My dogs love to go into stores where they're welcome, and there are certainly more of these than there used to be. From the largest pet retailer to the smallest pet bakery or boutique, plenty of welcome mats are out these days for a person with a well-mannered dog.
My biggest dog -- a 10-year-old retriever who greets everyone as a long lost friend -– loves outings the most, and he's the one I take shopping more often than the other three. But now and then I find that once I get him in a dog-friendly environment, he finds himself growled at or jumped on by an unfriendly dog no bigger than his broad retriever head.
While not all small dogs are so ill-mannered, one does tend to meet more small canine miscreants than large ones. It's not that small dogs are prone to bad behavior, mind you, but rather that the owners of small dogs tend to overlook behavior problems that would be absolutely intolerable in a 50-, 80- or 100-pound dog. A big dog who can't walk nicely on a leash and snarls insults at other dogs isn't anything you'd want to share with the world: You'd train him, or you'd leave him at home.
That's not the case with little dogs, however. An ill-mannered little dog's antics are not only tolerated, but also too often encouraged. "Oh, isn't he just so tough?" baby-talked the owner of a little Yorkie who attacked my retriever in a pet store recently. "You're mommy's little attack dog, oh yes, you are!" she cooed as she scooped up her snarling dog and tried to cuddle him.
And I thought: The next time that "attack dog" hurls himself at an 80-pound dog, he might not be so lucky. While my retriever looked at the tiny Yorkie with a bemused look that seemed to say, "What's your problem, little dude?" the next dog might not have as good a sense of humor as Benjamin's. Whose fault would it be if the little dog were hurt? The Yorkie's owner would probably say the big dog, and to a certainly extent she'd be right. If you can't trust your dog not to bite, you shouldn't have him in situations where he might.
But a large part of the blame would fall squarely on the shoulders of the woman who allowed her Yorkie's bad behavior to put him at risk.
Are you tolerant of your spoiled little brat of a dog? Wouldn't you rather have a dog that everyone else could be enjoy being around too?
While it might seem easier to ignore bad manners in a little dog, the fact is that it's just not that hard to turn a little tyrant around. Little dogs are generally bright and easy to train, once their owners get the idea that training is not only desirable, but also very possible.
Reward-based training works well with all dogs, and this is especially true of small ones, who tend to be too fragile and sensitive for punishment-based training. Darlene Arden's book "The Irrepressible Toy Dog" ($18, Howell Book House) is probably the best out there for dealing with the challenges presented by the smallest canines, from house-training issues (small dogs can be notoriously difficult to house-train) to overcoming bad manners.
Whatever you do, don't encourage behavior in your small dog that wouldn't be acceptable in a large one. Your dog's bratty behavior isn't appreciated by others, and it might one day cost him his life.
In the eastern parts of the United States and Canada, the big spring hatch of cicadas is a regular event that can be a nuisance. This year, with a larger-than-normal hatch predicted, the Humane Society of the United States is warning that for pets who develop a taste for the insects, the cicadas might mean veterinary bills for some pet lovers. While a couple of munched cicadas are no reason for concern -- and not a bad source of protein for pets -- the advocacy group warns that pets should be kept from eating great gobs of the little beasties. The bug's exoskeleton isn't digestible, it warns, and too many cicada snacks can cause a blockage that may need to be treated by a veterinarian.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Unchain Your Dog Web site (www.unchainyourdog.org) is an excellent effort aimed at educating people about the cruelty -- and the danger -- of keeping dogs on chains. Life on a chain is a miserable option for an animal that is genetically programmed to be part of a family, the site says, and the frustration many dogs feel when restrained in such a way can lead to aggression. The Centers for Disease Control and the American Veterinary Medical Association are among the organizations that recognize the link between chaining and dog bites the site notes, with links to research papers supporting the claim. Unchain Your Dog offers alternatives, including advice for helping to overcome behavior problems that may have lead to the dog's banishment from the home in the first place.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I can't believe you advocate the declawing of cats. It is outlawed in many countries and should be outlawed in this one. It wouldn't mean a trip to the shelter if people educated themselves on a cat before they adopted one (or bought one). One can have the amputation done, but the cat could still vomit on the new couch. What then? Have the cat's mouth stitched shut? -- L.C., via e-mail
A: I don't advocate declawing, not at all, but rather acknowledge the existence of the procedure and offer cat lovers alternatives. I suggest discouraging furniture clawing by applying aversives such as double-sided tape to the furniture, coupled with providing alternative "clawing zones" such as a well-placed, well-made cat tree.
Personally, I would never have a cat of mine declawed. But no amount of education is going to stop feline adoptions by people who will not tolerate destruction of their furniture. Many of these people love their cats and provide them with excellent homes. If declawing was not available they would give up their cats, which, given the low adoption rate for adult cats, means that it's either declawing or euthanasia for many animals. When faced with such a choice for a cat, declawing doesn't look quite so bad. Better to be a clawless cat with a good home than dead.
I never, ever recommend declawing. And I advise people who are fussy about their furniture and insist on declawing to adopt an adult cat who was declawed by a previous owner. I guess instead of saying that I "advocate" declawing, you could say I accept the reality of it grudgingly, and I offer alternatives to help cat-owners avoid it if at all possible.
Q: My 1-year-old golden retriever has had the run of the yard since we got him. I'd like to plant a garden this spring, but I know he'll run through it and dig there. How can I keep my dog out of my garden? -- V.B., via e-mail
A: Good fences make good doggies. Practically speaking, there's no way to keep your dog out of your garden without building a fence. Remember, once your garden gets going, you'll have something in it every dog adores -- food! I've had dogs so crazy for tomatoes that they would try to tease fallen ones from under the garden fence with their paws.
A 4-foot fence should be sufficient to keep most dogs out of the garden, although you may need to aim higher for a more dedicated veggie-hound.
Q: Is it safe to give those breath strips for humans to our dog? His breath is vile! -- R.T., via e-mail
A: If your dog has bad breath, chances are pretty good that he needs to see his veterinarian for a thorough dental cleaning and scaling, and possibly the removal of infected or broken teeth and the treatment of diseased gums. This is not a cosmetic problem: Bad teeth and gums can be painful for pets, and the shower of bacteria that occurs when a pet swallows can damage internal organs over time and shorten a pet's life.
Once your dog's teeth and gums have been treated by your veterinarian, you can keep things in good shape by frequent brushing of your pet's teeth.
If everything else has been taken care of, an occasional breath strip wouldn't hurt your pet. I doubt your dog will dig the mint flavor -- it's just not popular with pets. I have noticed the introduction of breath strips designed to better suit the doggy palate, but there's really no need for them if your pet's mouth is healthy.
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.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600