain collar. A regular snap-together or buckled-flat collar will do fine, with a second leash attached. I've also seen people run a short length of leash material from the end of the regular leash to the collar, and that's OK, too, if it's long enough so the dog feels the leash pull on the head halter only.

My problem with chain collars remains that they are cruel and ineffective if used improperly -- and I almost never seem them used the right way. They're put on upside down (with the moving end coming under the neck instead of over it) or just kept constantly tight as the dog drags the owner down the street.

Q: You recently mentioned a formula used for removing the odor of skunk on dogs. I neglected to cut out the article, and before I knew it, the recyling had been done. Would you be kind enough to repeat the formula? -– D.P., via e-mail

A: Must be a lot of stinky pets out there, because I'm getting a lot of requests like yours every week. Here's the recipe again:

Take 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide (available from any drugstore), 1/4 cup of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate for you science types) and 1 teaspoon of liquid soap, such as Ivory. Mix and immediately apply to the stinky pet. Rinse thoroughly with tap water.

Remember that this mixture cannot be made up in advance. The chemical reaction that removes the smell is strong enough to burst any container you put the solution in, Also, the mixture works best when applied immediately after mixing.

Happy de-skunking!

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