How much do dogs hate baths? Enough so that the dog who doesn't hear you when you yell, "Get off the couch!" is perfectly able to pick out the magic word when you whisper, "I think the dog needs a bath" and go looking for a hiding place.
Dogs are content to live in dog-smell heaven, a place where water is only for drinking or swimming in, and never has soap added. Sadly, from a canine point of view, we make the rules that dictate how often dogs must be bathed.
But how often is that? Forget that old saw about "every six months" or even "every year." Who wants to live with a stinky dog? Dogs should be bathed monthly, or more often if they need it. Your dog should be brushed before bathing because mats and tangles, once wet, can never be removed -- you need to cut them out.
Let your brushed dog relax while you set up the proper equipment and fill the tub. A bath mat in the tub will make your dog feel more comfortable by giving him something secure to stand on. You'll also need a spray nozzle. Some people rinse dogs by pouring dirty bathwater back over them, but that defeats the purpose of bathing a dog (to get him clean), so use a nozzle.
Make sure you're dressed appropriately for bathing the dog, because chances are you're going to get wet, too. Set out your towels where you can reach them, and fold one to go under your knees to make the experience more comfortable for you.
Right before the big plunge, put a pinch of cotton just inside your dog's ears to help keep the soap out (don't forget to remove the cotton afterward).
As you drag the dog toward the bathroom door, don't spare words of love and encouragement. In working with dogs, I've found that a good attitude can go a long way, but a bad one can go even further. If your dog knows how much you hate bath time, how can he get a positive, or at least tolerable, opinion of the process? Keep your attitude high and don't let up on the praise.
Lather up, and don't use more soap than you need, or your dog will be harder to rinse and the coat won't look as nice. Rinse thoroughly, and repeat the entire process if need be. Follow up with a conditioner or detangler if your pet's coat needs either.
Lift your dog out and put a towel over him loosely while he shakes. Your dog can get more water off by shaking than you can by toweling, so let him have at it, and then finish the job by rubbing him dry when he's done.
Let your dog dry-clean by keeping him out of the yard, and he'll stay cleaner longer. And that would be a bonus for you both.
Although purely optional to the dog-bathing experience, I've come to rely on a couple of pieces of equipment that make the work easier and faster.
The first is a bathing brush, an inexpensive (less than $10) hand-held rubber tool with wide points. The Kong Company makes a good one (the Zoom Groom), and so does the pet-supply company Bamboo (the Dog Body Brush). These tools get a lather going more easily and help to get rid of loose hair. Plus, some dogs seem to enjoy the massage action.
The second tool is more pricey, but I've found it to be well worth the investment considering how often I find myself with wet retrievers. A portable dog dryer (home-use models run from just under $100 to around $200) isn't like a human blow-dryer in that it doesn't use heat to dry and style hair. Rather, the force of the air blows the water (and loose hair) from the coat, leaving a slightly damp dog who will dry much more quickly.
The easiest way to get access to good bathing tools is to go to a do-it-yourself dog wash. These businesses usually have elevated tubs (easier on knees and backs), and all the basic equipment to bathe and dry a dog.
Are seat belts really needed?
Q: I know that you've written that dogs should be secured in the car, but I worry that restricting my dog with a seat belt could cause problems.
A human can take off the seat belt and get out, but a dog can't. After an accident, the rescuers might get the humans out of the car but forget about the dog.
As for driver distractions, my dog settles right down, occasionally moving if the sun shifts (which I think he wouldn't be able to do if he were restrained).
Perhaps the risk of hitting the windshield is far greater than being trapped in the car. But until that data comes in, I stay on the side of letting my dog do what he needs to do, as he is much wiser in the ways of dogs than I am.
Taking my above concerns into consideration, can you provide me with more information about why a restraint is better than letting the dog ride free in the car? -- S.S., via e-mail
A: Anyone who has ever been through driver training has seen images of crash dummies flying forward into the windshield. It won't even take a major accident at a high rate of speed to turn your dog into unsecured cargo, flying around the car at risk to himself and all other passengers.
Have you considered that having a dog secured is also safer after an accident? Emergency personnel could work more safely around a secured dog. And if you are incapacitated, animal-control officials will be more able to care for a dog they don't have to catch. A terrified, loose dog is never a good idea.
We are always suspicious of new ideas, I think. I remember well my grandmother worrying that we would all be trapped in a burning car if seat belts were mandated for humans. She insisted that her slender arm thrust across her grandchildren every time she applied the brakes was all the protection we needed. We know now that Gram was wrong: Seat belts do save lives.
It doesn't take much of a leap of logic to see that securing animals in a moving vehicle is just as good an idea. For the safety of your pet, of the other occupants of the car and of everyone on the road endangered by a driver's distraction, resolve to secure your dog. If you don't want to use a seat belt, then buy a crate.
Your dog may indeed be wise in the way of dogs, but he isn't so smart when it comes to traffic, or he'd have his own driver's license. You're the one who has to look out for the both of you!
