What should your dog be wearing around his neck? The choices used to be pretty basic: a buckled collar for everyday wear, and a slip or "choke" collar for outings or training. But things have changed in recent years. Basic canine neck gear remains the flat or rolled collar, in either leather or nylon, with the choice of a snap-together clasp added to the time-honored buckle. Every dog should have one of these, with license and ID tags attached.
But what about the slip collar? Some trainers are now violently opposed to them; they think such collars are cruel. Despite the controversy, the slip collar remains a useful training tool for many dogs, but only if put on and used correctly. If you're choking your dog, you're not using the collar correctly.
Often the problem is that the slip collar's not on right. With your dog sitting on your left, hold the collar in a "P" position, with the loop away from you and the "back" of the "P" on top. Slip it over your dog's head and it will be in perfect position. A session or two with a trainer will help you get it on right and help you learn how to use the collar in a correct way -- a fast tighten and a just as quick release.
The slip collar is probably the most common collar for training and control, but there are a few others you should know about. Again, working with a trainer will help you determine what will work best for your dog and how to use properly whatever collar you choose. Here's the rundown:
-- Partial slip collars are a hybrid between a flat collar and a slip collar. Designed to limit the "choking" action of a slip collar, they tighten, but only so much.
-- "Pinch" or "prong" collars are more popular than ever before, since they are an efficient way of dealing with well-muscled dogs like the Rottweiler. Like a partial slip, they can only be tightened so far, but unlike the partial, they have blunt metal prongs evenly spaced along the inside of the length of the collar. When tightened, these prongs press into the dog's neck.
These collars are controversial, in part because of their appearance. In the hands of a knowledgeable trainer, however, they can help with a powerful dog.
-- Head halters are another device with a public-relations problem, because they look like muzzles. They're not. They operate on the same principle that has worked for years with horses: Where the head goes, the body follows.
-- Harnesses are best left on little dogs, since they offer nothing in the way of control and give up a great deal in the way of leverage. Some small breeds, such as poodles, have a tendency toward "collapsing tracheas," where the rings of cartilage in the neck collapse temporarily when the dog is excited. These dogs are ideal candidates for harnesses, to relieve the pressure on their necks from pulling.
There are a couple of harnesses on the market that do offer some control, tightening around the dog's chest as he pulls. These are an option even for larger dogs. Your veterinarian may suggest a harness if your dog is of a breed known for neck or back problems, or if your dog has had a neck trauma or surgery.
Whatever collar you choose, remember that even the right training tool can be wrong if you aren't using it properly. If your dog is out of control, find a trainer to help you.
PETS ON THE WEB
Paris is proud: He's handsome, he's smart, and he's a poodle with an attitude and a Web page (www.havenhouse.com/poodle.htm) to prove it. He is also tired of being dissed. "You've gotten away with it for years," his Web site says. "It's just derogatory and it's mean ... in fact, we consider it a hate crime. So quit calling us 'froufrou' dogs! We are not a wimpy breed." Well, OK, Paris. The dog's page has a couple of other poodle links, most notably to the Poodle Museum. It's part of a poodle Web ring, too, so you can start with Paris and spend a whole day enjoying oodles of poodles.
When you consider the rain forests that many of them come from, it's no surprise that parrots need to get wet. It's good for their feathers and their mental health, as well. Use a spray bottle to mist your parrot every day, and give him a good drenching weekly with a sink or shower nozzle. Some parrot lovers share the shower with their pet, and that's not a bad idea, either, as long as your bird's not nippy. (Ouch!) To introduce your bird to misting, don't spray directly. Instead, point the spray bottle up so the mist comes down like rain. Once your bird is used to the sensation of being sprayed, he'll likely adore his daily dampening.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Our cat has suddenly started spraying urine on the furniture. We've squirted him, spanked him and reprimanded him, but it doesn't help. I don't understand why he doesn't urinate all the time in the litter box. My husband says if it doesn't stop, the cat goes. Help! -- P.F., via the Internet
A: The application of urine to mark territory is different from the release of urine to eliminate waste from the body. The strategies for addressing spraying are different from those that you use in getting a cat to use a litter box. The first step in solving any behavioral problem is to make sure it's not a medical problem, so have your veterinarian rule out any problem such as an infection.
Although both male and female cats spray, unneutered males are the biggest offenders, followed by unspayed females in season. You didn't mention if your cat is neutered, but if he isn't, he should be. Neutering takes care of the problem in 90 percent of the cases if done before sexual maturity is attained, at about 6 months.
For those cats who don't respond to neutering, environmental stresses -- such as a new person in the house or a neighbor's cat in the yard -- may be triggering the spraying. Anti-anxiety drugs may help (again, talk to your veterinarian), as can cleaning sprayed areas thoroughly and covering them with foil to discourage fresh marking. (Cats dislike anything involving foil, and the sound of urine hitting it really annoys them.) Don't punish your cat for spraying, even if you catch him in the act. Doing so makes him even more insecure and more likely to mark.
Q: I have purchased a sun conure, and she seems to be a nice, lovable bird. The only problem is that she screeches a lot of the time. The only time she doesn't is when we put her in the dark. Any advice? -- B.E., via the Internet
Q: We just recently got a sun conure. It's a very pretty bird, but very loud! We have discovered by covering him in the early morning while we're getting ready does get him to quiet down. However, we can't keep him covered all the time. Any suggestions? -- E.R., via the Internet
A: Your letters came in within an hour of each other, and for the sake of your neighbors, I hope you're not living next to each other.
I have bad news for you: The bright and beautiful sun conure is one noisy bird, and to a certain extent you're just going to have to live with the din. Covering the cage or turning out the lights at night will keep your pet quiet while you're trying to sleep. You should also work to not reward the bird for noise with either positive (picking up the bird or giving it a treat) or negative (punishing the bird) reinforcement. Beyond that, you'll just have to learn to appreciate the sun conure for its bright color and charming personality.
The sun and other conures of the Aratinga group -- the jenday, golden-capped, mitred, red-fronted, dusky and white-eyed, to name a few -- can be very loud, but other conures aren't quite so vocal. The species of the Pyrrhura group -- the maroon-belly, green-cheeked and black-cap -- don't have nearly the volume of their flashy relations.
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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