One thing I love about the return of nice weather -- dog washing moves outside for my two retrievers. No more soggy bathroom, no more drippy paw prints in the house. Clean dogs, without having to clean up the house afterward.
Drew the sheltie goes to a groomer monthly, because his thick coat is more trouble than I want to deal with these days. And Chase the toy spaniel is no trouble at all to bathe, since he's small enough to fit in the kitchen sink. But Heather and Benjamin -- healthy, strong and made for retrieving in all weather conditions -- are well-suited for outdoor bathing. They don't mind cold water at all, and as befitting their heritage, they choose to spend their lives as wet as possible. We've lived at the ocean and now live near a creek, which means I spend my life with dogs who are never more than a few hours past their last drenching.
Their coats are made for constant dampness, and are always glossy and sleek, but they don't smell as nice after the dousings as they do when bathed, so they still get regular soapings -- my choice, not theirs. They love water, but hate baths.
I love clean dogs, and so my pets all learn to tolerate baths. And over the years of bathing not only my own dogs, but also scores of filthy, matted fosters and the occasionally ripe guest pet, I've gotten pretty good at making the experience pleasant enough both for me and for the animals getting the sudsing.
Preparation makes the job so much easier.
Choose a soap made for dogs -- don't use dish soap or human shampoo, neither of which is formulated for maximum benefit for pets. There's no need for flea soap, though, since regular pet soap does just as good a job of killing fleas by washing them down the drain -- if there are any fleas on your pet at all, that is. These days your dog can live practically flea-free if you use the monthly "spot-on" treatments from your veterinarian -- Frontline or Advantage. Be sure to follow directions carefully and apply at prescribed intervals for the best results.
Footing is important, inside or out. If you're using the bathtub, put down a mat or towel so your pet won't slip. Outside, the lawn will give plenty of traction. A spray nozzle is also essential, since pouring dirty water back over a clean dog is counterproductive.
To prepare your dog, comb or cut out tangles or mats before the bath, (doing so later only makes it worse). Put a pinch of cotton just inside your dog's ears and a drop of mineral oil in each eye to help keep out the soap. (Don't forget to take out the cotton later, or you'll be wondering why your dog is ignoring you more than usual.)
Wet your dog thoroughly, then start shampooing, working up a good lather. The key to a good bath is a good rinse, since leftover soap will make the coat look dull and flaky. A cream rinse or detangler is a good idea, especially for silky or double-coated breeds, and must be followed by another thorough rinse for best results.
After your dog has shaken off all the water he can, towel him off and let him dry inside. Dogs who dry off clean stay cleaner longer, and that means you and your dog can avoid the next bath just a little bit longer.
PETS ON THE WEB
Recently I wrote about including pets in family disaster plans. Here's more information on that topic, tailored to the special concerns of the times and suggested by the Sacramento, Calif.-based United Animal Nations, which runs disaster-relief teams to assist animals worldwide.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has information on the affect of biochemical agents and infectious disease on its Web site, at www.avma.org/press/biosecurity/default.asp. The UAN Web site has additional information on anthrax and animals at www.uan.org/ears/anthrax.html along with general disaster-planning tips at www.uan.org/ears/tips.html.
In times such as these, our pets are often the source of much appreciated and much needed comic relief. One person who clearly understands how funny animals can be is cartoonist Paul Gilligan, who produces the "Pooch Cafe" comic strip. The cafe alluded to is one where dogs come together to enjoy each other's company, and to make gentle fun of each other and of the humans in their lives.
To get a healthy dose of such good humor, check out Gilligan's collection of strips in "Pooch Cafe: All Dogs Naturally Know How to Swim" (Andrews McMeel, $11). As the owner of a dog who'd help a burglar carry out the silverware, I couldn't help but smile at the strip where the dog holds open the door for the crook, and refuses to fess up to it later with the police.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I have a 5-month-old Maltese, and she isn't very interested in food. She's healthy and playful, but I'm worried she isn't getting her nutrition. I leave dry food down all the time. She waits until I add "goodies" such as broiled chicken breast. Any ideas? -- Y.C., via e-mail
A: Without meaning to, you've taught your puppy that food is always available, and that if she waits, something better will come along.
You've taught her to be finicky; now it's time to teach her to eat.
Don't keep food available at all times. It makes house-training more difficult and removes the power of food as a training tool. (Fresh water, on the other hand, should always be accessible.)
Give your pup a quiet place to eat with no distractions. A crate is ideal, but a small room with a baby gate across it will also do. Put the food down and leave your pup alone for 20 to 30 minutes. Then pick up the food, eaten or not, and give your pet no food until the next scheduled feeding. Repeat at every meal: a quiet space, a set time for eating, remove the remainder.
Don't worry if she misses a meal, or even a day's worth of meals. She won't starve. Above all: Do not, do not, do not give treats between meals, or add those "goodies" to the meals after she turns up her nose.
I doubt it will take more than a couple of days for your puppy to learn to eat promptly that which is set down in front of her.
Q: We recently put in a dog door to give our German shepherd access to the yard while we're at work. Because we don't want anyone letting her out, we put a lock on our gate.
We came home to find a rather terse notice from the gas company demanding access to our yard for the purpose of checking the meter. We're not worried about our dog bothering the meter readers -- she's very friendly -- but we don't trust the company to make sure the gate is closed after they go. Can you suggest a compromise? -- A.U., via e-mail
A: I can suggest several. But first, I have to note that even a friendly dog can be protective of property when the family's not home, and can thus be a danger to meter readers, mail carriers or anyone else who has legitimate business on your property. Bites happen, and it's your job to do everything you can to help prevent them.
Believe me, your utility is as concerned about this situation as you are, and will be happy to work with you on alternatives to keep your dog and its meter readers safe. Generally, you'll be able to choose from the following options:
-- Keep your pet indoors or penned when the meter reader is in your neighborhood. Your utility should be able to give you a schedule of the two or three days a month when they'll be in your area. (Because chaining tends to make dogs unhappy and aggressive, I don't recommend securing your pet in such a way.)
-- Ask your utility if it has a program that allows you to read your own meter. You should be able to put out a card for the reader, or even enter your reading on the company's Web site.
-- See if your utility can replace your meter with one that's equipped with a radio transmitter. If it's available, this is probably the best option, since it allows the meter reader to get your information without going near your yard.
Call your utility right away to see what's available, and choose the option that's best for the safety of your pet and of the company's meter readers.
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. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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