Q: We have a 6-month-old border collie and love her dearly. She is very hard to walk, though, and she pulls so hard it hurts my arms. We have tried a head halter, but she balked at it so badly we gave up. We've also tried a choker collar. It didn't help much, and I'm afraid of hurting her throat. Do you have any other suggestions? -- M.F., via e-mail
A: Your dog doesn't really understand what you want, so she's doing what she wants. Enlist a trainer's aid to help you figure out the right equipment for your dog and to show you how to use it to get your dog to walk without pulling. It's well worth the investment of time and money, and it's far cheaper than shoulder surgery.
The new front-clip harnesses, which use a dog's own momentum to stall her forward progress, might work well with your dog.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Rabbits and dental health
Image: Rabbit (Morgan, no credit)
Caption: Dental problems in rabbits are common and can cause great pain.
Dental problems are a serious health problem for rabbits, often the result of an improper diet without enough fresh vegetables and rough material like grass hays. Your rabbit needs to see a veterinarian if you observe any of the following symptoms:
-- Loss of appetite, selective appetite. A rabbit whose teeth aren't properly aligned or one with an abscess or mouth ulcer isn't going to feel much like eating. Such an animal may also avoid harder foods that are more painful to chew. Some rabbits may also indicate discomfort by frequently grinding their teeth.
-- Dropping food. Dental problems may make it difficult for a rabbit to chew completely, and the animal may be observed dropping food from the mouth while trying to eat.
-- Teary eyes. The root tip of a rabbit's upper incisor root is near the tear duct, and problems with this tooth may interfere with normal tear production. Tears may spill down the face, or the corners of the eyes may be wet or crusty. This condition may eventually result in an infection of the tear duct.
-- Nasal discharge. Although it's also a symptom of upper respiratory disease, nasal discharge might be caused by problems with the upper incisors.
-- Bulging of the eye. Abscesses can become so severe that they build up pressure behind the eye and push it out until it bulges.
Any of these symptoms can be a sign of dental disease, or of other health problems that also need to be addressed. Your rabbit needs to see a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment.
(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.)
Bigger pet cages are always better
If you had to spend your life in a cage, you'd want it to be as big as possible, wouldn't you? Then why settle for a tiny cage for your bird, reptile or small mammal?
Forget the pet store's labels or recommendations. For them, cage size recommendations are based on what they believe a customer will pop for -- in other words, the cheapest option available. (After all, for some small pets, the cage can be more expensive than the animal.)
Think bigger! Go one size larger than the pet-store recommendations. For a budgie, for example, get a cage sized for a cockatiel, while cockatiels should be in cages sized for small parrots.
While you're introducing that larger cage to your pet, don't forget to enrich the environment with a variety of toys (and perches, for birds). Life in a cage isn't natural for any animal, so the least you can do is make that life more interesting.
Pill-popping skills a must for pet lovers
There are two ways to pill a pet: straightforward and sneaky. Which way works best depends on you and your pet. It doesn't hurt to experiment a little, as long as you're getting that medication down your pet's throat.
The straightforward approach is a little different for cats and dogs.
For cats, take a firm but gentle grip on your pet's head from above, pry open his jaw with the index finger of your other hand, and press the pill far enough back on the tongue to trigger swallowing.
For dogs, grip the muzzle from above, pinching inward with index finger and thumb while you open the mouth with the other index finger. From there it's the same: Poke the pill as far back as you can to trigger swallowing. Holding the muzzle skyward and stroking your pet's throat will help.
A variation on this, especially useful for cats, is using a "pill gun." These plastic devices, available in pet-supply stores and catalogs, enable you to put the pill on the tip and then press it to the top of your pet's throat more accurately, quickly and easily than with your finger.
If that doesn't work, try the sneaky approach. Subterfuge works better on dogs than on cats, because cats are generally much more cautious about what they eat -- you're not fooling them at all by dressing up that pill. For dogs, peanut butter, hot dogs, liverwurst and cheese are probably the most popular pill disguisers, but tastes vary. The new Pill Pockets product is designed to hide a pill in a tasty treat, and it might work for your pet.
If nothing works, talk to your veterinarian about getting your pet's medication in a flavored paste format. "Compounding" pharmacies can produce edible medication in all kinds of pet-friendly flavors.
CLUMSY CATS PRESENT DECORATING CHALLENGE
Cats get into -- and onto -- everything, which can make decorating your home a challenge, especially if you're fond of delicate collectibles.
Although it's best to put your most fragile and valuable items in hutches or glass-fronted bookcases, you can get a degree of security for the rest with a product called Quake Hold, which is offered in either a putty or gel that seals objects to shelves and counters.
Quake Hold should be available at your home center or hardware store, or through any number of Internet retailers.
When it comes to keeping cats out of houseplants, consider hanging your plants to deny access or cover the soil of the planter with decorative rock with rough edges. Most cats aren't ambitious enough to swing from a hanging plant, nor are they fond of touching sharp surfaces with their paws.
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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