The following story is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, by which I mean me, because the not-so-innocent will kill me if I hold my brother up for public disapproval. Let's call the man involved "John" and the dog "Spot."
So my brother John calls with a dog problem. Spot, adopted at the age of 1 year, is a wonderful dog, but if he gets out the front door, he bolts. The first time this happened, John explained, he chased the dog for blocks and finally cornered him. And what did he do at the moment of joyous reunion?
"I spanked him," said John.
To be fair, John's reaction is fairly typical. It's easy to become annoyed at a dog who has led you on a merry chase, making you look the fool in front of neighbors and passers-by. And no doubt it not only seems to make sense, but it also sure as heck feels right to paddle the pet. Besides, he'll learn that way, right?
Wrong. Punishing a dog for running from you is one surefire way to make sure he's even harder to catch the next time. Wouldn't you keep running if you knew you'd get spanked when caught? Of course you would. And that leads to the No. 1 rule of catching a loose dog: Never punish a dog for running away, and never, ever punish a dog for coming to you.
Actually, that's rule No. 2. The first rule is to make sure your dog understands what you mean when you say "come." And that involves training. Teaching the "come" call is easy, in theory. Put your dog on a sit-stay on leash, call his name, say "come," and reel him in with praise and treats (and more praise and treats when he gets to you).
So how come the majority of dog owners have to cross their fingers when they call their dogs? One of the reasons is that their dogs fear being caught, as Spot does, but there are a couple of others. And sometimes more than one reason applies.
Perhaps the dog doesn't really know the command. Few people practice the recall as much as they should, even though it's the one command that can save a dog's life. You probably use "sit" a half-dozen times a day around the house, but you probably never say "come" when you want your dog to come to you in the house. You probably just use his name. So how is he to know?
"Come" is also about respect, and your dog may not have any for you. "Come" is where all that work in training and developing the relationship with your dog pays off. A dog who thoroughly understands what's expected of him and respects you is going to mind. A dog who knows you're not a deity but a friendly flat-foot who couldn't catch a bus is going to treat you like the dope he thinks you are.
How to fix this? Train your dog to come in increments, on-leash and on longer leashes and lighter lines still. Practice in different places, large and small, both quiet and full of distractions. Get a trainer's help if you need to. Never let your dog figure out that you can't do much about it when he bolts. Practice, not just with formal training but in everyday life.
But what about the untrained dog, like Spot? If your dog takes off on you, kneel down and open your arms when calling to make yourself more inviting. If that doesn't work, try to use a command he knows well like "sit" instead of "come." Most dogs know "sit" so well that they'll plant their rumps, and once they're planted, you might be able to walk up and take their collars. Another possibility is to catch your dog's attention and run in the other direction, enticing him to follow you. The chase instinct is very strong in dogs, and it may well work.
Remember, a loose-dog situation is not about dog training, but about dog saving. When you have your dog safely on leash, praise him, be grateful, and make a vow that you'll take the time to teach him this most important of commands. Because next time he's out, you may not be so lucky to get him back in one piece.
PETS ON THE WEB
Community is the focus of the Pet Hobbyist (www.pethobbyist.com), a site that offers pet lovers of all kinds a chance to talk to others through bulletin boards and chat rooms. Pet Hobbyist got an infusion of expertise when the Veterinary Information Network (www.vin.com) brought Veterinary Partners (www.veterinarypartners.com) online, closed its Pet Care Forum and sent the community to Pet Hobbyist. I have long-standing relationships with all parties, I must acknowledge: VIN chief Dr. Paul Pion is my "Cat For Dummies" co-author and friend, and I'm also good friends with Christie Keith, who now works for Pet Hobbyist. The split between the Web sites was friendly, and pets and those who love them will continue to benefit from the information these Internet pioneers continue to provide.
Indoor cats can be trained to enjoy an outdoor outing on leash, but for this treat, you need a harness. Choose one designed for cats, not for dogs, in a figure-eight design. Walking a cat isn't about heeling like a dog, but rather consists of encouraging your pet to explore, with you following. Never leave your cat tethered and unattended. This leaves him vulnerable to attack or to a terrifying time of hanging suspended from his harness should he try to get over a fence.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Can you please explain how to put on a choke collar properly? I'm tired of seeing people walking their dogs with it on wrong. -- C.N., via e-mail
A: With the dog sitting on your left, make a downward facing "P" out of the collar, with the base of the letter on your side. Then slip the collar over the dog's head. The moving end of the collar should go over the dog's neck,
not under it. If it's put on incorrectly, the collar will not release easily when the leash is slackened.
The choke collar is one of the most difficult pieces of training equipment to use properly, which is why I now discourage its use. Newer products such as head halters are easier to use and provide control with less strain on the dog.
Q: I remember you wrote a while back about something to get rid of skunk smell. I thought I'd saved it, but couldn't find it last week when our Lab got hit. We tried tomato juice, which my husband had heard worked well, and ended up with a reddish-yellow dog who still smelled pretty bad. Would you please share the recipe again? We sure need it! –- S.L., via e-mail
A: As reported in the Chicago Tribune several years ago, a chemist by the name of Paul Krebaum discovered what turns out to be the hands-down best solution for eliminating odor on dogs who've been skunked. I like to give the man credit when I share his discovery, because there's no way he'll ever make any money for saving the noses of countless grateful pet lovers.
Why not? It's because the ingredients are cheap and can be found in any grocery store, and cannot be mixed in advance, or the container you seal them in will explode from the pressure of the chemical reaction. So, you'll
never find a bottle of "Dr. Krebaum's Miracle Skunk-B-Gon" on the shelf in your nearest pet-supply store.
Here's the formula: Take 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of liquid soap, such as Ivory. Mix and immediately apply to the stinky pet. Then, rinse thoroughly with tap water. For a big dog like your Labrador, you might double the recipe to improve coverage. Common sense dictates keeping the mix out of sensitive areas like the eyes and ears.
Obviously, you don't want to be taking the time to run for the store when you've got a stinky dog, so buy the ingredients now to keep them on hand. But remember –- don't mix. Hydrogen peroxide is a good thing to have around anyway, since it induces vomiting in a dog or puppy who might have eaten something toxic. Be sure to replace your bottle at least once a year, though, because the stuff seems to lose its kick over time.
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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