As adorable as puppies can be, anyone who's raising one will also tell you that they can drive you crazy. To get through those trying months and come out with the dog you want, always remember two things in dealing with puppies: Be patient and be positive.
What about those times when he isn't so perfect? A verbal correction, properly timed and correctly delivered, is best. Done properly, this type of correction may be all you need in most puppy-raising situations. Here are few more ways to send a clear message of disapproval:
-- The ol' switcheroo. Especially useful for the young puppy, this technique stops a behavior you don't want and provides the puppy with one that's acceptable. For example, if your young puppy's chewing on your nice leather shoes, make a noise to startle and distract him -- slap the counter or clap your hands -- and then give him something you do want him to chew on, a toy. When he takes it, praise him.
With older puppies, you can stop a bad behavior by asking for a better one. Tell the puppy who's jumping up "no" and then "sit" -- and praise him for doing so. Tell him once, and if he does not (to be fair, be sure he understands what you want), gently push him into a sit, and then praise.
-- The big squirt. Get an inexpensive plastic squirt bottle and fill it with water and something distasteful -- lemon juice or vinegar, a tablespoon or so to a 12-ounce bottle. Tell your puppy "no" and then squirt. Try to hold the bottle close to your side so the stream seems to be coming from nowhere.
-- The time-out. Puppies thrive on your attention, even if it's negative. The time-out removes this reward and gives him a few minutes to think things over: "Oh, I can't stay with them if I do that!" he'll realize. This technique is especially good for a puppy who doesn't want to keep his mouth to himself, a bad habit for any dog to get into where people are concerned. When the puppy starts nipping, tell him "no," and them clam up, pick him up and put him in his crate for five minutes. Ignore the cries and whimpers. After a few minutes of quiet, let him out without much fanfare and let him hang out with you gently for a while.
If your puppy has been running around for a long time and just seems bratty, he may be tired. If that's the case, put him down for a nap in his crate, along with a chew toy. Again, ignore his fussing. Chances are he'll be asleep in a few minutes.
-- The shake-up. We're talking serious infractions here, such as a growl, show of teeth or, worse, a genuine bite (as opposed to a good-natured puppy nip or nibble). This correction mimics the scruff-shake older dogs used when disciplining recalcitrant youngsters. Take your pup by loose skin at the neck, lift his front paws off the ground, make eye contact and bark your sternest "no" at him. Then drop him and ignore him for a while (or put him in his crate) to give him time to think about his crime.
If you find you're constantly correcting your puppy, you may be giving him mixed signals. Get the help of a trainer before little problems become big ones.
PETS ON THE WEB
The recent great leaps forward in flea control -- and in advertising expenditures by flea-product manufacturers -- have prompted a lot of confusion on the part of pet lovers. Is the war on fleas really over? Are veterinarian-prescribed products the best, or will new over-the-counter remedies work as well?
Dr. James O. Noxon, a professor and staff dermatologist at the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, has done his best to provide the answers. His Fleas and Flea Control Web site (www.vetmed.iastate.edu/units/vth/noxon/flea.html) is jam-packed with information on the pests and what works against them.
The site covers the flea life cycle, pros and cons of every known control strategy and ingredient, and even tips on how to give your cat a bath. This is as good a collection of flea information as I've ever seen, with no commercial influences, and it shouldn't be missed.
One problem with rabbits is that left to their own devices they'll breed like ... um ... rabbits, which is why it's a good idea to have them spayed or neutered. Unwanted offspring isn't the only reason, though. Just as with dogs and cats, neutering and spaying eliminates many health and behavior problems.
Female rabbits, for example, are at a high risk for uterine cancer, a leading killer of these pets over the age of 2. Spaying also removes the potential for common and potentially lethal reproductive-system infections. Besides extending your pet's life span, altering eliminates sex-related behavior problems. Sexually mature rabbits can be territorial or even aggressive, and may spray urine. Put simply: Spayed and neutered rabbits make better pets.
Despite all the benefits, however, anesthesia is a little trickier with rabbits than with dogs and cats. Be sure you're dealing with a veterinarian who is experienced with rabbits, and ask about anesthesia, listening for the magic word: Isoflurane, which is preferred for use with rabbits. The final safety precaution is yours: Follow your veterinarian's pre- and postoperative directions precisely.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: A month ago my two cats ran away. One was 2 years old (she was spayed), and the other was about 6 months old (she was not fixed). Both have been with us since they were 6 weeks old.
Why would two well-fed, cared-for cats just run off? Do you think they might have been stolen, even though we live back in the woods? Two other cats have disappeared in our area, too. Please help me. -- M.C., via the Internet
A: The world is full of dangers for outside cats, few of whom ever make it to old age. Poisons, predators, cars and disease claim most long before their time. Cats are also a frequent target of human abusers -- witness the cat-killing revelations about the man who allegedly killed two officers in our nation's Capitol. Hard to think about, these dangers, but absolutely real.
There's no way of telling what happened to your cats, and no way of keeping it from happening again should you adopt another pet. Unless you decide to make your cats indoor pets, you're putting them at risk.
It's a difficult decision, and a controversial one for those who think cats need to be "free" to enjoy their lives. Indoor cats can live just as happily with owners who are determined to give them the companionship and stimulation they need.
I am sorry for your loss. It's never easy to lose a pet, no matter what the circumstances. And not knowing what happened makes it even harder.
Please consider an indoor life for any future cats. Even a cat who has tasted the outdoors can be converted if you're resolute. The best way to convert is "cold turkey": Pick a day and then stick to your decision. If you give in after a couple of days of insistent meows, all you will have accomplished is teaching your cat that if he cries more loudly he'll get his way. Use "interactive" toys such as kitty fishing poles to give your pet extra attention and work off excess energy, and offer your pet fresh air and sunshine through the use of screened-in porches or other safe enclosures.
Q: My iguana doesn't seem to be having a lot of fun. What should I do about it? -- G.I, via the Internet
A: Assuming your pet isn't ill, is eating properly and has an enclosure with enough space and warmth, you can try some environmental enrichment, which is a good idea for any pet who spends a great deal of time in a cage or tank.
Branches are a natural, giving your pet a place to climb and to bask. It's fine to collect branches in the wild, but you should treat them before putting them in your pet's area. Soak them in a mild bleach and water solution, then plain water for several hours, followed by a thorough rinsing and drying in the sun. Place them in such a way to provide enough support for your pet, and you'll likely see a happier iguana.
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 Write2Gina(at)aol.com.
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