Every year my New Year's list of things to do includes reminding readers how important it is to be sure pets have proper collars and up-to-date identification. My New Year's "neck check" has become a tradition for me, and it's something I not only remind others to do, it's also advice I take myself. This year, following my own recent advice kept me from losing one of my pets.
I'm between homes as I write this, having moved out of one house and not quite into another. When I decided to sell my old house, I knew I needed to have some work done on it first, from painting the house inside and out to repairing what was left of the backyard landscaping. I put everything in storage except the animals, my clothes and my computer, and moved in with my brother.
The move went smoothly, thanks to the easygoing nature of my brother and his dog, Taz, who seemed to enjoy having other animals around. My dogs quickly figured out the new dog-door situation, and soon were coming and going into the back yard at will.
Problem is, my brother's house backs up to a school, where the sudden presence of four new dogs apparently caught the attention of some of the children. Still, everything seemed fine when I took off for a weekend trip out of town, and my brother left for an evening out, getting back so late he fell into bed without noticing he was one dog short.
That realization the next morning put him in a state of panic.
He checked every inch of the house and yard, and soon discovered that some of the boards in the fence had been kicked in, making a hole just large enough for the smallest of my dogs to get through. We'll never know whether someone took Chase or if he jumped through the hole on his own, but the result was the same. The puppy was gone.
My brother started searching for the dog. He looked all over the neighborhood and found nothing. He was trying to decide what to do next when something I'd done long ago made the difference: I'd put an ID tag with the word "reward" on Chase's collar.
For years I've advised people not to waste the "real estate" on an ID tag by putting the animal's name on it. Instead, I've suggested putting the word "reward!" on the tag instead. After all, it's fine to trust the kindness of strangers when it comes to getting a lost pet back, but it doesn't hurt to back up that trust by relying, just a little bit, on a healthy interest in money.
The person who found Chase couldn't have been more clear about what got her attention -- it was the promise of a reward on the tag that made her call. Would she have kept the dog otherwise? We'll never know. My brother gave her some cash, took the dog home and spent the rest of the day patching up the fence. When I got home, I sent the little dog to stay with a friend until I move into the new house, just to be safe.
Putting an ID tag on a pet's collar is one of the easiest and least expensive things you can do to protect your pet. Chase is safe because I did so. Can you say your pets are protected just the same?
PETS ON THE WEB
If your New Year's resolutions include getting your dog to behave better, you'll want to look for help from the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (www.apdt.com). The organization is led by those trainers who pioneered reward-based techniques of dog-training, questioning and then largely abandoning older methods that often involved physical punishment. Although the Web page is largely for the association's members, the section for pet owners offers two great resources: a list of recommended books and videos, and referrals to APDT member trainers.
A frozen source of water isn't any better than no water at all. If you have outside drinking water for any of the animals in your care, make sure the liquid remains unfrozen during winter. Pet- and farm-supply stores and catalog merchants stock devices for keeping water liquid, from heated bowls to heater coils. They're good investments when it comes to keeping clean, fresh water flowing for your outside pets.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We got a young shepherd mix puppy a few months ago from some people in the neighborhood. He's very loving and playful, but he's protective of his food and his toys, and he doesn't like to be told to get off the furniture. Usually, he just growls, but he is now snapping when we get close to him while he's eating. I'm really worried he might bite our 7-year-old daughter, even though I've warned her to leave him alone when he's eating. My husband wants to find him a new home, but I'm not sure that's the right thing. Any advice? -- B.T., via e-mail
A: First, let me stress that finding a new home for a dog with the potential to bite is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Why would you want to put a time bomb in someone else's home, so someone else can be bitten? How would you feel if you placed the dog in a new home -- maybe one with no children, to make you feel better -- and later learned that a visiting child was severely bitten by this dog? When you have a dog who might bite, you need to assume full responsibility for that animal.
Now, about fixing the problem. I never give specific advice on canine aggression, because in such cases what's needed is hands-on assistance from a veterinary behaviorist, the sooner the better. Advice from someone who's never seen your dog is just too risky when you're talking about a situation as loaded with the potential for injury as this one is.
Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist who can prescribe medications for your dog (if needed) along with a behavioral modification regimen for your family to follow. If your dog isn't neutered, get that done as well. (Most dogs involved in serious attacks are young, unneutered males.) And then follow the doctor's instructions, to the letter. And know that it can take a considerable investment of time to address behavioral problems of this type.
Is all this necessary? When people talk to me about canine aggression, I always suggest they take the following quiz. If they answer any question with a "yes," the next step is to get help.
-- Has your dog ever stared at you with a hard, fixed, glassy-eyed stare that may be accompanied by erect body posture -- stiff legs, ears forward, hackles raised?
-- Do you avoid doing certain things with your dog because they elicit growling or a show of teeth? Are you unable, for example, to approach your dog while he's eating or ask him to get off the couch?
-- Do you make excuses for his aggressive behavior, or figure he'll "grow out of it"?
-- Do you consider your dog "safe" -- except around a particular group of people, such as children or people in uniforms?
-- Has your dog ever bitten anyone, even if it was "only" once and because "it was an accident," "he was scared," "he's usually so good!" or some other equally inexcusable rationalization?
With his growling and snapping, your dog has taken the first steps down a dangerous road. If you don't change his course, someone might get hurt, and your dog might end up having to be put to death for his behavior. Don't delay in getting the help you need to prevent such an outcome.
Q: I just got a yellow-naped Amazon parrot through a newspaper ad. How can I tell if this bird is a boy or a girl? The seller didn't know. -- A.R., via e-mail
A: You'll need the help of a veterinarian to solve this mystery. He'll draw a blood sample, and the laboratory will get the answer from the bird's DNA. Seeing an avian veterinarian is a good idea anyway, to establish (or repair) the health of the bird and review proper care requirements for your new pet.
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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