Too many pet lovers have the wrong idea about dog training. For them, training is something you have to do because your dog is poorly mannered. In their minds, they compare it to some sort of doggy boot camp -- all barked commands and heavy punishment -- and in so doing make training about as much fun as a slogging through mud on a hot summer's day.
If that's your idea of dog training, let me change your mind.
What dog training should be about is spending time with your pet, building a common language and strengthening the bond between you. Training can be fun for both human and dog, and the results can be a source of pride for both. Rather than restricting your dog by training him, you give him freedom: A well-mannered dog is able to go places others can't, and you'll be more likely to take him out because he's so easy to get along with.
Not long ago, I was competing with my youngest dog at a series of shows in Colorado. I'd left Andy and Ben back home in California with friends, so it was just Heather and me. I hadn't had her all that long (she came to me as a young adult), but we'd grown close quickly because I enjoyed teaching her and she enjoyed learning. When Heather learns something she loves to show it off, performing with flair and as much obvious pride as a child who has printed her own name for the very first time.
The trip was a disaster, from one point of view. Heather wasn't doing well at the shows, and the trip to Colorado proved that she wasn't destined to become a champion. We'd spent a lot of time and money chasing that dream, but at the end of the trip I had nothing to show for it but a well-groomed, soon-to-be-former show dog.
And yet, I remember that trip as one of the most special times I've spent with any of my dogs because the effort I put into training Heather paid off splendidly. That trip showed her to be more ideal a travel companion than any other dog with whom I've ever shared a car.
On the way home we stopped in Aspen and found space in a family-owned hotel. I needed clean clothes, so Heather and I walked to the laundry room, pausing briefly at the hotel office to get some change. I left the dog and the dirty clothes just outside the door.
Her leash wasn't tied to anything. She didn't whine and didn't fidget. She was trained, and she knew what was expected of her. The front clerk at the hotel couldn't have been more amazed if I'd left a movie star out front. (Actually, given that we were in Aspen, a movie star may well be more common than a well-behaved dog.)
I came out, told Heather what a wonderful girl she was, and got a tail-thump or two in acknowledgment. I read while I did the laundry, and Heather napped. She was with me, and she was happy.
No, Heather wasn't destined to be a champion show dog. Over that, I had little control. But by taking the time to train her, I had made her what every dog lover wants and every dog yearns to be: a steady, reliable companion who can go anywhere. Honestly, if I had to choose, I'd pick the dog who's a joy to live with every time.
Next week, I'll write about the latest thinking in dog training and how you can "go positive" in teaching manners to your pet (after that, some easy tricks that you and your pet can have fun learning).
PETS ON THE WEB
Sonic's and Java's Web site (www.positivelife.com/dogs/index.htm) is just about the best "meet my pets" sites I've ever seen. Sonic (a border collie) and Java (a flat-coated retriever) are two active dogs who participate in a variety of sports, such as flyball, agility and obedience, and their owner has put together a site to show off her pups and encourage others to get more involved with training their dogs. A clean, bright design and easy navigation make this site great fun to explore. Be sure to check out the section on trick-training, with clear, step-by-step instructions on how to train your dog to perform any of 25 different behaviors.
While clean, fresh water should always be available for all of your pets, this advice is never more essential than during the hot months. For those pets who use a water bottle, check frequently to ensure that the neck isn't blocked by touching your finger gently against the ball at the end of it -- the pressure should release a trickle of water.
Cats like their water fresh, and some prefer it running. While leaving a faucet dripping is too much of a water-waster, you can give in to your cat's whims by purchasing a dish that uses battery power to aerate and recycle water constantly. You'll find these feline fountains advertised in the back of magazines such as Cats and Cat Fancy.
Dogs aren't generally as fussy about water; for them, the focus is more on quantity. If you and your dog are out on hot days, make sure you pack water for you both. An alternative is to pack a collapsible cloth water dish (available at most pet-supply stores and in catalogs) so you can share from the same bottle of water.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I am moving across the country to Georgia with my two elderly cats (one is 15 and the other 13). Would it be better for me to ship them via air or to take them in the car? I am told that the temperature in airplane cargo areas can go to as low as 40 degrees. Alternatively, five days in an auto could be fairly stressful for the cats and for me. What's the best way to transport my beloved pets? -- A.B., Sacramento, Calif.
A: The best solution for your cats may well be a plane trip, but not in the cargo hold. Small pets whose carriers will fit under the seat are accepted as carry-on luggage by most airlines, and this may be the best option for your cats. There are limitations as to how many animals are accepted in the cabin on any flight, so be sure to talk to the airline early about your plans. The American Kennel Club posts updates on airline pet policies on its Web site. Go to www.akc.org and put "airline" in the search form for the latest.
If you can't manage flying with your pets in the cabin, a trip by car should be your second choice. Your cats should be comfortable enough in their carriers, and you'll find more hotels than ever before that are happy to accept you and your pets. I just made this trip myself, albeit in the opposite direction, and had no problem finding comfortable, clean and reasonably priced lodging that accepted pets. (The AAA guide to pet-friendly lodging should be in your glove box before you leave.)
Check in with your veterinarian before you go to make sure your pets are in the best possible health for the journey. Although most pets are better off without tranquilizers (especially for air travel), yours may be the exception, and you'll want to discuss that with your veterinarian, too.
Q: Can you suggest a good bird for an apartment? Our walls are paper-thin. -- B.W., via e-mail
A: Skip the aratinga conures, such as the jenday and sun. These guys are beautiful and have lively personalities, but they can give your average jet engine a run for its money in a loudness competition. The nanday conure, too, is one heck of a loudmouth.
My top recommendation would probably be a budgie. These parakeets are often dismissed as pets suitable for children only, but those who count them out are selling them sort. Budgies don't take up much space and don't make much noise. Even better, they can be affectionate companions and are quite capable of learning how to talk.
Other birds to consider: cockatiels and lovebirds, who are a little bigger and less likely to talk than the budgie, but who also make affectionate pets. Next up in size: the handsome and playful Senegal parrot, one of my very favorite birds.
If you want a bigger bird, consider the pionus parrot. These birds are considered among the quietest of all parrots commonly kept as pets. Often overlooked because they're not as flashy in appearance as other parrots, the pionus is an easygoing bird who's a perfect choice both for first-time or experienced bird-keepers.
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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