It's easy to understand why a training class isn't much fun when you're going with the intention of correcting your dog's behavior problems. Maybe you've been too busy to do much with a fast-growing pup, and now he's 80 pounds of well-muscled young dog, dragging you everywhere, jumping on everyone and just generally being a good-natured, out-of-control nuisance.
You come into class with your head full of resentment, even anger, at the half-grown dog who's now such a pain. You look around, and most everyone's dog is just as bad -- pulling, jumping, barking.
Stick with the class, and your attitude will likely turn around. With the help of a trainer who knows her stuff, most dogs will come out of a series of basic obedience classes with new manners and with owners who are now proud to claim them.
Obedience classes work if you find the right one, attend every class, and practice what you learn between sessions. But it's always more difficult to fix entrenched bad behavior than to prevent problems in the first place. And that's one reason why, in recent years, classes for young puppies have become so popular.
Another reason: Puppy classes are fun. They're fun to take your puppy to, they're fun to watch, and they're even fun to teach. After all, what could possibly be more fun than a room full of puppies?
The best part of any puppy classes is the off-leash socialization. It may seem like recess, but free play serves an important function.
Many puppies come from sources that don't pay much attention to the importance of socialization and that sell the animals too young -- as early as 4 or 5 weeks, when experts suggest puppies leaving for a new home be no younger than 7 weeks of age. Puppies who miss out on a couple of weeks of post-weaning play with littermates may become timid or aggressive with other dogs, or may have a difficult time understanding to keep their teeth to themselves.
The supervised free-play period of a puppy class can help undersocialized puppies learn how to play properly, and will continue to reinforce the lessons learned with their littermates for puppies who were raised right by their breeders.
After play period, the leashes go on and it's time to learn. While no one expects perfect performances from young puppies, it's amazing how much these little brains can learn. There's no punishment in a puppy class: The basic commands and good manners are taught with praise and treats. The techniques give puppies the idea that learning is fun, and sets the groundwork for future training.
A puppy class is one of the best things you can do to get your relationship off to a great start. Wouldn't you rather have fun in a puppy class than struggle through an obedience class with an older dog later?
Veterinarians, humane societies, park districts, pet-supply stores and groomers can all be great sources of information on local trainers and training classes. Be sure to ask family, friends and co-workers, too, for trainers they've used, and how they liked their classes.
The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (www.apdt.com) has a list of members on its Web site, with each listing indicating what kind of classes are available.
Are puppy classes safe?
Your veterinarian told you not to take your puppy out, for fear that he'll be exposed to a potentially deadly disease before his immune system is prepared for the challenge. So ... are puppy classes safe?
While nothing in life is completely safe, knowledgeable trainers make sure that the area where puppy classes are held is sanitized before and after each session, and they will advise you to carry your puppy from your car to the puppy area.
Those precautions are no longer necessary after your puppy's series of vaccination is complete and your veterinarian gives the go-ahead. From that point forward, the more places you can take your puppy, the better.
Dealing with allergies
Q: My Labrador sheds a great deal. I'm OK with that, because if I really couldn't stand dog hair, I wouldn't have a dog. My problem, however, is allergies.
I have severe allergies and have worked with my allergist to get a medication mix that works for me, but the allergies have been pretty bad lately, to the point of nosebleeds. I think that it's because I have been letting her sleep with me and my bed is covered in dog hair. I wash everything often, but it doesn't really seem to help.
I may need to buy new bedding, unless you have suggestions on how to get it as clean as possible. I've tried lint brushes, pet hair sponges, hand vacuums and more.
Even if I could get the bedding clean, I've pretty much decided that she just isn't going to be able to sleep in bed with me. I hate making her stay off the bed because I love cuddling up with her.
For a while, I tried to keep her off the bed. She sleeps on her dog bed until I am asleep and then creeps up in the middle of the night. I wake up in the morning and she is there, which is cute, but I really don't think my health can take it much longer. Do you have any training suggestions to keep her off the bed? I hate having to do this, but I need to breathe! -- R.D., via e-mail
A: I'm glad you found an allergist willing to work with you. So many of them start with: "First, get rid of your pet." Giving up a member of the family should never be the first step in dealing with allergies, especially when there are plenty of things to try first.
I have lived my entire life with allergies, asthma and pets. My advice is always to find an understanding allergist (which you have done already) and then make some compromises that will allow you to keep both your health and your pet.
In your case, I'm afraid having your dog in your bedroom at all is no longer an option. You need to breathe, and you need to sleep, and being sick all night every night is not good for you. Your bedroom needs to become a sanctuary, a completely dog-free zone.
Your allergist will be able to give you advice on how to remove allergy triggers from your bedroom, such as carpets, wall hangings and anything else that will attract and retain dust. All your new bedding should be washable and should be freshly laundered weekly. Pillows need to be made of non-allergenic material, or placed in sealed covers.
