Given a choice, your dog would probably prefer to go everywhere with you.
But for most dogs, the reality is that they live with a family who goes to work and school, leaving them with lots of alone time. While few dogs really like being alone, for some, the behavior problems that result -- called separation anxiety -- can put their very lives at risk.
Dogs who stress out when left alone may cause significant damage to themselves or their surroundings. Others may fill their time alone by frantically barking themselves to exhaustion. Faced with nonstop destruction or complaints from neighbors, some dog owners feel no choice but to take their pet to a shelter, where a dog with a serious behavior problem is a poor prospect for re-homing.
But it doesn't have to come to that.
If your dog has a hard time staying alone, you'll need patience, a plan, and possibly the help of a veterinary behaviorist, who can help you with that plan and prescribe medication to ease your dog's transition to good behavior. (Your dog's veterinarian can provide you with a referral to a behavior specialist.)
You'll need to build your dog's confidence by teaching him that comings and goings aren't forever. They're a normal part of his life with you. You need to relieve some of that excess energy by exercising him regularly -- most dogs, like most people, don't get enough exercise. And you need to minimize the damage potential while his confidence builds by confining him to a small area and giving him something else to concentrate on while you're gone besides how much he misses you.
Here are some strategies that may help your pet cope with his time alone. Remember, again, that a veterinary behaviorist can help you tailor a program that's best for you and your dog.
-- Feed your dog his biggest meal before he's about to spend his biggest chunk of time alone. What dogs do after they eat is sleep, and if you're lucky, he'll sleep most of your stay away.
-- Don't encourage your dog to be your shadow when you're home. All that devotion is wonderful and it feeds our human egos, but it's making matters worse when you leave. If you have a dog who isn't happy unless some part of him is touching some part of you, encourage his confidence and independence by not constantly reassuring and petting him when he demands attention.
-- Give him something special to chew. Have a really good chewy that's just for his alone time, and hand it to him as you leave. Stuff a marrow bone or Kong toy with a little peanut butter and broken biscuit bits. Digging out the good stuff will keep your dog busy, relieve him of some of that excess energy and help him over the worst part of his separation from you -- the beginning.
-- Practice no-fuss comings and goings. Some people unwittingly make matters worse by overdoing hellos and goodbyes. When you leave, calmly tell your dog "guard the house" and give him his special chewy. When you return, ignore him while you go through the mail, check the answering machine and so on. Then, tell him to "sit," and then praise him just the tiniest bit. The message you want him to get is that all this in-and-out is no big deal, so relax.
-- Don't punish your dog for destroying things. "But he knows he did something wrong," you say. "He's acting guilty." Not true. What he knows, from past experience, is that you're angry about something and he's going to get punished. He doesn't know why, and punishing a dog who doesn't understand what his "crime" was only serves to make him more anxious, not less.
Don't give up on your pup. Many a dog has learned over time that your leaving isn't a reason to panic. Yours can, too, especially if you get help from a veterinary behaviorist.
Yes, cats can be walked on a leash
Q: When we were at a pet store the other day, we almost bought a slender leash for our cat. She's an indoor cat, and we wonder if she's bored and would like to go outside with us. Is walking a cat really possible? -- P.S., via e-mail
A: Indoor cats can indeed be trained to enjoy an outdoor outing on leash, and for this treat, you need a harness to go with that leash you were looking at. Choose a harness designed for cats, not for dogs, in a figure-eight design, or a comfortable cat harness vest. (Cat collars are made to allow escape, and that's not good!)
Don't expect your cat to walk on leash like a dog, however. Walking a cat consists of encouraging your pet to explore, with you following, offering plenty of praise and maybe a treat or two.
Never leave your cat tethered and unattended. This leaves him vulnerable to attack or to a terrifying time of hanging suspended from his harness should he try to get over a fence. -- Gina Spadafori
Q: It bugs me when people complain about pets who shed. As every cat lover knows, no outfit is complete without pet hair. Got a problem? Get a lint brush and get over it! What do you think? -- H.E., via e-mail
A: I can certainly say that I've never left the house without pet fur on me, no matter how much time I might have spent with the lint-roller before stepping out the door. A little fur is a small price to pay for the love we get from our animals, the way I see it.
