Recently I spent a weekend with a family that includes two cats, three geckos, a tortoise and one very charming Welsh corgi.
Surrounded by animals and the guest of animal-lovers, you can be sure I had a wonderful time. The sole exception came as a result of a comment by one of my friends that struck me as unfair and has bothered me some since.
"I put so much work into the raising of my dog," she said. "I'd never adopt an adult dog. How could you ever be sure that the people who had the dog before raised him right?"
That's the thinking that leaves perfectly wonderful adult dogs languishing in shelter runs. And it's just plain wrong, because plenty of these dogs would be wonderful pets, every bit as good as my friend's delightful corgi.
If you're also one of those who think only a puppy will do, think again. If you work with a shelter or rescue group that screens its dogs (or better yet, does some pre-adoption training) and if you're determined to start an adult dog off right, you'll end up with just as good a pet for far less work.
That's not to say there isn't any effort involved. Remember the saying: "You never get a second chance to make a first impression"? It works with dogs, too. Be a leader with your dog from the start. Doing so is easy and works well -- as long as you're consistent.
So ... choose an adult dog! And use these tips to get you both off on the right paw:
Leash-bonding. For an hour each night for the first week or so, attach your dog to you by looping his leash to your belt. Keep your hands off the leash and don't call him along with you -- just move about your house as you normally would. He'll start to learn that it's important to pay attention to where you are and to think that you and what you're doing are significant.
Sit for what you want. Your dog should get in the habit of sitting for the good things. Ask him to sit before putting down his food dish, petting him or snapping on his leash. He'll start to think all good things come from you, but only when he behaves as you ask. Never reward him for barking, for pawing at you or for pushing your hand up with his nose for a pat.
People first. In the dog world, the higher-ranking animal goes first. You want that higher ranking animal to be you. So your dog should eat after you do, and he should walk out a door after you do. Never let him run past you -- out of a car, into your yard, or into the park -- as if he owns the joint. He doesn't, and he needs to understand that.
People bed, dog bed. Let your new dog sleep in your room, so he can be near you. But make him sleep on a bed or in a crate. Your bed is a prime piece of real estate, and it should be yours alone during this transition period.
After your dog learns the house rules, you can loosen up a little and start spoiling your pet. That's because once a dog is properly trained, he'll know that sleeping on the bed or sharing a meal is a privilege, not a right.
My friends put a lot of work into raising their puppy, and they have a wonderful dog to show for it. But I, too, have well-mannered companions, two dogs I took in as adults who are now the joy of my life. And there are plenty more just like them, in shelters and rescue groups, just waiting for the chance to come home, at last.
PETS ON THE WEB
Puppy or dog, any new canine companion can benefit from training classes. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers is an organization whose members are committed to continuing education and to finding ways to train dogs that are easy on all involved - which means methods than are reward based, rather than punishing. The APDT's Web site (www.apdt.com) offers tips on finding a trainer, recommended reading and a searchable index to member trainers.
Cats get into -- and onto -- everything, which can make decorating your home a challenge, especially if you're fond of delicate collectibles. Although it's best to put your most fragile and valuable items in hutches or glass-fronted bookcases, you can get a degree of security for the rest with a product called Quake Hold, which is offered in either a putty or gel that seals objects to shelves and counters. Quake Hold should be available at your home center or hardware store, or through any number of Internet retailers.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q. I have a dog who was kept inside for 3 years. Now we have moved where the dog has to be in an outside pen. He has a nice house and a good-sized run. He seems happy, but my father-in-law says that we are inhumane. Are we? - K.W., via e-mail
A. Inhumane? No. But I don't think you're offering your dog a life that is a happy as it could be.
I'm not generally in favor of outdoor dogs. Dogs are pack animals, which means they need family as much as we do. Life in a pen is not much of a life for a social animal, so I guess in this I agree somewhat with your father-in-law.
Is there a way you can bring the dog back into the house and his family? I'd sure try if that's at all possible. If it's problem with house-training or destructiveness, find a trainer or behaviorist who can help. If you can't bring the dog inside, make sure he has variety of toys to keep him occupied while he must be contained. And get him out of that pen as often as possible. He needs, at minimum, a daily walk, and lots of fetch or other playtime with family.
Q. I give my lab mix carrots as a treat. She loves them, but is eating them OK for her? - L.O., via e-mail
A. Carrots are wonderful treats for dogs, high in fiber and low in calories. Don't hesitate to indulge her, within reason. In fact, many veggies make a wonderful substitute for store-bought treats, especially for those dogs who are battling the bulge.
Another treat that's easy on the waistline (and yes, dogs have a waist too, or at least, they should) is rice cakes. I buy the unflavored, unsalted mini variety, and the dogs love them.
My dogs have always loved vegetable and fruit treats. Carrots are a favorite, along with apple slices. For my dog Andy, though, tomatoes were his all-time favorite food. He'd break down any barrier to strip tomatoes off their vines, and for his birthday each June my neighbors would always give him a basket of cherry tomatoes.
I've thought about Andy many times since he died last January, and I know I'll be thinking of him again when the tomatoes start to ripen this summer.
Q. There has been an Amazon parrot flying around my neighborhood for the last couple of years. Can parrots really survive so far away from their natural habitat? - S. G., via e-mail
A. Depends on where you live. If you live in warm Southern California or tropical South Florida, the answer is likely to be yes. Both of those regions are well known for colonies of feral parrots -- former pets, most likely, now living as wild. Even in cooler, more northern climates, sightings of parrots gone wild are not uncommon.
Some areas consider feral parrots to be a threat to native species, as in the case of a Quaker (also known as Monk) parakeet. The bird's easy ability to thrive in the wild and its aggressive colonizing tendencies has led to the species being banned as pets in some jurisdictions, most notably the entire state of California. On a recent trip to Santa Ana, Calif., I didn't spot any Quaker parakeets, but I did see many other parrots in an older part of town -- and listened to their loud calls to each other at dawn and dusk. My hosts said wild parrots have been part of their neighborhood for as long as anyone could remember.
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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