Dogs are marvelous creatures. I've lived with them most of my life and could no more dream of living without them than without an arm. That said, I'd be the first to admit that dogs can be disgusting on a grand scale when it comes to their eating habits.
As with so many of the things that drive us crazy about the animals in our lives, the problem is instinct. Dogs are by instinct scavengers, which gives them a high level of interest in things that are truly revolting for us to contemplate, but that have a degree of nutritional value nonetheless.
There are a couple things you can try to restrain your dog from his less-than-gourmet pursuits in the yard, on the street or in the litter box. First would be to teach the "leave it" command.
"Leave it" is one of the most useful commands around. In addition to controlling what your dog picks up on walks, "leave it" can be used to control where dogs relieve themselves (since a sniff always comes first), as well as keeping them off guests. It's a lovely way of letting your dog know his nose is where it doesn't belong.
Teach "leave it" with your dog in a sitting position on leash, facing you. Put a treat in one hand and make your hand into a loose fist with the other, with the top, flat part of the fist facing up. Extend the treat and tell your dog "leave it." When he moves to take it, "bop" him under the chin with the flat part of your fist -- not hard, just enough to close his mouth. Offer the treat again, and again say "leave it." Some dogs will turn their noses away or hesitate, and if yours does, praise him grandly. Otherwise, another bop.
Few dogs have to have this demonstrated more than once or twice. Finish by giving a "release" command -- I use "OK" -- and let your dog have the treat and more praise. Practice this every day for a while to make sure your dog understands, then incorporate it into your everyday routine. Never forget to praise your pup for a job well done!
Of course, you can't be with your dog every minute of the day, so you'll need another plan to cope with ongoing temptation in yard or litter box. There are some products on the market that advertise they make dog stools unappetizing (as opposed to how great they usually taste, I suppose), and they're worth trying, for they seem to work with some dogs.
Some trainers suggest "booby-trapping" stools by cutting them in half and adding hot sauce to the middle, but I hesitate to recommend that plan because I could barely stand to type it, much less do it, and I'm guessing most people are the same.
The "cure" for most yard cruisers is going to be constant vigilance, removing messes as soon as they hit. For litter boxes, try the barrier approach. For little dogs, baby gates will do the trick; cats can jump them easily, but the dog cannot. For big dogs, consider putting a small cat flap in the door to the room with the litter box -- again, easy access for the cat, none for the dog. You can also experiment with moving the box gradually to a high place. Make sure your cat is comfortable with the changes, though, or instead of one behavior problem you'll have two, as your cat abandons his litter box.
With a little effort and ingenuity on your part, you'll soon be able to let your dog kiss you again without wondering where his mouth has been.
Pets on the Web: Ferals are domestic cats gone wild, animals abandoned in the mistaken belief that cats can fend for themselves. They can't. Fortunately, some people are trying to help, and one group of them has put together a wonderful resource on the Internet. The San Diego Feral Cat Coalition's Web site (www.feralcat.com) offers information on how to combat the problem, with articles on taming feral kittens, rabies, and finding veterinarians who will work with the wild ones. It's a great site with a lot of heart!
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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