I once read a comment that's both funny and true: A true animal lover is a person who'll send back a meal in a restaurant because there's a human hair in it, but who at home will pick pet fur off the butter and eat without a moment's hesitation. -- Gina Spadafori
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 monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Getting a jump on bird disease
-- Texas A&M University's Schubot Exotic Bird Center is developing a diagnostic test for proventricular dilatation disease (PDD), a wasting disease that affects many psittacine species, such as macaws, cockatiels, budgerigars and other parrots. Veterinary Practice News notes that PDD is an important disease to diagnose and control, because it is the most significant killer of pet birds and is also a major problem for recovery programs trying to preserve parrots in the wild.
-- A 16-foot "plastinated" giraffe joined human bodies at a recent exhibition at the California Science Center in Los Angeles. The plastination process halts decomposition and preserves the body after death. Besides the giraffe, an ostrich plastinate also made its North American debut.
-- "The leash you can do" could be the motto of senior citizens signing up for Fetch! Pet Care, a franchised pet-sitting and dog-walking network. The company has started a recruiting drive to get seniors with time on their hands up on their feet and walking dogs. Besides getting some additional income, these seasoned dog walkers get exercise, social stimulation and plenty of tail wags from their happy charges, reports AARP magazine.
-- American dogs go "woof woof," but things are different elsewhere. In Catalan, dogs go "bup bup," and in China it's "wang wang." Greek dogs say "gav gav," Slovenian dogs "hov hov," and Ukrainian dogs "haf haf." In Iceland, it's "voff," and in Indonesia, it's "gong gong." Finally, "bau bau" say the dogs of Italy. "The Book of General Ignorance" says that when there is less variety heard in an animal's noise, languages seem to agree more commonly on its interpretation. For example, nearly every language has a cow going "moo," a cat going "meow" and a cuckoo going "cuckoo." -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Getting the most from a trip to the vet
When Dr. Nancy Kay faced a cancer scare, she found that her work with animal patients helped her to navigate her own path to health. That experience inspired her to write "Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life" (Trafalgar Square Books, $20), a how-to manual on getting the best possible care for your pet.
Good care starts with good communication, and eliminating obstacles to openness between vet and client is crucial. The first step? Get your veterinarian down off her pedestal, writes Kay, who argues that "advocacy requires active client participation, and a client who feels intimidated does not feel comfortable voicing an opinion."
Some people have no problem voicing an opinion or with overdosing a pet's vet with an animal's entire life history. Too much information can be as much of an obstacle as too little. So Kay spells out how to give useful, brief answers to questions about your dog's symptoms and lifestyle that are aimed at helping your vet diagnose and treat the problem. She details when and how to ask questions in ways that will get you the answers you need, and insists no owner should ever leave a veterinarian's office without a clear plan for the dog's care.
One last, somewhat unorthodox tip: If your vet doesn't like answering questions or is a lousy communicator, get a new vet.
"Speaking for Spot" is a user-friendly guide to becoming an effective medical advocate for your dog. Buy it and read it before your next vet visit. -- Christie Keith
BY THE NUMBERS
Bulk up for savings
Buying in bulk can make pet-food budgets go further, a cost-cutting strategy already popular with many dog lovers. Here's how bag sizes for dry dog food rank in popularity at the cash register:
5 pounds or less: 10 percent
6-10 pounds: 13 percent
11-20 pounds: 22 percent
20-40 pounds: 26 percent
40-plus pounds: 23 percent
Don't buy dry: 3 percent
No answer: 3 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Got begging? Change rules
Feeding your dog an occasional treat from your plate probably once seemed like no big deal. Sharing is good, right? But now you want to stop all that pestering of guests, stealing of food from the table and pawing at you while you eat.
If you want to stop your dog from begging, you must change the rules and quit rewarding him with goodies from your meals. If you stick to your guns and don't give in -- not once, not ever -- your dog will eventually stop begging.
However, prepare yourself for the begging to get worse before it stops. Changing the rules is confusing to a dog. Pets naturally try harder to get what they want until they finally realize that things have changed for good.
(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 email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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