Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

HERE, BOY!

Call them the Finger Crossers, if you will -- those folks who know if their dogs get loose they'll get them back only when conditions are absolutely right (if there isn't another dog to play with, a squirrel to chase or a scent to follow). Or if they're fast or lucky enough to corner their dogs.

If you're one of these folks, you may well be in the majority. While "Come" or "Here" is one of the most basic of dog commands, it's probably the one most dogs know and respond to the least. Some dogs are naturally more inclined to come when called than others: Herding and sporting breeds and mixes are generally more interested in staying close than independent hounds, terriers and mixes of those breeds. But a reliable recall is possible for any dog -- even yours.

Figuring out why your pet won't mind is the first step toward fixing the problem.

Maybe your dog is afraid to come to you. If you're one of those people who have to chase their dogs, you may also be someone who isn't very happy when you've finally caught up with him. Screaming at your dog for running away or punishing your pet when you collar him at last is a good way of making sure the next time he gets loose he'll run farther, faster. Wouldn't you?

Being reunited with you should be a positive experience. Never, ever punish a dog for coming to you or for failing to come.

If you're not punishing him, perhaps your dog really doesn't understand what you want. Few people practice the recall command enough -- or at all. You probably use "Sit" a half-dozen times a day, just around the house, but you probably don't use "Come" or "Here" in the house when you want your dog near you. Maybe all you have to do is open the refrigerator. If that's the case, your dog doesn't understand the relationship between the command and the action of coming to you. He just knows if he's sitting in the right place at the right time, you might drop some food.

Or maybe your dog doesn't see why he should listen to you. You may have a dog who believes what you want is only one of the factors that go into his deciding what he's going to do. A dog who knows what's expected of him and respects you is going to mind you. A dog who thinks you're a dope who couldn't catch a bus is going to treat you like the fool he thinks you are.

If the problems are training and respect, you can fix them both together. Train your dog, work with your dog, treat your dog fairly, and the respect will follow. Teach your dog the "Come" or "Here" command in increments, on a standard 6-foot leash, on progressively longer and lighter lines, and with lots of positive reinforcement. Practice, not just in formal sessions but in everyday life, in ever more challenging situations. Sharpen up all your dog's manners, because they all help build your dog's respect for you.

Elicit the help of a trainer if you just don't seem to be getting anywhere. It's worth the time and trouble: Getting a dog to come when called is more than a nice party trick -- it could save your pet's life one day.

SIDEBAR

Tips for catching a loose dog

Your dog slips out the door and runs down the street, toward a busy boulevard. You know he won't come when called. What should you do?

There are a couple of tricks you can use to catch him. Try to sweet-talk him in with a kneeling, open-arms stance, or run away from him, enticing him to follow -- the chase instinct is very strong in most dogs. Another strategy is to use a command he knows well, like "Sit." Once he's planted, you can take him by the collar. (Don't forget to praise for the sit!) He may respond to treats, if you have time to grab a handful.

A loose-dog situation is not about obedience -- it's about keeping your dog from becoming road-pizza. Once you catch your dog, say a little prayer -- and then vow to train him to come to you when called.

Q&A

Adopting a cat now 'orphaned'

Q: My neighbor died about two months ago; she was only 32. She had a cat, but I don't know the age or anything about the animal except the name.

My neighbor's mom is taking care of the house and cat. She never stays long at the house, maybe 10 minutes at the most. The cat is always at the window either pawing for attention or rubbing her head against the glass so we can pet her.

I know she is lonely and deprived of attention. My heart breaks every day for this cat. I just don't know what is going to happen to her.

Do you think it's a good idea for me to see about adopting her? I have two dogs, and I have never had a cat. -- C.L., via e-mail

A: Your neighbor's mom must be reeling from the shock of her daughter's death, and she's trying to do the best she can. Losing a 32-year-old daughter is not something any parent plans on, that's for sure.

I encourage you to gently ask whether the cat is available for adoption. If she is, I think you should strongly consider adopting her. With two dogs, you're no stranger to the responsibility of caring for pets, and I bet you'd love having this friendly cat in your family.

I'm guessing your neighbor's mom hasn't a clue what to do about the cat, and she would be relieved and happy for the animal to move to your house.

As for your caring for the cat, you'll be fine once the introductions are over. Set the cat up in a room of her own, away from the dogs, and let her get used to her new surroundings without doing anything more than hearing and smelling her new roommates. Once she's settled, introduce the dogs one at a time on leash, and monitor their interactions with the cat until you're certain they know she is family, not a chase toy.

Most dogs and cats can learn to at least tolerate each other. If you have trouble, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer or behaviorist who can help.

Sleep, kitty!

