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

PLAY BY THE RULES

BITE PREVENTION STARTS WITH PROACTIVE PARENTING

By Susan Tripp

and Dr. Rolan Tripp

Universal Press Syndicate

Dogs are wonderful family pets and great companions for children, always ready to play or just to listen. And for the overwhelming majority of children, the experience of having a family dog is a good one.

But not all interactions are of the storybook variety. Every year about a thousand people a day turn up in emergency rooms with dog bites, from pets of all sizes, shapes, breeds and mixes. Most of these victims are school-aged children, with bites to the face being the most common, and boys being seen more often than girls.

Many of these bites could have been prevented, with some parental guidance and care beforehand. How can parents help dogs and children to get along? Make sure your children know the basics for enjoying time with dogs safely:

-- Play by the rules. Children and dogs benefit from the exercise and enjoyment of playtime. Rough play and dog wrestling are against the rules. So is running around shrieking and waving arms wildly. Your children must learn to be calm and relaxed around dogs, and that play must stop if a dog gets wound up or is uncomfortable with the level of activity.

Teach your children that they are the ones who start and end all games with the family dog, so the dog comes to see the children as being in control of the situation. Fetch is one of the best games for children to play with dogs. Have your child start the game by asking the dog to sit or lie down, and to end the game by making sure the dog drops or otherwise gives up the toy. Tug-of-war games are not allowed unless the dog will sit and release a toy immediately at any time when asked.

-- Let sleeping dogs lie. When a dog is asleep, a dog is off-limits. Never let your child be unsupervised around your dog until you are certain he or she has learned not to lunge at or surprise the dog with hugs and kisses. Children should also learn to leave a dog alone while the animal is eating.

Instead of allowing your children to wake up a dog, teach them to call the dog to them. Show your children how to offer the back of a hand to sniff before petting a dog.

-- Help with the training. Let your children feed your dog his meals instead of leaving food out for "whenever" feeding. This lets you and the children use feeding time as a training time. Have children hand-feed the first five to 10 bits of food in exchange for having the dog following an instruction such as sit, lie down, shake, watch, etc.

Having children participate in dog-training gives them and dogs a solid foundation for interacting with each other. Stand behind your child as a backup, to make sure the dog responds correctly.

Training with food and praise helps dogs to associate children with goodies. Set the example for children by giving the dog lots of praise for good behavior. Encourage children to do the same. (And praise your kids, too!)

-- Walk the dog, but don't let the dog walk you. Dogs need daily physical and mental exercise, and walking the dog provides both. Adult supervision is a must away from home, always, because you cannot control who or what your child and dog may run into out there.

Use head collars or front-clip harnesses (the Premier company makes good versions of both) to keep dogs from pulling on the leash. You want the dog to associate your child with these fun excursions. Bring treats along and have part of the walks become training activities.

That's it! Just a few simple guidelines and you'll be doing your part as a parent to help your child get the most out of having a family dog. Leaving things to chance may lead to the emergency room, while being a proactive parent will lead to happy memories.

Don't take chances: Do your part to keep children and dogs safe and happy.

Q&A

Chewed shoes? Not dog's fault

Q: My 10-month-old neutered Lab-border collie gets lots of exercise, and I do mean lots, since I am training for a marathon and he trains with me. I have read that exercise is the key to curing destructive behavior. But he's a big-time chewer, and it's hard to imagine him getting any more exercise than he does! Do you have any suggestions? Those running shoes he destroyed were expensive. -- M.M., via e-mail

A: Sporting breeds, herding breeds and their mixes are notorious for their high activity levels, especially in their adolescent and young adult periods. That's why I never recommend dogs such as border collies for people who plan to do nothing more than give them a sedate daily walk.

These dogs are just too high-drive for many situations, especially when you factor in that these are also some of the smartest pets around. (Contrast the active herding and sporting breeds with sight hounds such as retired racing greyhounds. Those "40-mph couch potatoes" are often a better choice for a more sedentary household.)

You may be going through a rough patch now, but you'll get through this. And you're a perfect owner for such a smart, active dog.

Normally, I'd say a dog like yours needs more exercise, but since you have that covered, you need to manage your dog's environment and offer him alternatives to chewing what you don't want.

I do like the idea of doggy day care for active dogs, providing nonstop supervised play. I've used doggy day care from time to time with one of my young dogs and have liked it a lot.