Regular bathing and daily brushing outdoors (wear a pollen mask, or get someone else to do the job) will keep your Labrador cleaner. A vacuum with HEPA filtration will also help keep hair and dander down in your home.
Keep your bedroom door closed all the time to deny your dog access. At night, you can try putting up a baby gate across the door to your bedroom so your dog can be close without being (literally) in your face.
I like sleeping with my dogs, too, but when my allergies are severe -- such as in the springtime -- I have to put up my baby gate, too. They are disappointed at first, but soon decide that the living-room couch isn't such a bad place to sleep after all.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Rabbits crave companionship
The longstanding joke about rabbits is that if you have two, you'll soon have more. As with so many jokes, this one's based on the truth: Put a male and female rabbit together and they'll breed like ... well, you know.
Perhaps the ability of rabbits to reproduce so readily is one of the reasons why many people who enjoy the companionship of household rabbits have just one.
But rabbits enjoy spending time with other rabbits. And with spaying and neutering readily and safely available for rabbits today, you can have a male-female pair of rabbits without ending up with many more rabbits than you can care for.
If you have a single pet rabbit, consider adding another. Altered rabbits of all combinations can get along, but male-female and female-female pairings are likely your best bet.
If you don't have a rabbit and are considering adopting one, it's easy to find bonded pairs through shelters and rescue groups. -- G.S.
Preparing pets for anesthesia
Anesthesia is a lot less of a risk for pets than it used to be, with the widespread use of safer anesthetic agents. The procedure can be made even safer with pre-surgical screening, especially for older animals. Your veterinarian may recommend including a laboratory evaluation of blood and urine, a chest X-ray and possibly an electrocardiogram. If abnormalities are revealed, these must be corrected before your pet is put under.
It's especially important to allow your veterinarian's instructions on preparing your pet for surgery. If there is a no-food instruction, make sure you deliver a pet with an empty stomach. Following this one piece of advice is one of the easiest and most basic ways to reduce risk.
If you have any concerns or questions regarding anesthesia and your pet, be sure to ask your veterinarian.
(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)
BY THE BOOK
Book helps solve feline behavior mysteries
Several years ago I was asked to judge the magazine category in the Cat Writers' Association's annual contest for people who write or communicate through other media on matters feline in nature (information on the contest is at www.catwriters.org). Among the entries was the work of a writer who so completely understood the wonders and mysteries of cats that I found myself imagining that she might have been one herself in some previous life.
That writer was Wendy Christiansen, and she's the author of a wonderful new book, "Outwitting Cats: Tips, Tricks, and Techniques for Persuading the Felines in Your Life That What You Want Is Also What They Want" (The Lyons Press, $13).
Remembering the work I'd read years before, I couldn't wait to open this book and was not disappointed. I've never seen anything that takes the problems humans have with cats -- house-soiling, scratching and more -- and presents them from a cat's point of view. The suggestions for solving these issues are thus not only workable but also fair to the cat.
The book goes well beyond behavior problems into helping understand where cats came from, what they think, and how to improve both the quality of their lives and of your interactions with your cats. For example, Christiansen takes on the problem of getting cats to drink enough water with no fewer than 10 suggestions to make the dish and its contents more appealing to a cat.
She also offers suggestions on dealing with problems caused by other people's cats, and by stray cats who belong to no one at all. Not surprisingly, the suggestions are humane, cat-friendly and direct.
"Outwitting Cats" is one of those books every cat-lover should have handy. You'll never see a title more cat-savvy than this one. -- G.S.
BY THE NUMBERS
Pets on the road
Image: dog in crate, no credit
Caption: Carriers keep pets safer when traveling.
A survey of more than 1,000 pet lovers in the United Kingdom found that we love to have our pets along for car rides -- but we don't think much about safety when we take them. According to the survey:
-- 33 percent of pet lovers take their pets everywhere they go in the car
-- 41 percent of pet lovers do not routinely restrain their pets
--- 81 percent of pet lovers consider the needs of their pets when choosing a vehicle
Pets can cause accidents by being a distraction to the driver. And as "unsecured cargo," they can also injure not only themselves but others in the car during an accident.
The solution: Secure pets in carriers or with harnesses meant to work with seat belts.
Source: Direct Line Insurance, www.directline.com
ON THE WEB
'Old-fashioned' cats have loyal following
If you're old enough to remember when Persians and Siamese were about the only pedigreed cats anyone ever heard of, the fashion in Siamese cats today is likely not what you remember.
As any visitor to a cat show can attest, Siamese cats today are sleek and long-bodied, with wedge-shaped heads and ears large in relation to the cats' slender faces. The traditional Siamese markings -- darker fur on the head, legs and tail -- are about the only similarity to the heavier, "apple-headed" Siamese cats of old.
The Traditional Cat Club (www.traditionalcats.com) is all about the preservation and appreciation of the old-style Siamese, an animal with the body type of an average cat and a friendly and often noisy personality unique to the breed. From its base of support for the traditional Siamese, the club has branched out to favor older types of many additional breeds.
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 email@example.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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