In the summer, I get a lot of questions about puppies from people who realize that this season is a great time for adding to the family. Long days, no school, warm weather -- what could be better?
A few words of warning, though, if you're one of those people with a new summer pup: Don't let the season pass you by without putting some serious effort into raising the great dog you want your puppy to become.
Puppies need structure, consistency and lots of positive reinforcement. But more than anything, they need your time. Every minute with a puppy spent training, socializing and preventing problems will save you time and aggravation down the road.
Teach your puppy to get things right from the start, remove opportunities for undesirable behavior -- such as limiting your pup's access to areas where he can chew things you'd rather he leave alone. Keep him where he can't get into much trouble, and give him a toy to chew on instead. Don't forget to praise him for making the right decision -- even if the right choice was the only one offered.
In training, stick to the positive. Use praise and treats to motivate and reward your puppy as he learns the basic building blocks of good behavior.
You'll need some tools to help you stop unwanted behavior. Here are few effective ways to turn a situation around without resorting to physical punishment:
-- The ol' switcheroo. Especially useful for the young puppy, this technique stops a behavior you don't want and provides the puppy with one that's acceptable. For example, if your young puppy is chewing on your nice leather shoes, make a noise to startle and distract him -- slap the counter or clap your hands -- and then give him something you do want him to chew on, such as a toy. When he takes it, praise him. (And then put those shoes away.)
-- Ask for another behavior. With older puppies and dogs, you can stop a bad behavior by asking for a better one. Tell the puppy who's jumping up for attention to sit instead and then praise him for planting his rump on the ground.
-- The time-out. Crates, so useful for house-training, give you a break from your puppy and send him a message at the same time. Puppies thrive on your attention, sometimes even if it's negative. The time-out removes this reward and gives a pup a few minutes to think things over. And sometimes, having a place to put your puppy will help keep you from losing your temper.
If your puppy has been running around for a long time and just seems bratty, he may be tired. If that's the case, put him in his crate for a nap, along with a chew toy. Ignore his fussing. Chances are he'll be asleep in a few minutes.
If you're constantly trying to reprimand your puppy, you may be sending him mixed signals: laughing at bratty behavior sometimes, yelling or hitting your puppy for that same behavior at other times. Discuss the situation with a trainer. You may have some big problems developing if you don't learn how to shape your puppy's behavior in a positive way.
No matter how well you're doing in raising your puppy, a puppy class is time and money well spent. Puppy classes for dogs as young as 12 weeks offer puppies a chance to socialize, and give you an opportunity to work with your pup under the expert eye of a trainer.
On these hot days, it's perfectly fine to give pets ice cubes to enjoy. Dogs and cats may even enjoy "petsicles" made from chicken or beef broth and frozen in ice-cube trays.
One way to keep a pet's drinking water cool is to add homemade ice blocks. Freeze water in margarine tubs, and then add a block of ice to the water dish before you leave for work in the morning. You like cold treats and cool drinks on hot days, and so does your pet!
PETS ON THE WEB
The Delta Society, an organization that supports and promotes such activities as using animals for therapy and the use of service dogs by people with disabilities, has pulled together an excellent collection of resources related to pet loss and bereavement. The resource Web page (www.deltasociety.org/dsn000.htm) offers a bibliography of helpful books, information on bereavement hot lines and support groups around the country, as well as links to other related sites.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: You've advocated having two pets to keep each other company, so I am not sure how having only one parrot (as you do) fits into that view. In the wild, don't parrots live in large flocks?
But, my main question is how such a pet-loving person could condone having any bird confined to a cage, when flying is what they do best and love?
I realize you enjoy their companionship, but as you've stated, parrots are extremely intelligent, so isn't it like "imprisoning" a young child? -- W.H., via e-mail
A: I don't have a problem with someone having a single pet -- as long as the pet's needs are met, including the social ones. I've been writing about pets long enough to know better than to deal in absolutes: I've seen all kinds of pets in all kinds of families work out well, as long as the people involved accept the responsibility for the care of their pets.
Parrots are social animals, true, but like dogs, they are able to accept us as members of their social circle. We are the "flock" or "pack" to our pets, as they are "family" to us. This is especially true of those parrots who are domestically bred and hand-raised from the time they are hatched.
Is it cruel to keep a caged pet? In some cases, I think it is. I have a serious problem with pets who are cage-bound for life, especially when those cages are small and with no environmental enrichment, and when the pets get nothing in the way of attention except the changing of food and water dishes, or the occasional cage cleaning. (So many children's pets live this way, after their young owners lose interest in them.)
Although he's not free to roam the native habitat of his wild ancestors, my parrot has a pretty good life. Eddie is only "imprisoned" in his toy-filled cage at night or when I'm not home, for his safety. Otherwise, he's climbing all over the inside and outside of his open cage, playing on one of his two natural-wood play stands, or wandering about the house and yard with me. (For the outside, he wears a tether to keep him from flying away -- a possibility even for birds with wing clips, if the right gust of wind comes along.) We play games that we've made up together, and he's learning tricks. He loves to play and to snuggle.
I'm not alone in taking such care of my bird. Many parrot-fanciers work hard to give their pets the best life possible short of living free, and these birds seems quite happy.
Q: In a recent column you mentioned nonstandard litter boxes. I use plastic under-bed storage boxes with the lid removed. My cats love them.
A friend of mine had a cat who didn't want to use the litter box (standard size), but when she switched to one of the larger storage boxes, he started using it regularly.
The storage boxes are about $5 or $6, so they actually cost less than the large litter boxes that are sometimes available from pet-supply stores. Will you pass the word along? -- C.S., via the Internet
A: You bet! You've happened on one of the most important rules when it comes to getting a cat to use the litter box: If the cat ain't happy, nobody's happy.
Cats need a box in which they can feel safe and comfortable, in a place that's protected, filled with clean litter of a type the cat prefers that isn't gunked up with deodorizing smells humans like but cats don't.
I'm always hearing from readers who are frustrated because their cats won't use whatever litter setup they're provided, chalking the problem up to the cat's "spite," "stupidity" or something equally off base. Bigger box, new location, different litter: Sometimes it just takes a change or two to get a cat back on track, as well as an owner with the patience and imagination to try.
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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