Universal Press Syndicate
After many years of caring for and writing about pets, two things constantly surprise us:
-- How little it takes for some people to break the human-animal bond and dump a pet. For some people, any failure on the pet's part to meet often unrealistic behavior expectations can cause an end to a pet's stay in the home.
-- How much it takes for some people to even admit there's a problem with a pet. For these people, giving up on a pet isn't an option. But they often don't realize they can get help that will make life better for everyone in the family, pet included.
Life doesn't have to be this way for those pet owners at either extreme, or for most people in the middle, who have some mild behavioral challenges with a pet. While some behavior problems aren't fixable -- a dog who has attacked with true intent to harm, for example -- many other issues can be resolved.
To accomplish such change, though, you have to be prepared to put some time into changing the situation. Quick-fix, halfhearted efforts are doomed from the start. And you need help from your veterinarian and a pet-behavior expert.
Why your veterinarian? Because the first rule of solving any behavioral problem is to make sure it's not a medical problem. Health issues that cause or contribute to behavior problems must first be accurately diagnosed and treated with the help of your veterinarian.
Once you know your pet is healthy, a behaviorist can help you work on getting you and your pet on the same page.
This is the stage where many people balk, but they shouldn't. Consulting a behaviorist can save time, money and aggravation. Time, because someone with experience in animal behavior can quickly determine the root of the problem, without the emotional baggage that a pet owner may bring to the situation. Money, because a consultation or two is a great deal cheaper than replacing a chewed couch or blitzed landscaping. And aggravation? Anyone who has ever lived with a problem pet -- and that's most of us, at one time or another -- can understand how annoying it can be.
Behaviorists are not "trainers" in the sense of offering group obedience classes to sharpen a pet's manners. Instead, they work one-on-one with you to solve a specific behavior problem. The consulting takes various forms. Some behaviorists consult by phone, others take appointments with or without your pet, and others make house calls. All of these can work, depending on the problem and the pet.
One of the best choices for help is a veterinarian who has received additional certification in solving pet-behavior problems. These professionals have gone through years of study in animal health and behavior and have done a residency in the field as well. One plus with this group: They can prescribe medications to help correct problems as part of an overall behavior-modification program.
People with other academic degrees (such as in psychology) and people who've picked up their knowledge in the field also make themselves available for advising on pet behavior problems. Some in the latter group can be excellent, so don't let a lack of degrees deter you from getting help from someone who has studied in the "school of hard knocks" (or would that be the "school of bites and scratches"?).
If you're in a situation where you're thinking of dumping your pet, are living with a difficult pet behavior problem or just have a couple of issues you'd like resolved, don't put off getting the help you need. With the help of a veterinarian and a good behaviorist, you can have that peaceable kingdom you've always wanted.
Where to find pet-behavior help
The best place to start dealing with a pet's behavior problems is by asking your veterinarian for a referral to a local trainer or behaviorist. If you come up with nothing suitable, check out the nearest school or college of veterinary medicine -- most have veterinarians on staff with additional training in animal behavior.
You may also find a veterinarian working with pet behavior problems through one of these organizations:
-- American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (www.dacvb.org)
-- American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (www.avsabonline.org)
Other organizations whose members have experience in solving pet-behavior problems include:
-- International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (www.iaabc.org)
-- Association of Pet Dog Trainers (www.apdt.com)
-- National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (www.nadoi.org) -- Gina Spadafori
Towels keep setter calm
Q: Regarding your article on dogs who react poorly to fireworks and thunderstorms, may we share what works for us? My husband found a way this year to get our dog through the Independence Day fireworks.
We ask our English setter to lie down on the floor. We then put three beach towels over his body. We think that blocking his vision and reducing his hearing did the trick. He was quiet the whole time. Usually he keeps trying to find a place to hide, and he shakes the entire time the fireworks are going off. Yet this dog does not mind the sound of a gun when out hunting. Go figure! -- M.M., via e-mail
A: I would guess your innovative improvisation works like commercial products such as the Calming Cap (www.premier.com or 888-640-8840) and the Anxiety Wrap (www.anxietywrap.com or 877-652-1266). Really, you've provided your dog with a combination of both! Your beach towel cure helps your pet to relax because it cuts off some of the sensory input, and it may even offer the calming sensation of pressure on the body.
As for your dog thinking the gunfire associated with hunting is fine while fireworks is not ... well, part of it is likely because he enjoys doing the work he was bred for, out on a beautiful day with someone he loves. The sound of gunfire means good things to your dog, while the fireworks are just scary noise. Thanks for sharing! -- Dr. Marty Becker
Q: May I add one more tip to your piece on dogs and swimming? Watch for signs that your dog is drinking too much water while swimming.
