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

BEGGARS = LOSERS

TEACH YOUR DOG THAT BEGGARS NEVER WIN

By Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

She stops traffic in one of the most touristed towns in California. Standing on her hind legs, paws posed prettily in front of her, with a pleading expression that could melt the hardest heart, our dog Harper has been the focus of many photographs as we dine outdoors in Laguna Beach. Passersby ask in awe, "How can you resist that face?"

My husband and I just laugh. After living with her for six years, we are inured to her adorable begging. She's a cavalier King Charles spaniel, so trading on her charm is second nature to her. It doesn't get her much, because we are about as hard-hearted as cavalier owners come, but it is always entertaining to watch.

Well, OK, I confess: She gets the occasional french fry or bit of bread. But there are rules.

-- Begging at the table at home is never rewarded. Ever. Our dogs know that the best way to get food is to wait patiently on the sofa until meals are over and then hope for bites of leftovers.

-- Begging during meal preparation is not rewarded per se, but calm, out-of-the-way watchfulness may be rewarded with a piece of bell pepper or cauliflower in exchange for a sit, spin, down or other trick.

-- Paws may not be put on people at the table or in the kitchen. Not ever. Guests are firmly instructed not to permit this.

-- At restaurants, the aforementioned french fry or crust of bread appears magically on the ground when Harper isn't looking -- and, I might add, when she's not begging. The behavior that is most likely to earn manna from heaven is lying quietly, not paying attention to us.

Teaching your dog not to beg is a matter of consistency. Dogs do what is rewarding to them, so if you -- or your toddler in a high chair -- give him food from the table when he's a puppy because he's just so gosh-darn cute or a convenient receptacle for unwanted broccoli, he's going to continue that behavior into adulthood, no matter how hard you try to extinguish it. It's a lot harder to teach a dog to break a habit than it is to not establish the habit in the first place.

What else can you do? My pal and colleague, dog trainer Mikkel Becker, has some great suggestions. Mikkel lives with pugs, who are equal to cavaliers in their begging ability, cuteness and manipulation skills, so she knows whereof she speaks.

-- Make the dinner table a dog-free zone. Teach your dog to go to his bed, a mat or his crate when meals are served. It's a great opportunity for him to practice a long down-stay. If necessary, use a baby gate or other barrier to prevent him from crashing your dinnertime do.

-- To sweeten the deal, give him a stuffed Kong or food puzzle to occupy his time. That way, he doesn't feel deprived, and you are rewarding him for being away from the table.

-- Feed him first. If he has already eaten, he'll be less interested in your food when you sit down at the table, especially if you ignore his longing looks.

-- Finally, never give attention for begging. No laughing (I know; it's hard not to), no talking to the dog, no yelling at him. Attention, even if it's negative, just reinforces the behavior. If you don't want to see begging, then quietly and calmly take your dog to another room or to his crate and leave him there until the end of the meal. He'll learn that begging is a bone-a-fide route to disappointment.

Q&A

Hamsters best suited for

older children, night owls

Q: My 4-year-old son is begging for a hamster. Would this be a good "starter pet" for him? -- via email

A: My short response is no, based on memories of my little brother's rough handling of our hamster when he was about that age. Here's why a hamster isn't necessarily a good first pet for a young child.

-- Hamsters are nocturnal. About the time your child is getting ready for bed, a hamster awakens and stays active throughout the night. A child will either sleep through his running on the wheel or be kept awake by it.

-- Hamsters are grumpy if they're awakened and handled during the day. They may nip your child when he tries to play with them.

-- Hamsters are escape artists. Small and speedy, they can escape a child's grasp and be off to a hiding place -- usually beneath the sofa cushions in our childhood home -- in seconds flat.

-- Hamsters are solitary. If you try to introduce two hamsters after maturity, they will fight unless you keep them in separate habitats. Anyone who wants two hamsters should acquire two young hamsters of the same sex at the same time.

-- Hamsters have special grooming needs. They enjoy dust baths, require a tree branch or piece of wood to gnaw on to keep their continuously growing teeth at an appropriate length, and must have their sharp toenails trimmed regularly unless they wear them down by digging and climbing.

Who should have a hamster? Get one if you're a night owl or would enjoy interacting with one after a long day at work. For a child who is at least 6 years old -- the age at which kids can understand the need to handle hamsters gently -- choose a sturdy species, such as a Syrian, amenable to handling when he's awake. Limit dwarf hamsters and small species such as Chinese hamsters to children 12 or older. -- Kim Campbell Thornton

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Animal cruelty becomes

felony in South Dakota

-- South Dakota is the final state to make animal cruelty a felony. A measure that was written in collaboration with animal welfare and agricultural groups cleared both houses of the state Legislature and was signed by the governor. Previously, inhumane treatment of animals was a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $2,000 fine, The Associated Press reports. The new law, which ensures that accepted livestock farming practices are not considered cruelty, punishes severe animal abuse with up to two years imprisonment and a $4,000 fine. Neglect, abandonment and mistreatment remain misdemeanors.

-- You've heard of a horse of a different color. Well, cats come in more than 50 different colors and patterns. Dr. Brenda Griffin at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine has put together a chart of the different feline looks to help shelter employees identify and describe the cats in their care. Some of the more unusual and striking feline coats include smoke -- black or blue with white roots; "torbies" -- tortoiseshell cats with tabby patterns -- also known as patched tabbies; and smoke tuxedo, a blue smoke cat with white paws, chest and belly.

-- A tiny piece of RNA -- a chain of proteins that process genetic information -- plays a key role in heart failure, and blocking this RNA can improve cardiac function and survival. A team of researchers published findings March 12 in the journal Nature that identified one of the key cellular processes leading to heart failure as well as the therapeutic potential of blocking the RNA process. Development of gene therapies for humans with heart failure is underway and may one day help pets with the condition as well. -- Kim Campbell Thornton

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.