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


Universal Press Syndicate

Every year I mean to have a magnificent vegetable garden. I have a perfect, sunny spot in my large yard with good soil and drainage, and I pick through the seed catalogs and gardening Web sites all winter long, dreaming of luscious heirloom tomatoes and more.

My dreams come true in late summer, when all those lovely veggies are ready for picking -- at the local farmer's market. Another year and no garden.

This year is going to be different. With food prices climbing and food recalls coming at a constant rate, I decided that this really would be the year for a home garden, with lots of healthy vegetables (for me and the pets both!) and beautiful flowers.

But can a pet lover really have fresh vegetables, bright flowers and lovely landscaping sharing the yard with dogs? When putting in my garden, I turned to Cheryl S. Smith, a dog trainer, avid gardener and author of several award-winning books, including the landmark landscaping guide "Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs" (Dogwise, $20).

Her tips:

-- Exercise your dog regularly. A tired dog is less likely to be destructive. Don't leave him to exercise himself unattended in any part of the yard you want left alone. Keep your dog in the house when you can't supervise him. If that's not possible, provide him with his own safe enclosure away from the choicest parts of your property when he has to be alone. (Make sure he's not barking while you're gone!)

-- Work with your dog's habits. Observe how your dog uses your yard, and plan accordingly. For instance, many dogs consider it their duty to run the fence line, leaving a well-worn trail where many people hope to put flowers. Go with his natural instincts: Place your beds and plantings away from the fence line, and let him do his guard-dog patrolling behind those plants.

-- Redirect digging. Some breeds were developed to dig, and expecting them not to indulge in it is unfair. You can find most of these digging dogs in the terrier group -- the word terrier comes from terra, for "earth." Put in a dig zone, and praise your dog for using it. Limit access to dirt elsewhere.

-- Put special plants in safer places. Raised beds and hanging planters are the place to put your most precious plants. In areas where your dog will roam, put the plants that can take being stepped on in front. Ask your garden center for suggestions.

Because most of my fragile plants -- not to mention those I certainly do not want to be leg-lifted on -- are in the vegetable garden and raised beds won't discourage my large retrievers, I have fenced off the area with edible plants completely from the rest of the yard. That protects my fruits and vegetables. For the rest of the yard, I'm choosing decorative landscaping tough enough to survive an occasional trampling from my dogs.


Strategies for avoiding the yellow spots

To avoid dead zones on lawns, provide your dog with an out-of-sight "potty zone" and train her to use it. Take your dog directly to the potty patch and give a command, such as "Hurry up" or "Go potty." Praise her for proper performance. Don't let your dog into the main part of the yard until she understands that her bathroom is around the corner.

If your dog does squat on the choicest patch of green, flush the area promptly with lots of fresh water, which will dilute the urine and minimize its damaging effect.

These strategies are not only easy, but they're also free -- and they won't have you giving anything to your dog that's not expressly for her benefit. -- Gina Spadafori


Talk to vet now before the Fourth

Q: I adopted a shepherd mix from the local shelter more than a year ago. He's great, except for one thing: He freaked out on the Fourth of July last year. What should I do this year? -- M.R., via e-mail

A: Talk to your veterinarian now about tranquilizers that will help as the holiday gets closer. Considering how extreme your dog's reaction was last year, you'll likely want a full-fledged prescription product. If your dog were less anxious, I might suggest the homeopathic product Rescue Remedy, available in health-food stores, which many pet lovers believe helps to calm a nervous pet.

When the fireworks begin, make sure your dog is inside, turn on the TV or radio to muffle the sound, and be sure your pet can't escape in a panic. Scared pets are more likely to escape from the house or yard and be hit by cars or become lost forever. Prepare for the worst by making sure your pets have collars and tags, and know where to go for holiday veterinary care. Remember that terrified or hurt dogs are more likely to bite, so it's not a bad idea to have a soft muzzle on hand in case you need it.

Stay with your pet. A dog in this condition should not be left alone or taken to any holiday party.

After the fireworks calm down, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist who can help you help your dog become more comfortable around loud noises. -- Gina Spadafori

Q: I'm getting a border collie -- my last BC died at 17 -- and I've found a litter with two puppies still available, a brother and sister. Would it be better to raise two at once so they have daytime company? Would you suggest getting two from the same litter or different litters? -- J.W., via e-mail

A: It's hard enough to raise and train one puppy well, and nearly impossible to handle two. The best choice, if you want two dogs, would be to raise one puppy to adulthood, and then get a second puppy and raise her.

