If you can't stand the thought of going outside in the snow, rain, fog or just plain bitter cold, you can keep your dog from driving you crazy by exercising his mind. Any kind of training will do, but trick-training is especially appropriate. Better still: Get your kids to train your dog, and you'll get them out of your hair, too.
As promised last week, here's what you need to know to teach two basic tricks, with some nifty variations:
-- Shake hands. Have your dog sit, say "shake hands," and tap the back of his front leg or tickle it a little, whichever seems to work best. When he picks up his paw, take it in your hand and praise. Build on the skill through repetition until he's lifting his paw reliably, and then higher and higher. Some dogs get to the point of practically giving a high five.
A second step to this trick is to teach him the "other paw" command. Always ask for the same paw for "shake hands," and then when he's reliable at it, teach "other paw" in the same way, but this time tap on the back of the other front leg. He'll get the idea quickly, and soon he will be giving you one paw at the command "shake" and the opposite one for the command "other paw."
"Shake hands" is probably the trick most commonly taught -- a good percentage of the dogs in any shelter already know it -- but it also has a practical application. You can teach your dog to stop on a mat just inside the front door and wait for you to wipe off his muddy paws before he comes all the way into the house. Ask him to give you his paw and then wipe it, then the other paw and wipe it. Teach him to offer his back paws in the same way, using the command "back paw" for one, and "other back" for the last paw. As he lifts them, wipe with a towel.
-- Jump. To teach this one, you can use a long dowel, a broomstick, a children's plastic hoop or a specially made stick for dogs to jump, available from those pet suppliers who carry equipment for obedience trainers.
With your dog on-leash, hold the stick or hoop an inch or two off the ground and say "over" and then draw the dog over by his leash and praise. Once the command is understood, work at gradually raising the height of the jump.
Some variations: Once your dog knows this trick, you can teach him to jump over your arm or over another dog on down-stay or even over one of your kids. You can also teach your dog to jump into something, be it your car or your arms -- the latter not recommend if your dog's a 90-pounder.
Don't get carried away, even if your dog really enjoys jumping. Some dogs have been injured by jumping too high. A good rule of thumb is to never ask your dog to jump much more than his height at the shoulders (more for small, agile breeds, like Shelties, less for ones who aren't really built for jumping, like basset hounds).
Trick-training is a great way to spend a winter day while strengthening the bond between you and your pet. Let your imagination guide you, and you'll both have a blast.
PETS ON THE WEB
If you've been to a cat show recently, you may have noticed that what most people think of when they think "Siamese" bears little resemblance to the willowy cat winning the ribbons today. The more robust "apple-headed" Siamese has its fans still, along with a group dedicated to preserving the breed as it was. The Traditional Cat Association (www.covesoft.com/tca) also promotes more than a dozen other "traditional" or "classic" cat varieties, which are all pictured on its Web site. The site also has membership information, information on finding a breeder, and an online cat show and newsletter. Strike a blow for tradition and visit.
One of the best bargains to be had is the American Kennel Club's full-color wall poster of all the breeds it registers, out in a new edition and free for the cost of postage and handling: $5 for each poster, $2 for each additional poster in the same order. The poster includes new illustrations, including one of the AKC's recent addition, the popular Jack Russell terrier. Descriptions of each breed along with their country or region of origin are under each picture. For more information about the AKC's "Guide to Purebred Dogs" poster, call 919-233-9767, or send e-mail to orderdesk(at)akc.org.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I am concerned about the emotional well-being of my new boyfriend's dog. He is "deathly allergic" to his dog, an older black Lab, so he keeps him in the back yard. The dog has a dog house, food and water, but little else. He rarely ever takes his dog out of the yard, and when he does it is for a brief period or a trip to the vet. As he is so violently allergic to this animal, he rarely touches him.
Can this possibly be a healthy thing to do to an animal? I believe dogs need love and affection, and I don't understand why people like this have animals. To top it off, he boasted to me one day about his authoritative training methods, telling me that when his dog refuses to come when called, he kicks him! Can you give me any advice on how to educate him to the needs and care of his dog? -- B.R., via the Internet
A: My gut reaction is to tell you to grab the dog and dump the boyfriend, but let me give you a few other suggestions first. People have a tendency to repeat their mistakes when it comes to pets, and that means if he is not properly educated, the man will be neglecting his dogs (and kicking them when they disobey) for years to come. Education is always worth a try.
No dog can be happy in the back yard with nothing more than food, water and shelter. Dogs are social animals, as we are, and they are at their best -- and their happiest -- when in the company of others.
Probably the best thing this man can do is find a new home for the dog and vow never to get another. If that's not acceptable, he should spend some time with the dog every day -- playing fetch would be good, as it's low on contact and high on exercise and interaction. If the dog is kept bathed and your boyfriend washes his hands after touching him, the allergy problem should be manageable. (Seeing an allergist would also help.) Another alternative: Hire a neighborhood kid to walk or play with the dog.
As for his training methods, not only are they cruel, but they also don't make any sense. Why would anyone come to someone if he knew he would be kicked or otherwise punished?
My advice would be to push your new boyfriend either to place the dog in a new home or work to improve the animal's life. Also, have him read up on some dog training. You'll find lots of great books at the nearest library or bookstore, and not a single one will suggest kicking as a training technique.
And if your powers of persuasion get you nowhere with this man, I go back to my original advice: Run, and take the dog with you.
Q: We are interested in purchasing a parrot. We have looked at an African grey, but it talked too much and screamed for attention.
Currently we are considering an Amazon. She is 6 years old and allows everyone in our family to pet her. She talks, but very quietly. Will she learn more words? Our experience has been limited to cockatiels. -- P.B., via the Internet
A: If you're interested in a talker, the two best species are indeed the African greys and the Amazons, especially the yellow-naped and double-yellow-headed varieties of the latter. Both species learn quickly and can be equally challenging and delightful to live with, although the Amazons are generally considered a little more clownish.
The Amazon you're considering may indeed be a winner, as long as her quiet demeanor is not a result of illness. Birds are amazingly good at hiding signs of illness. It's a survival mechanism for wild birds, who would attract the attention of a predator if they seemed sick. People who do not know this often do not realize their pet is sick until their bird is nearly dead -- and at that point, there may be nothing the veterinarian can do to help. Before you buy any bird (and certainly before you bring one into your home and risk the health of your cockatiels, if you still have them), have your new pet checked out by an avian veterinarian.
As for talking, she may well learn new words and phrases if you work with her, repeating them clearly and frequently. There's no guarantee, however, that any parrot will talk.
If you're looking for a pet who's not as rambunctious and noisy as either the African greys or the Amazons, consider the smaller African Poicephalus parrots -- the Senegal, Meyer's and Jardine's -- as well as any of the Pionus varieties. While these birds are not known for talking, they are considered fairly mellow, sweet-natured and easy to keep.
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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