July is the reason I don't recommend puppies in December.
The Christmas puppy is one of those ideas that seem so perfect, but the months that follow -- with cold, short days -- are the worst for raising and training a puppy. By the time summer arrives, too many of those Christmas puppies are untrained and too often on their way to being unwanted. The "puppy cutes" are long gone, and the boisterousness of adolescence is at its peak.
I hear every day from people who are ready to give up. "If we can't get him to stop (jumping up, disobeying, digging, barking, chewing), we have to get rid of him," they say.
You "have to"? What, someone's holding a gun to your head?
The next sentences in these letters almost certainly include a recommendation of the kind of home that would be "perfect" for the dog. One with "more space" or "more time." As if homes are plentiful for former Christmas puppies with energy to burn and absolutely no training or manners. Forget it! You're the one who took responsibility for your pup, and you're the one who'll have to fix the problems you let develop.
Yes, these dogs are fixable, and if you have one of them, you must try. Really, really try. You owe it to the pup you made such a fuss over a few short months ago to be patient and to work to make it right.
The key to getting past the rough spots: training and exercise.
If you've avoided an obedience class so far -- and you really shouldn't have, since puppy classes start for dogs as young as 12 weeks -- sign up for one now. Training may seem to be about control, but it's more about communication. When you train your dog, you're providing a common language, a way to form a strong and healthy bond between the two of you.
Training is for life. Your dog needs to keep learning and keep using all he has been taught. That doesn't mean you have to make formal obedience sessions a permanent part of your life. Instead, think of creative ways to expand your dog's working vocabulary and to integrate the skills he has learned into your life together. Two minutes here, sitting and staying for his supper dish, one minute there, coming from one end of the house to another when you call -- it all adds up.
So get going, and get individual help if you need it. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a training class, and don't be shy about scheduling a concentrated, private session with a trainer or behaviorist to work on a particular area of concern. Having a trainer pinpoint what you're doing wrong can save you plenty of time, and it's a cheaper than replacing a chewed couch.
Along with the training, start exercising your dog. Probably one of the biggest contributors to behavior problems is that dogs don't get nearly enough exercise. Your dog needs 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise that gets his heart pumping, and he needs it three or more times a week to stay fit, burn excess energy and alleviate the stresses of modern life, such as staying alone for hours every day.
Exercise is especially important for dogs with a working heritage such as sporting or herding breeds. They need to move! Playing fetch, jogging, boisterous play with other dogs -- whatever it takes and whatever you can, get exercise into your dog's life. Nothing calms down a "hyper" dog like regular exercise.
If you're having problems taking your dog out on leash for exercise, invest in a front-clip harness. These fairly new contraptions make it easy to control a dog's pulling so you can start walking again. It's good for you both!
Get training, get help, get exercise, but above all, get going. Sure, it takes time and effort to raise a dog right, but the payoff is grand. Remember the dog you imagined your Christmas puppy becoming? He's in there still. And it's up to you to turn that dream into reality. Your dog is counting on you.
Haircut fine for summer
Q: Is it safe to shave or short-crop my 2-year-old sheltie? If not, please recommend heat relief I can provide for my pup. I walk him during non-peak hot periods during the day, keep him in air conditioning, keep his water cool and thin his coat with thinning shears. -- P.H.
A: Yes, it's safe to cut your dog's hair short for the summer, but don't leave him vulnerable to sunburn with too close a shave. It's not really necessary to cut off the coat of longhaired dogs in most cases, however, and certainly not in yours, where your dog gets the benefit of air conditioning when it's hot.
Not to mention: The longhaired Lassie look of the Shetland sheepdog is one of the breed's most appealing features. Why would you want to mess with that?
Without shaving or cutting short your dog's coat, you can remove some of the weight for summer. Keep the coat regularly combed and brushed, paying special attention to the undercoat. In double-coated breeds like the Sheltie, the soft undercoat can mat into a mess that looks and feels very much like felt. It's essential to strip out the undercoat with frequent brushing -- or regular trips to a professional groomer -- to keep this mat from forming.
If you go to a groomer, consider having just the underside of your dog -- mid-chest, belly and the insides of the back legs -- shaved to provide a large expanse of skin access to the air while keeping the appearance of a lovely long coat intact.
If your dog's coat is heavily matted, I would recommend not worrying about appearance and having a groomer cut the fur short all over. That way, your dog can be comfortable -- matted fur hurts! -- while you get in the habit of regular brushing so the situation never gets that bad again.
I have two dogs who get a special summer cut. My Sheltie, Drew, gets the belly shave I described above along with a leg-feather trim not only to stay cooler, but also to keep from picking up burrs. And my retriever, Heather, has a thick, mid-length wavy coat that holds brackish water and burrs when I take her out in rough country. She gets a close-crop trim to make it harder for burrs to stick and easier for her to be sprayed clean after swimming.
Q: We have a 2-year-old Lab/German shepherd mix. The other day my husband and I wanted to see how much she weighed, so we got out the scale. My husband weighed himself and then picked up our heavy dog.
Unfortunately the scale would not weigh them both. We tried three times. After that, our dog would not come near us. When we called her she would hide in the corner or run outside. What's up with that? -- J.B.
A: I'm guessing she found the experience of being picked up frightening, and she didn't want to go through it again.
