When it comes to attitude, there's nothing like a terrier.
Dog-show judges love terriers for their showy in-your-face demeanor, but many pet lovers would find them difficult to live with, were it not for the fact that most of the dogs are small and endlessly entertaining.
Terriers are flat-out fun to be with, which is why these breeds are among the most recognizable and popular of all purebred dogs.
The terriers should be looked at as two separate groups, for the purpose of considering if one of these breeds is right for you.
-- Classic terriers. These are what most people think of when they think "terrier," mostly wire-coated breeds such as the cairn terrier and miniature schnauzer. These dogs are designed to fit into tunnels and battle their prey underground.
-- Bull-and-terrier. The second group contains those breeds that resulted from crossing bulldogs and terriers to produce animals that are as solidly built and heavily muscled as the bulldog, but with the terrier's classic tenacity and boldness. These breeds, commonly but incorrectly lumped under the name "pit bull," were developed to fight other dogs for "entertainment."
You'll find great pet potential in both groups, but you do have to be especially cautious when considering one of the bull-and-terrier breeds.
Classic terriers are tireless, plucky and stylish. And they're sturdy enough to be a child's pet if they're well-trained and socialized. Other common behavior problems come straight from the terrier's background as a vermin hunter: They dig and they bark. Some of these dogs are also difficult to train-out of marking territory inside the house. If you get a terrier, don't forget to budget for grooming: The wiry coat of most terriers is easiest to manage with regular attention from a professional groomer.
The bull-and-terrier breeds -- the American Staffordshire terrier, bull terrier, miniature bull terrier and Staffordshire bull terrier are the American Kennel Club versions -- have gotten some bad press in recent decades, and that's a shame, because these dogs were considered to be among the best dogs for children for generations. If you want one of these breeds, it's essential that you buy the puppy from a responsible show breeder or adopt a temperament-tested adult from a reputable shelter or rescue group. That way you'll avoid dogs with aggressive tendencies and end up with a calm, sensible dog with an easy-care coat who will provide your family with years of outstanding companionship.
Everyone knows of the most popular of the terriers, such as the Parson Russell (commonly known as the Jack Russell), the West Highland white or the Scottish. But I've always found it worthwhile to look into breeds that aren't so popular. They're not as likely to have the health and temperament problems associated with overbreeding. Here are three terrier breeds that are worth a good look:
-- Border terrier. This rough-coated charmer packs a lot of personality in less than 20 pounds. Some borders do well in competitive obedience work and agility, which marks them as a cut above most terriers in their eagerness to please.
-- Soft-coated wheaten terrier. Another of the more mild-mannered terriers, this time in a medium-sized package. Soft-coated refers to the breed's namesake fur which is silky and wavy, and wheaten notes the only allowable color, an eye-pleasing golden-brown that lightens as the dog matures.
-- Staffordshire bull terrier. The smallest of the bull-and-terrier breeds, this shorthaired dog is a solid, go-anywhere companion who typically loves the attention of people of all ages.
If you end up with a terrier or terrier mix, remember that socialization and training is essential to the development of these dogs into a reliable family pet. And so is a good sense of humor on your part, because a terrier will surely test it!
Some dogs who hate having their nails clipped will tolerate having their nails ground instead, using a pet-nail grinder or a handheld tool like a Dremel. Take time to get your pet used to the sound and the vibration of the tool, and be sure to work in short sessions, with lots of treats and praise.
The most important thing to remember when grinding is that nails can get very hot while you're working on them. Touch the grinder to the nail in very, very short bursts -- a second or two, at most -- to keep the heat from building up.
PETS ON THE WEB
Turtles and tortoises are wonderful pets -- entertaining, laid back and generally quiet. The California Turtle and Tortoise Club (www.tortoise.org) has been supporting fanciers of these pets since 1964, and their Web site reflects the depth of knowledge assembled over such a long time. The site offers information on setting up a suitable habitat, proper feeding and how to keep these pets healthy. You'll also find reviews of more books than you would ever have guessed have been written on the subject of these charming reptiles. Other can't-miss Web sites on the same subject area include Felice's World of Turtles (www.turtlebunker.com) and the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society (http://nytts.org).
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: A friend of mine got a new Labrador puppy. The puppy died suddenly, and an autopsy showed that the mushrooms that had sprung up in the yard were the cause. I'm sure a lot of pet owners do not know the dangers of those mushrooms. Would you please spread the word? -- S.G., via e-mail
A: This tragic story is one I'm heard many times over the years, and serves as a good warning to people with puppies that examining the house and yard for potential hazards is absolutely essential to the safety of your new pet.
Although curious puppies are probably most at risk to poisoning and other accidents, grown dogs aren't immune from life's hazards. Some dogs will eat anything that looks even remotely edible, after all.
After moving into a different house last December, I've had to patrol the yard constantly for mushrooms. The property has had a lot of trees removed over the years, and the rotting roots are perfect for the fungi.
Q: My cat is a great hunter and brings in creatures as often as five times a week. Usually I find her with them and manage to rescue the poor creatures before she kills them.
I missed one dead mouse, though, which left fresh blood on my oatmeal-colored carpet. I blotted, dabbed with water and then used commercial carpet cleaner, all to no avail.
On the Internet I found many remedies, all of which were more complicated than I wanted. Finally, I found one that used milk. Since I had some 2 percent milk in the refrigerator, I figured I'd try it. I poured the milk on, and it took care of the blood. Later, I found some blood that was long dried up, and the milk took care of that, too.
When the other cat spit up after eating grass, I used milk again and the stain came right up. Have you tried this? -- J.M., via e-mail
A: I have heard of it, but I haven't tried it. I think I will, though, since I have a rather large area on my white carpet that has been stained by the natural result of a dog who got into something he shouldn't have. (The white carpet came with the house, and is on my list of things to be replaced in the interest of a more pet-friendly decor.)
In the past, I have had good results with some of the enzymatic pet-stain cleaners, such as Nature's Miracle, Simple Solution and Anti-Icky-Poo.
Q: How do you keep your neighbor's cats off your car? -– N.W., via e-mail
A: Simple answer: You can't. As long as cats are free to roam they will be attracted to warm spots, such as the hood and engine compartment of a car that has recently been in use. If you can't garage your car and those paw prints are really getting to you, consider putting a cover over your vehicle.
Cooler weather will be here before we know it, and with it comes a need to be extra cautious when starting your car. Cats have been known to crawl into the engine compartment, falling asleep next to the warm parts. When the engine is started, a cat won't have time to escape before being injured.
When you start a car in cold weather, it's always a good idea to thump on the hood before getting into the car. The noise will startle the cat into fleeing before he can be hurt.
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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