I have a friend whose Australian shepherd drinks quite a bit of water when she swims. One day she almost died from water intoxication because she drank too much water while she was swimming. -- J.M., via e-mail
A: Thanks for the additional caution. Yes, it's true that some dogs drink too much water, and even clean, fresh water can become a problem in such circumstances. (Brackish water and saltwater can cause their own problems, especially when toxic algae blooms are in season.)
As we wrote in our earlier piece, swimming is great fun and good exercise. But it's always up to us to be sure our dogs are safe in and around the water. That's true if it's your backyard pool or any nearby body of water. Thanks for writing with your additional words of warning. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or visiting PetConnection.com.
Pets two times the allergy 'fun'
-- Dogs and cats are primary carriers of allergens (their own dander, urine and saliva trigger allergy responses) as well as secondary carriers. Their coats are like a dust mop filled with whatever pollen is in the air or on the ground. Weekly baths with a hypoallergenic shampoo have been shown to help.
-- Feline eye implants offer hope for humans. A University of Missouri veterinary ophthalmologist hopes the technology behind microchips to curb retinal blindness in cats may one day help humans.
-- A dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) designed to mimic a scent that mother dogs produce to calm their puppies has been shown to minimize anxiety in response to stressful sounds or experiences including fireworks, thunderstorms and car travel. This product is available in a spray, as an air diffuser or on a collar from Veterinary Product Laboratories (www.vpl.com).
-- Your average opossum has 13 nipples arranged in a circular pattern with one in the middle.
-- According to the Morris Animal Foundation, the dog breeds most likely to get cancer include the Bernese mountain dog, boxer, chow chow, cocker spaniel, collie, English springer spaniel, flat-coated retriever, golden retriever, Labrador retriever, greyhound, pug, shar-pei, Scottish terrier and Rottweiler. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Make a batch of pupsicles
Everybody appreciates cool refreshment on hot days, and that includes our pets. Keep pet water supplies cool by adding ice chips or cubes to the water supply of smaller pets, ice blocks for larger animals. Ice blocks can be made easily by freezing water in used margarine tubs.
If you want to get a little fancier, check out Ice Pups from The Honest Kitchen (www.thehonestkitchen.com or 858-483-5995). The product is dehydrated chicken and turkey, along with other healthy ingredients such as honey and dandelions. It contains no salt, preservatives, sugar or artificial flavoring. Mix the powder in warm water and then freeze either into blocks or cubes. You can also serve it as a cool liquid treat.
Suggested retail is $7.50 for a 4-ounce pouch that makes 16 servings. -- Gina Spadafori
Good advice on keeping dog parks safe, fun
Dog parks sound like a wonderful idea -- a fenced, dedicated area for dogs to run around off-leash and play with other dogs. What's not to love?
Unfortunately, there can be plenty of problems. Unscooped poop, dog fights, unattended children, unsupervised dogs, rude owners and damaged fences can ruin the dog park experience, not just for dogs and their owners but for entire communities.
"Some dogs just aren't right for dog parks, and others need a little assistance to appreciate the social opportunity," writes Cheryl S. Smith in "Visiting the Dog Park: Having Fun, Staying Safe" (Dogwise, $12). "You will be better able to see that all goes well for your dog if you have some essential knowledge of dog parks before venturing through the gate."
Some tips from the book:
-- Teach your dog to come when called. You'll be able to call her away from potential fights and open gates, and get her to leave when you're ready, not when you can catch her.
-- Make sure you know how your dog reacts with other dogs before that first visit.
-- Use the "personality types" guide to decide if your dog has the right temperament to use a dog park at all, or if she needs some training and socialization first.
-- Check fences and gates for safety before letting your dog loose in a dog park.
-- Obey the rules! Keep gates closed, pick up after your dog, and don't let your dog bother other dogs.
This useful book is just the place to gain that knowledge, from how to prepare your dog for his first visit to the park to how to read canine body language. Along the way it covers evaluating dog parks for safety, safety tips for small dogs, preventing diseases and even how to find -- or start -- a dog park in your community. -- Christie Keith
BY THE NUMBERS
More the merrier
While most people with dogs are happy to have just one, among cat lovers the trend is for multiple ownership. Figures from 2004:
Number of cats owned:
One 49 percent
Two 25 percent
Three or more 26 percent
Average number of cats owned: 2.4
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Teach your pup to do push-ups
Puppies and dogs need lots of mental and physical exercise. Teaching "push-ups" gives dogs of all ages and sizes a great release for excess energy.
Since dogs read body language better than they learn verbal language, teach them hand signals for these behaviors.
With your elbow at your side, lift up your hand for a "sit," and move your hand down to your side for a "down." In the beginning, praise and give a treat for each "sit" and "down." As your dog learns the pattern, phase out treats by rewarding the down only, then every other down. Always praise for each position before going to the next.
Canine push-ups are great way for canines to earn attention, toys or permission to pass through doorways.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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