Q: I need my sleep. But just as I'm going to bed, my cat thinks it's time to play. Why does she do this, and how can I make her stop? -- W.I., via e-mail

A: Cats like to play when we're winding down because a cat is a creature of the night -- or at least, the twilight. Cats sleep all day and most of the night, so they can be at their liveliest when the sun is setting. The early bird may get the worm, but it's the twilight kitty who scores the mouse.

While many cats eventually figure out that we're not much fun after dark, some never stop pestering their owners to play -- especially young cats, who just don't understand why you're so willing to cash in your chips when the night is still young.

Try playing with your cat an hour or so before bedtime to take the edge off the kitty crazies. A couple of extra play sessions throughout the day will also help.

Also, feed your cat his biggest meal of wet food immediately before your bedtime, to give you a head start and to take advantage of the natural tendency of cats (and people) to feel a little sleepy after a meal.

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com.)

THE SCOOP

Tiger cats tops in popularity

We humans have long had a desire to meddle with other animals, and that's certainly true of the cat. While we've been content overall to leave most cats in a pretty predictable size and shape -- especially when you consider what we've done with dogs -- we've done a lot with the feline coat. Consider this: The Cat Fanciers' Association lists more than 60 color patterns for the Persian alone.

But the tabby rules. Those tiger-striped markings are the original pattern of our cats' ancestors, and they can still be observed on some wild relatives of the domestic cat.

Tabbies come in several distinct patterns and many colors, including red (more commonly called orange, ginger or marmalade), cream, brown and gray. The tabby pattern is so dominant that, even in solid-colored cats, if you squint a little you can often discern faint tabby markings, especially on the head, legs and tail.

The word "tabby," by the way, comes from Atabi, a silk imported to Britain long ago that had a striped pattern similar to that of the domestic cat.

ENTER CONTEST FOR PET GEAR

"Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?" and "Why Do Dogs Drink Out of the Toilet?" ($12.95 each, HCI) are co-authored with "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker. The books explore dozens of the serious, silly and just plain quirky questions that pet lovers have about their animals.

The contest features free pet gear from Bamboo and Petmate, with weekly winners choosing between prize packages for either cats or dogs. No purchase is required. For information or to enter, visit www.PetConnection.com. You'll also find a searchable archive of past columns, a popular Web log and more.

PET Rx

Does the nose know dog health?

Can you tell if your dog is sick by checking his nose? Not really, but there's more to the story.

A dog's nose is usually damp because tears are constantly produced to lubricate the movement of the eyes. Because this lubrication is so critical to eye health, the dog's body routinely produces more tears than are needed. These excess tears flow through the naso-lacrimal (literally "nose-tears") duct and out the base of the nose. (People also experience this when crying.)

As the tears drip down into the dog's face, the animal licks the nose, spreading the tear fluid over the nose, which wets it. Then, evaporation causes the nose to be cool. The moistened nose is better equipped to dissolve airborne chemicals, which contributes to a better sense of smell.

When a dog is sick, the body uses up more internal fluids in the process of fighting disease. This increased use, especially with a fever, causes relative dehydration, even if the dog is drinking a normal amount of water. This dehydration results in decreased tear production, and hence a dry nose.

However, the same dry nose could be because of fluid loss from panting on a hot day. Some dogs have problems with blocked tear ducts, so there is less fluid flowing through the ducts to moisten the nose at all times.

The bottom line: A dry nose is one indicator of hydration, but it indicates illness only if it's coupled with lethargy and other symptoms.

A calm, relaxed dog officially has a fever when you either stick a thermometer where the sun doesn't shine or use one of the new instant ear thermometers and determine that the dog's temperature is above 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)

PETS BY THE NUMBERS

Tanks for the effort

According to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, the top complaints of people with fish have mostly to do with the time and effort spent keeping the tanks and water clean. The top drawbacks (multiple answers allowed):

Cleaning 66 percent

Keeping water clear 42 percent

Algae 39 percent

Fish fighting 22 percent

Equipment cost 22 percent

PETS ON THE WEB

Helping

Why are pets given up? The top reason for dogs is "moving." For cats, it's "too many in home." The rankings and the studies that produced them come from the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, a nonprofit organization of veterinary, humane and breeders' groups formed to get the real story on what causes pet overpopulation and how to deal with the problem.

On the council's well-organized Web site (www.petpopulation.org), you'll find information that challenges assumptions about why pets end up homeless. Behavior and housing problems are significant for both dogs and cats, which makes pre-adoption counseling extremely important.

Getting good information about why people give up on their pets is the important first step when it comes to formulating plans to fight pet overpopulation.

Award-winning writer Gina Spadafori has two new books out, which were co-authored with "Good Morning, America" veterinary correspondent Dr. Marty Becker: "Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?" and "Why Do Dogs Drink From the Toilet?" She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.petconnection.com.

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600