Since you are aware of the border collie's intelligence and intensity, you likely know that even one BC is more than most people can handle. Do keep in mind, though, that border collies need training to keep their minds engaged and lots of aerobic exercise (daily is best). A bored border collie will find ways to keep herself amused, and you might not like the choices she makes. Imagine the mischief two canine Einsteins can get into!

You may well enjoy getting involved in a sport such as fly ball or agility with your new dog (or dogs). They excel at these sports, and the fast pace suits their type A personalities well. -- Gina Spadafori

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.

On there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to or visiting


Ruling could change court status of pets

-- Vermont's Supreme Court will soon hear a case about whether a pet owner has the right to compensation for the emotional pain and loss of companionship when the animal dies as a result of negligence, reports the American Veterinary Medical Association's Web site ( Although the ruling will not change anything outside of that state, the court's decision may influence laws in other jurisdictions. The key issue is whether a pet owner can ask for more than the "property value" of an animal when suing. Currently, laws in most states allow owners to recover an animal's "market value," associated medical expenses and, at times, other economic damages, such as breeding status, pedigree and special training, but not any monetary compensation for emotional distress to the owner.

-- Summer foliage and flowers such as daffodils and tulips often look good enough to eat but can be toxic when consumed by dogs and cats. Eating bulbs can lead to cardiovascular problems and endanger the central nervous system, and ingesting lilies can cause kidney failure in cats.

-- When it comes to stretching before any activity, no personal trainer or coach will ever be as committed to the idea as the average cat. When a cat wakes up, she carefully stretches every muscle to make sure her strong, supple body is ready for action. Typically, the stretching routine starts with a good arching of the back and a very, very big yawn. Next is a full-body stretch, right down to the tip of the tail.

-- If you love your pet, you're in good company. Some 41 percent of pet owners consider their pets family members, 36 percent call them children, 19 percent think of them as friends, and only 2 percent think of them as an acquaintance or property, according to consumer research from the American Veterinary Medical Association. -- Dr. Marty Becker


Lively finches can be entertaining pets

Zebra and society finches are the "easy keepers" of the finch group, hardy little guys who'll bring energy and sound into your home.

They're not very expensive to acquire, set up or maintain. Unlike hookbills -- budgies, cockatiels and parrots -- who need and desire physical interaction, finches will be happiest if you leave them alone. That's really the only downside of having them as a children's pet, by the way: They're not the best pet for a child who wants a hands-on pet experience.

Since finches, unlike other pet birds, are generally left in their cages always, they're a good choice for a multipet household. (The cage will offer protection from cats in most cases.) Still, since predatory pets can be resourceful, you should probably keep finches in a room that you can close off when you're not around to supervise.

Because finches stay in their cages, get the biggest cage you can afford, with bar spacing close enough to prevent escapes. Since cage-bound birds need to fly for exercise, choose a cage that's more horizontal than vertical, to give them room to flit from side to side. A reputable bird shop will be able to set you up with everything you need, including healthy finches. -- Gina Spadafori


It takes a village -- or at least friends

Although more people these days seem to be taking their pets with them on vacation than ever before, that's not always possible. Who cares for the pets left behind (multiple responses allowed)?

Friend/family: 61 percent

Pet sitter: 24 percent

Board at vet: 20 percent

Board at kennel: 12 percent

Other: 2 percent

Never travel without pet: 7 percent

Source: American Animal Hospital Association


Make sure all pets have lots of water

Keep pet water cool by adding ice chips or cubes to the dishes of smaller pets and ice blocks for larger animals. Ice blocks can be made easily by freezing water in used food tubs.

Cats and dogs may also appreciate a frozen treat. Freeze no- or low-sodium broth in ice-cube trays -- and offer them the cubes outside to minimize any mess. You can also find commercial frozen treats for pets, such as Ice Pups (from The Honest Kitchen) or Frosty Paws.

Be sure your pet is always kept supplied with lots of clean water. For caged pets, check to be sure that the delivery tube of a water bottle isn't clogged, blocking the flow of water. For other animals, don't just add clean water on top of dirty in a filthy bowl -- scrub and refill the dish at least once a day. -- Gina Spadafori

Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to or by visiting

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