When a certain family living not far from me goes out of town for the weekend, all the neighbors know it. The reason? The family's lonely, frustrated outdoor dog barks until they come home.
While other neighbors are likely wishing the dog ill in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, I always find myself feeling sorry for him. My less-than-charitable thoughts usually center around the people who are responsible for him -- or should be.
Such people live in every neighborhood. Are you responsible for not keeping the peace in yours? The owners of problem barkers seem to develop an ability to ignore the noise that has their neighbors thinking of legal action -- or maybe murder. But a dog who's barking constantly isn't having any more fun than the neighbors are, and you owe it to both your pet and those who can hear him to fix this problem.
The first step is to figure out why your dog is sounding off so much. Dogs bark to express a variety of emotions: anxiety, boredom, territoriality, aggression, playfulness, hunger. Certain conditions in a dog's environment can trigger these emotions -- and barking fits -- more frequently.
The typical neighborhood nuisance is like the dog who lives near me: an outdoor dog who isn't getting the attention and exercise he needs. Dogs are social animals, and they need to be part of a family. If your dog is outside because of poor manners or because he isn't house-trained, give him another chance. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer or behaviorist, and arrange for an in-home consultation to fix the underlying problems.
Once you've brought him into your life, keep him busy with regular outings. Exercise, both of the body and of the mind, works wonders for all dogs, especially those who bark from boredom or to release excess energy. You'll be amazed at how much calmer, happier -- and quieter -- your dog will be if you exercise him regularly.
For indoor barking, teach your dog to be quiet by distracting him, saying the word "Quiet" or "Enough," and then praising him for minding -- he'll make the connection soon enough, with repetition and lots of praise. Rattling a can filled with pennies is a commonly recommended distraction, and it works well. Shouting at your dog does nothing except make you feel temporarily better.
Work to minimize barking cues to keep your indoor dog quiet when you're not home. If your dog barks while looking through a window that faces the street, keep him out of that room while you're gone. Many dogs fire up when they hear car doors slam; other dogs bark at the mail carrier's steps on the walk. Muffle these sounds by leaving a radio playing while you're not home, and your pet is more likely to sleep than bark. Giving your dog something special to chew on, such as a Kong toy or hollow bone stuffed with a little peanut butter, will help keep him occupied and quiet while he's awake.
For the most persistent barkers, consider an anti-bark collar that works with smell, not shock. These battery-operated collars, which are available online or in catalogs, release a spray of citronella mist each time a dog barks. The mist is harmless to the dog -- the citrus tang smells good to humans, but dogs hate it. The hiss of the mist releasing from the canister and the smell itself are annoying enough to distract the dog and correct him for barking. Surgical debarking is another option, but I don't recommend it unless the barking is putting the dog's life at risk and all other avenues have been tried.
Chances are, though, that if you bring your dog into your home and train him, you'll not even need to consider an anti-bark collar or surgery. Your dog will be happier, and so will your neighbors.
PETS ON THE WEB
What could be easier than breeding dogs? You have a purebred golden retriever, the neighbor has a purebred golden retriever, you put them together and nature takes care of the rest, right? When the puppies are sold, you pocket a couple grand in profit. What could be better? What could be worse is the reality of breeding, which takes considerable time and expense even under the best circumstances. And what about those worst-case scenarios? Check out Jane Johnson's Virtual Breeding Web site: www.geocities.com/bluegracepwd/vb1.html. It will walk you through any number of real-life what-ifs that should get you thinking that maybe spaying or neutering your dog is the best idea yet.
Most people know that having a pet can lower your blood pressure. But is there even more to how good having a pet can be for your health? Dr. Marty Becker, veterinary correspondent for "Good Morning America," makes a strong case for a pet prescription for what ails you in his book "The Healing Power of Pets" (Hyperion, $22.95), which is co-authored by Danelle Morton. Some of the stories of people who have been helped by animals will be familiar to anyone who reads much about pets, or watches the Animal Planet cable network. But having them all in one place makes a convincing case for the benefits of having a pet in your life. As if you needed one, right?
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Can cats get colds? My Siamese mix has a crusty nose and seems congested. Should I give her some Tylenol or something? -- S.K., via e-mail
A: First and foremost, never give a pet any medication unless you've run the idea by your veterinarian. Tylenol, a mainstay in many human medicine chests, can kill your cat.
Many cats catch what seem to be "colds" sometime during their lives, and most of these afflictions are caused by viruses. Cats with upper respiratory infections are lethargic, have fevers, runny eyes and noses, and they sneeze and often do not want to eat or drink. A trip to the veterinarian's is a good idea, but call ahead: These viruses are highly contagious, and your veterinarian will likely not want you and your cat sitting in the waiting room with other pets.
As with a cold in humans, so long as the fever is not too high (normal is 100 degrees to 102.5 degrees) and your cat continues to eat and drink, hospitalization can usually be avoided. Keeping your cat's eyes and nostrils free of "crust" by washing gently with a warm, moist cloth helps keep his appetite up. (Cats like to be able to smell their food.) If your cat stops eating and, especially, drinking, dehydration is a danger and hospitalization may be needed. Since upper respiratory infections can be complicated by bacteria, antibiotics are often prescribed as well.
With appropriate care, most cats fully recover in a few days to a week; however, some cases can persist for more than two weeks. If your cat has repeated bouts of upper respiratory infections, your veterinarian may want to test for diseases that weaken the immune system.
Q: If I were to bake a batch of homemade dog treats, hiding pills in each one, would that affect the pills? -- K.M., via e-mail
A: It might. Instead of baking dog-treats that may decrease or eliminate the potency of the medicine or make delivering a proper dose difficult, why not learn to pill your dog?
As with all training, a positive attitude and lots of rewards go a long way. Ask your dog to sit, then praise and treat him for his good behavior. Take the pill, open his mouth, and push it quickly to the back with your fingertip. Then hold his mouth firmly closed, raise his muzzle skyward, and blow gently in his nose while rubbing the front of his throat. The reaction will be a quick gulp. Follow with praise and another treat.
If you worry that your dog might snap at you, or if you don't feel confident enough to manage the technique, stick to the age-old trick of hiding pills in food. Hot dogs are probably the most popular food for this, along with a soft cheese. But experiment with what works best for your dog.
Some dogs go nuts over liver sausage, or try hiding the pill in a little bit of cottage cheese or canned dog food. You may be able to find a product called Rollover in your pet-supply store, a sausage-like food that some show-dog folks use to keep the attention of their animals in the ring. Rollover works well as a pill-hider too.
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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