If that's not possible, limit your dog's range while you're gone and leave him with something to keep him busy. One suggestion: stuffed Kongs.

You take your basic Kong dog toy, stuff it with peanut butter and bits of kibble or biscuits, and freeze it. Then give it to your dog when you're leaving the house. With a simple Internet search, you can find all kinds of recipes and ideas for stuffing Kongs.

Use a baby gate or other barrier to keep your dog in a small area with his Kong and other chew toys while you're gone to minimize distraction and destruction -- no more free run of the house!

Sorry about those running shoes, but that was your fault, not his. Get in the habit of keeping the house picked up. And if you do see your dog chewing on something non-approved, clap your hands to interrupt the chewing you don't want and then switch him to the chewing you do want, with praise. -- Gina Spadafori

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

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 PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

PET BUZZ

Pets may cause owner insomnia

-- Man's best friend is sleep's worst enemy. In a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, almost one-quarter of patients with insomnia copped to sharing their bed with a furry bedmate.

-- Talk about animal magnetism! Turns out that cows have a built-in compass to help them find north and south, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers studied satellite photos of thousands of cattle grazing from around the world, and they found most cattle that are grazing or resting tended to align their bodies in a north-south direction.

-- Think rabies is so yesterday? Think again. Some 55,000 people die worldwide from rabies each year. World Rabies Day will be observed Sept. 28 to mobilize awareness and resources in support of human rabies prevention and animal rabies control.

-- The Galapagos Islands, 600 miles off Ecuador, retain 95 percent of the islands' original species and all of its birds. According to The New York Times, 97 percent of the land is protected, and the surrounding waters are one of the world's largest marine reserves.

-- The Dallas-Fort Worth airport plans to open a pet hotel on airport grounds, catering to passengers looking to drop their pets off on the way out of town. As reported in USA Today, the facility will be a 24/7 operation, with webcams allowing owners to check up on their pets online. The facility will provide a boarding and grooming service, wading pool and a retail store. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon

PET BOOKS

Good reads offer the fascinating and the practical

So you think you know a lot about animals? "The Book of Animal Ignorance: Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong" (Crown, $20) is here to set you straight.

Authors John Lloyd and John Mitchinson are the authors of The New York Times best-selling "Book of General Ignorance," and their beastly follow-up is full of often unbelievable (but absolutely true) facts about the animal kingdom. It's a can't-put-it-down read.

Did you know, for instance, that a female komodo dragon doesn't need a male to reproduce? That an elephant's trunk is powerful enough to kill a lion with a single blow, yet delicate enough to pick up a grain of rice? That a mole will die if it goes more than eight hours without eating? Now you do.

What if your search for animal knowledge is more practical in nature? If, like most dog or cat owners, you need information on how to cut your pet's nails rather than on the mating habits of the hyena? Two new books from Arden Moore have you covered.

After the runaway success of her "Real Food for Dogs" during last year's pet food recall, Moore's "Happy Cat, Happy You" and "Happy Dog, Happy You" (Storey, $11 each) will help make your relationship with your pet less about stress and more about fun. From how to stop your dog's unwanted barking to how to keep your cat calm on a long car trip, these handy guides are jammed with tips designed to make life easier for pets and their owners alike. -- Christie Keith

BY THE NUMBERS

Getting the facts

Past experience counts for a lot when it comes to knowing how to take care of a pet, but a veterinarian's advice is still the most sought after. Here are the top sources for information on caring for dogs (multiple responses allowed):

Veterinarian 66%

Past experience 54%

Books/library 26%

Friends/relatives 25%

Magazines 19%

Internet 19%

Pet store 13%

Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association

ON GOOD BEHAVIOR

Cat toys can be found everywhere

Kittens and cats love to play to satisfy their natural curiosity and chase instinct. The good news: Kitten toys are easy to make!

Cut a piece of rope for starters, and then experiment. Tie a knot around a small piece of paper to make a butterfly. Upgrade to an empty toilet paper roll or a worn-out hair scrunchy. Collect feathers to tie on in place of paper.

Go on a cat toy scavenger hunt around the house, and you will be amazed at what goodies you may find. Besides chasing string toys, kittens love to bat things around. Try pingpong balls, dice, poker chips and plastic container caps on a slippery floor.

(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)

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 petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

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