Rare are the trips when I leave my dogs behind, and I'm certainly not alone in my enjoyment of traveling with my pets. You can find dozens of books on pet travel, many complete with information on the best places to stay and things to do in any given area. Some travel businesses even cater to people with pets, offering special rooming packages and activities. Where people go, pets go too, and in ever-increasing numbers.
But should every dog travel? I faced a sad decision recently when I went away with the two younger dogs and left my dear Andy, who's now 14, behind. The place we were going had too many big dogs and goings-on for an animal who prefers the quiet life now, so Andy stayed with a retired friend who pampers him nonstop.
An aging pet may be best left at home, but there are others who also fall into that category. A pet who's not in good health or is nervous or untrustworthy in new situations is probably best left behind with a friend, a sitter, in a kennel or at your veterinarian's.
The best canine travelers are reasonably well-mannered -- more than can be said for many human tourists -- and in good health. That said, don't count your pet out without a little consideration and a trip to your veterinarian's. Your pet may be in better shape than you think, after all, and any behavior problems she has may be fixable.
If your dog's last checkup was a few years ago, get a thorough one now. You have to, anyway, if you're shipping your pet by air or going to another country, because you need a health certificate. But even if you're only driving to a state park four hours away, you want to know that your pet is in good health, and you need to know that he's current on his vaccinations, especially rabies. Many parks require proof of rabies, and even if where you're going doesn't, you'll want to have it with you just in case the unthinkable happens -- your dog bites someone.
The minimum requirements for canine travelers is that they be able to behave themselves on-leash in some very exciting circumstances: around strange people, strange dogs, and strange scenery, sounds and smells. If you plan to let your dog off-leash, you'd better be sure that he'll come when called and leave something alone -- like a dead fish on the beach -- when you ask him to.
The other component of successful travel with a dog is you. Are you sure you're up to the task? Travel with pets comes with certain built-in problems: You have to pack for you pets, too, and you can't just leave your pet in the car while you spend hours window-shopping. Traveling with a pet is a responsibility, too. Lodgings that accept pets can change their policies, and many do after having to put up with noisy or messy pets and the complaints of other clients. If you take your pet along, you must be sure to clean up after him and keep him quiet.
To me, the extra work is worth it, of course, and as long as there are vacations, I'll be likely to have my dogs with me. Even now I'm planning a weekend getaway where Andy can go, too. Leaving him behind may have been the right decision for the last trip, but he'll be riding shotgun again for the next one.
PETS ON THE WEB
A pair of finches have built a nest on top of the motion-detector floodlights outside my back door. I could have pulled down the nest before the eggs came, but I didn't have the heart. Instead, I turned off the light and now I'm waiting for the babies to hatch. Perhaps it's because I'm so emotionally invested in my own little finch family that I was drawn to the Web site (http://birds.cornell.edu/aboutclo) of the ornithology laboratory at Cornell University. Lots of great information here on wild birds, including a bird of the week and bird sound of the week feature. My favorite section is the Bird House Network, which includes live Webcams of nests. If I miss my babies hatching, I'll be able to watch others.
Accidents happen even to the cautious. One disaster that's all too common in multi-pet household is a biting incident between a predatory animal (cat or dog) and a prey one (bird, hamster, rabbit). A bite is a genuine medical emergency, even if the pet who has been bitten seems fine afterward. Dogs and cats have bacteria in their mouths that can develop into a deadly infection in a bird or other prey animal. For many of these, a prompt trip to a veterinarian and a course of antibiotics will mean the difference between life and death. Nights, weekends -- no matter when it happens -- a bitten bird or rabbit needs help, fast. Call your regularly veterinarian or emergency clinic for guidance.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Our dog is very hyperactive. She makes me crazy, jumping up on everyone. She won't obey any command, and we can't walk her on a leash. I've heard about dogs getting Prozac. Would that help? -- M.U., via e-mail
A: Not really. Prozac and other medications certainly have been shown to have a place in veterinary medicine, but they are no magic bullet. You can't just get a bottle full of pills and hope to have your dog problems disappear. Even with medications, the experts stress the importance of good nutrition, plenty of exercise, behavioral modification and just plain basic training.
You didn't mention what kind of dog you have, but I'm guess you have a young, large dog of an active breed or mix. I would guess, further, that your dog isn't getting enough exercise. It's a pretty easy guess, really, because few dogs do get the exercise they require. And veterinarians, trainers and behaviorists hear a lot about digging, chewing, barking and general "hyper" behavior as a result. If a dog doesn't get the exercise he needs, he'll get it in ways that will drive you crazy. It's not his fault, though.
Your dog likely needs exercise and training. Large, active breeds do well with a half-hour of aerobic exercise -- running, playing fetch, etc. -- three to four times a week. I know well about exercise requirements; my retrievers start bouncing off the walls if they don't get their exercise and can be very hard to live with. If they get out and run or swim, they are content to nap while I work.
As for training, your dog isn't obeying commands because she doesn't know them, or at least hasn't been trained well enough to realize the rules apply in all situations. (I bet she sits promptly when she wants something, like a cookie!)
Put aside the idea of Prozac for now and go for the basics. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer or behaviorist in your area who can work with you to get the right amount of exercise for your dog and show you effective ways of training your pup. And stick with it! If you meet your dog's needs, she'll become the pet you're hoping for.
Q: We just moved from the city onto some acreage, and we want a pet ostrich. What do you think of this idea? -- E.H., via e-mail
A: My "Birds for Dummies" co-author, Dr. Brian Speer, has a handful of these great beasties. My introduction to them at his home came with a warning not to stand in front of the birds, because they are capable of kicking a person to death. (Unlike horses, ostriches kick forward.) Brian loves his flock, but I've stayed clear ever since.
Most people who keep ostriches are breeding for profit -- there's a market for meat, hide, feathers and even eggs. Some people do keep them as pets, though. Females can be manageable, but males can be dangerous and extremely difficult to control.
A better choice might be an emu. Smaller than an ostrich but still large enough to attract attention, an emu can be quite friendly if it's raised with and socialized by people. (Brian says they like to be hugged!) Baby emus are adorable, marked with their own little "racing stripes" that fade as the bird matures to its full size, about 5 feet tall, with weight between 80 and 100 pounds. Emus also lay very interesting eggs, with a leathery green shell.
Whichever you choose, hook up with a veterinarian familiar with these animals to help you get the basics of proper care and handling.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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