Have her weighed on the walk-on scale at your veterinarian's next time she's in there. In the meantime, if she looks in good weight -- you can feel but not see her ribs, and she has a tucked up "waist" -- I wouldn't worry about what she actually weighs.
Q: Could you remind people who insist on tethering their pets in the back of their pickups that the bed gets very hot? They should put down a blanket to keep their pets from burning their pads. -- J.H.
A: Consider people reminded.
Riding in the back of a pickup truck isn't an ideal way to travel for any dog, even if securely tethered. If the back of a truck is the only option, a dog would be safer and more comfortable traveling in an airline crate that has been secured to the bed.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
What to do when pet crisis hits
The days around the Fourth of July are busy ones for veterinary emergency clinics. Couple the everyday dangers of summer -- overheating and accidental poisoning among them -- with the problems of pets terrified by fireworks, and it's no surprise a lot of animals end up in trouble at this time of year.
Here's what to remember when faced with a sick or injured pet:
-- Protect and secure your pet -- and yourself. Move your pet to a safe, comfortable location out of immediate danger. Since an animal in terror or pain may lash out, be sure to protect yourself from a nasty bite by muzzling or otherwise restraining your pet. A ready-made muzzle should be part of a basic pet first-aid kit, but in a pinch you can use soft rope or even pantyhose. (Secure with a loop around the muzzle and tie off behind the head.)
-- Scan the area for evidence that might help with a diagnosis. Empty medicine bottles, chewed materials, product wrappers and even an open craft basket can help your veterinarian know what's wrong and how to treat it. If you know what your pet got into, plan to take the container with you to the veterinary office.
-- Check your pet's vital signs such as temperature, respiratory and heart rate, blood flow to the gums, and hydration. Note the results. Your veterinarian will use your initial observations to help determine the seriousness of the situation.
-- Call the veterinary office. Stay calm and be prepared to state the situation succinctly along with your observations as to your pet's current state. Then follow the clinic's advice when it comes to what needs to happen next. If you need to transport your pet to the veterinarian's, do so in a secure carrier to prevent further injury.
The time to find a phone number for after-hours veterinary care is before you have an emergency. Ask your regular veterinarian what arrangements have been made for emergency care, and be sure to write down the phone number where you can find it in a hurry -- on the front of the refrigerator is ideal.
Likewise, don't wait to become familiar with such basic first-aid as getting vital signs. Learn how and what to check for before you need to with the aid of any basic first-aid book. Or ask your veterinarian to show you on your next healthy-pet visit.
(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.)
ON THE WEB
Memories of pets find loving home
After an animal companion dies, it's important to find the support of people who understand how hard such a loss can be. The growth of pet-loss support sites on the Internet is testimony to how much people need to tell others about the animal they've just lost.
On Pet Memories Online (petmemories.com), animal lovers are encouraged to create a memories page for a lost pet, complete with an image and testimonial. The pages are sometimes difficult to read for the raw emotion they reflect, but each page no doubt helped someone work through the grief.
The site also has some basic information about grieving and links to other resources. -- G.S.
Marking helps to make a cat comfortable
The correct "smell environment" is so important to your cat that he engages in various marking behaviors to make everything in his world smell like him. You might not even be aware of some of these behaviors, such as:
-- Rubbing. Cats have sebaceous glands at the base of their hair follicles that produce sebum, a substance that serves two purposes: coating the fur for protection and depositing scent on objects in the cat's environment. These glands are most numerous around your cat's mouth; on the chin, lips, upper eyelids and the top of the tail base; and near the anus and sex organs. If a cat rubs with his head (a behavior known as "bunting"), or any of these parts of his body, he leaves his scent behind.
-- Urine-spraying. Although few humans mind being scent-marked as our cats rub against us lovingly, we do not approve of another of the cat's territorial behaviors: urine-spraying. Although any cat may spray, the behavior is most common in unneutered males. These cats feel especially driven to mark their territory with their pungent urine by backing up to objects (or even people) and letting fly with a spray.
-- Clawing. When cats dig their claws into a cat tree or piece of furniture, they're not being intentionally destructive. Scratching keeps claws in shape and provides the opportunity for a good, healthy stretch. Scratching is also a way to deposit scent. As a cat claws, the pads of his feet come in contact with what he's digging into, and that motion leaves behind scent from the sweat glands in his feet.
-- Grooming. Your cat's attention to having "every hair in its place" has many reasons, but one of them is scent-marking. Your cat's tongue covers every inch of his body with his own saliva, which carries his scent. Cats often groom themselves right after being petted to cover your scent with theirs.
No trim needed for cat's whiskers
Most cats have 24 whiskers, divided on either side of the nose and arranged in four horizontal rows. The top rows and bottom rows can move independently of each other, and each whisker -- they're technically called "vibrissae" -- is imbedded deeper than normal hairs to enhance its sensory input.
Even though whiskers are important to cats -- your pet may become disoriented if they're removed, which is why you never should cut them -- there is no correlation between the length of whiskers and the width of a cat. If your cat gets fat, his whiskers don't grow to match. A portly cat who comes to count on his whiskers to gauge the width of a hole may well find himself stuck.
Feline fact: The kinky-coated Cornish Rex and Devon Rex breeds have curly whiskers as well.
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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