One thing I love about nice weather -- dog-washing moves outside for my two retrievers. No more drenched bathroom, soggy walls, shaking dogs and dripping paw prints in the house. All we need is a hose, shampoo and a warm, sunny day.
Please note, however, that the cold-water treatment is absolutely not for the oldest dog, Andy. He goes to a groomer every month, a dog-loving woman who characterizes herself as the Wizard of Dogs. And she truly is. She picks up Andy in her poodle-filled Saturn and treats him like the old prince he is, with perfectly warmed water and heated towels, sweet-scented soaps and a gentle combing of his long, thick hair. He doesn't go with her all that willingly, but feels good when he returns, his coat gleaming like spun silver.
Heather and Benjamin -- young, strong, and made for cold-water retrieving -- don't need such royal treatment. Indeed, most of their dousings are in nearby lakes and rivers, with the occasional trip to salt water. They like these dousings better than baths, by far, and they dry as glossy and clean as if they were sudsed.
They don't smell as nice as when soaped, though, so they still get the occasional bath -- for my benefit, more then theirs. After all, most dogs would be content to live their lives in dog-smell heaven. They like the way they smell.
But smell is important to us, too, and that's why baths are important. And so is a plan of attack.
First, set yourself up with proper equipment. If your flea-control regimen is working well, there's no need for flea soap. In fact, regular soap does just as good a job of killing fleas by washing them down the drain. The spot-on flea control Frontline works well for dogs who are bathed often or taken swimming frequently, but only if you apply the product a few days before or after a dousing.
Footing is important, inside or out. If you're using the bathtub, put down a mat or towel so your pet won't slip. Outside, the lawn will give plenty of traction. Make sure you rinse with clean water, which is easy to do with a hose. But inside, use a spray nozzle for the best results.
It's important to comb or cut out tangles or mats before the bath, since water only makes them worse. Put a pinch of cotton just inside your dog's ears and a drop of mineral oil in each eye to help keep out the soap. (Don't forget to take out the cotton later, or you'll be wondering why your dog is ignoring you more than usual.)
In working with dogs, I've found a good attitude can go a long way, but a bad one can go even further. If your dog knows how much you hate bath time, how will he get a positive or at least tolerable opinion of the process? Keep it light, and don't let up on the praise.
Wet your dog thoroughly, then start shampooing by working a complete ring of lather around the neck, cutting off the fleas' escape route to the ears. Work back from there, and don't forget to work some lather between your dog's toes, another favorite getaway for fleas. Rinse well, and put a towel over yourself while he shakes. Your dog can get more water off by shaking than you can by toweling, so let him have at it.
After your dog has shaken off everything he can, take him inside to dry. He won't pick up as much filth that way. Dogs who dry while clean stay cleaner longer, which means it'll be a while before either one of you has to consider dog shampoo again.
That's good news for my retrievers, who love every kind of water from a street puddle to an ocean, unless soap is involved.
PETS ON THE WEB
Thanks to all the readers who called or e-mailed me after my column that recommended PetsWelcome.com, a great online resource for travel planning with pets (www.petswelcome.com). PetsWelcome offers a fast, easy-to-use search engine that allows you to pinpoint pet-friendly lodgings in cities and towns of all sizes, including a few locales I tried that are little more than flyspecks on little-traveled state highways. The site also offers listings of emergency veterinary clinics, travel and medical tips and more. It's a nice, clean, useful Web site. Bookmark it!
A publication whose time has come? You bet! The Bark is a quarterly publication highlighting literary work about dogs. And if you haven't been paying attention, you'll be surprised at how much good stuff is out there now, from well-known writers who often grace the best-seller lists. I have completely devoured every back issue of The Bark I could find -- nothing else gets done when I get a new one until I've read every letter, essay, book review and interview. It's the best thing for dog lovers since ... well, dogs. Subscriptions are $12 for four issues from The Bark, 2810 Eighth St., Berkeley, Calif. 94710. Throw in an extra $2.50 and ask for a "Dog Is My Co-Pilot" bumper sticker, which already graces the back of my minivan. You can also check out a sample of The Bark's contents on the Web, at www.thebark.com.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I am glad you mentioned in your column about rabbits that the parent needs to take on the responsibility of pet ownership. I wish that before parents buy an animal for their child that they would stop and ask themselves: "Do I really like this animal? Will I do what is necessary to give it a good life, even if it means having to restrain my child from it occasionally and spending money to give it appropriate health care?"
I feel that many parents selfishly get a child a pet to please the child and never give a thought about the animal's quality of life. I volunteer at a local shelter and have had nightmares over what I have seen. I have had parents bring in animals and use an excuse that their child just won't take care of it. Many times the pet is on its last legs and ready for the grave.
Two days before Christmas, a woman came in and dropped off an 8-year-old cocker spaniel that was having convulsions, and was severely dehydrated and totally unrescuable. The shelter vet had to put him down on Christmas Eve. The woman had told me that she needed to get rid of the old dog because they were giving her child a new puppy on Christmas.
I don't mean to upset you, but some parents just don't see that they are responsible for these animals. They have begun to look at them as toys for children.
So I am asking you to keep stating in your columns just how important it is for parents to be responsible, not only to teach their children how to care for a living creature, but also how to invest time into caring for the animal. The animal should become one of the family. That means everyone should love and care for it. -- Colleen, via the Internet
A: Your story about the poor cocker spaniel is horrible. But after all these years writing about pets, I must say that nothing surprises me. The Wall Street Journal recently had a front-page article about parents who were hoping the pet who'd been their four-legged "first child" would die so their two-legged children could have a puppy. Many of them decided to speed up the process, of course, by taking their once-prized pet to the veterinarian or the shelter.
It saddens me, not only on behalf of the animals, but for its effect on human society. Parents who consider animals no better than animated stuffed animals, to be thrown away when the novelty wanes, are missing the opportunity to teach their children important lessons about compassion.
As involved animal lovers, though, you and I need to remember that we tend to see the worst. Check out the next letter, also in response to my rabbit column, for a more uplifting perspective on children, parents and pets.
Q: I am 11 years old. When you say children shouldn't have rabbits, do you mean toddlers, or young teens like me? I have a 7-month-old Dutch rabbit, and he is as friendly as can be. Cricket is under my care only, unless I have to go somewhere.
I have read three books about rabbits (I am now reading one "Watership Down"). I know a lot about rabbits, and I know how to handle rabbits because Cricket tells me by purring like a kitten. Please note that this is my first rabbit, and I have not come to have a happy bunny (by learning) from past mistakes. My dad even says that Cricket is spoiled! -- Alaina, via the Internet
A: Alaina, what can I say? You're doing great. I can tell from your letter than you're a "natural" with animals -- responsible and caring. Cricket is lucky to have you. Keep up the good work.
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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