Universal Press Syndicate
Is there anything a dog can't use his nose to figure out? Dogs have long been used to sniff out escaped cons and missing children (think bloodhounds), dinner (think spaniels, retrievers and hounds), and even truffles (think poodles).
But in recent years, trainers have come up with all kinds of new ways to use a dog's extraordinary sense of smell. Here are a few you maybe knew -- and a few more we bet you did not:
-- Drugs. Dogs can be trained to sniff out all kinds of illegal drugs, finding them not only on people but also in massive cargo containers, long-haul trucks and school lockers.
-- Plant matter. Since fresh fruits and vegetables can bring insects and diseases into the country that have the potential to cause great damage to agriculture, dogs are used to detect the foodstuffs in the luggage of people coming through customs. Dogs are also used to sniff out invasive weeds in fields, so the plants can be eradicated before they take hold.
-- Insects. Termites? No problem. Dogs are also being used to detect the resurgence of bedbugs in big cities.
-- Mold. It's not just the mold that bedevils homeowners, but also the mold that puts the vines at wineries at risk from the spread of disease.
-- Explosives. Meetings of high public officials would be hard to imagine without the diligent work of bomb-sniffing dogs. To take it a bit further, dogs are even being taught to sniff out cell phones that could be used to detonate a bomb.
-- Cows in heat. A lot of money depends on being able to artificially inseminate a cow without wasting time guessing when she's ready. While a bull could tell, he's not always available, as his contribution usually arrives on the scene frozen. A dog can tell when the cow is most fertile -- although it's a good bet the dog couldn't care less.
-- Cancer. While cancer-detection is still in the trial stage, it's looking pretty promising that dogs can spot a malignancy. Some day your doctor may order up a "lab test" and mean Labrador!
-- Chemicals. Dogs have been known to look for items as varied as mercury and the components of potentially pirated DVDs.
While most of us tend to think scent work is the near-exclusive province of a handful of breeds -- bloodhounds, German shepherds and maybe a Labrador retriever here and there -- in fact, a wide range of breeds and mixes is trained to detect various scents. Because of their fine noses and friendly dispositions, beagles are used to work airports by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and any manner of mixed breeds -- lucky dogs pulled from shelters -- have been used for other kinds of detection work.
Because all dogs have keen noses filled with many more scent receptors than we humans have, a dog's future doing nose work relies more on enthusiasm, reliability and trainability than on the canine common ability to tell one scent from another.
Wrinkles for a reason
Humans have about 5 million scent receptors in their noses; dogs have about 200 million. Dogs can detect tiny levels of odors, even a few parts per billion. Their noses are also uniquely designed to draw air samples through -- for the most part.
You're not going to see a dog with a pushed-in muzzle, like a pug, tracking someone on "America's Most Wanted." That's because when breeding for a short nose -- and a face more like ours -- we've reduced the real estate available for scent receptors in these breeds.
On the other end of the scale, a dog developed for tracking, such as the bloodhound, has a sense of smell so keen, the results of his work are admissible in a court of law. In addition to a long, deep muzzle, the bloodhound has ears to sweep scent from the ground and skin folds to hold scents around the face. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Stress may be behind licking
Q: My cat has developed a licking problem. Her companion (a male cat) died in January, and her licking started in late March or early April. She has become very territorial, and she fights with any cats who try to enter her yard. I was wondering if her problem has developed because she is now responsible for the yard rather than her male companion. She doesn't want to play and will no longer sit in my lap. Her whole personality has changed. Help! -- S.H., via e-mail
A: Cats are often stressed by changes in their environments. Losing a companion cat is one such change. Her male companion gave her companionship and a "safety in numbers" comfort that is no longer there. The other cat may have also taken the lead in chasing off cat invaders, a job that now rests heavily on her feline shoulders.
Regardless of what has changed for her socially or environmentally, this new licking behavior is likely triggered by stress. She may be experiencing a general underlying anxiety related to change, or she may be reeling from a bad experience with another cat. It's impossible to know for sure because she can't tell us what she's thinking or feeling.
Skin problems flare up with stress in pets and in people -- think about those human skin flare-ups of eczema, hives or acne. In pets, these problems may be best addressed by both an animal behaviorist and veterinary dermatologist.
Before concluding that her licking problem is stress, though, we must consider another explanation. Pet behavior changes are often the first signs of an underlying medical condition. She may have a hidden physical pain or discomfort missed during a typical physical exam. You did not say where she is licking, and that's a clue that may point to a medical issue.
If she has not undergone a complete diagnostic profile that includes a thorough exam, plus blood, urine, stool and imaging tests, please arrange these with your veterinarian.
Once medical conditions are ruled out, getting a behavioral diagnosis is your next step. You start by completing a comprehensive behavioral history to be analyzed by a veterinary behaviorist or veterinarian with a special interest in behavior. It's impossible to narrow down the probable causes of her licking without this comprehensive approach to her behavior.
Based on her behavioral profile, a behavior-modification plan can be developed that's combined, perhaps, with medications to lower her anxiety so that she can relearn calm, relaxed behaviors and stop licking. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
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." Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Creative mixes mean big bucks
-- In an Internet poll of more than 2,200 people, sponsored by Eukanuba and Gatsby Publications, 15 breeds of dogs were selected as the most beautiful (out of those currently recognized by the American Kennel Club).
Cuties in small sizes included the Yorkshire terrier, Shetland sheepdog, Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Maltese and Pomeranian. In a medium size, it was the Siberian husky, border collie, Australian shepherd, Samoyed and bulldog. Large-breed beauties include the golden retriever, German shepherd, Labrador retriever, Alaskan malamute and boxer.
-- By 2025, the country will be short by about 15,000 veterinarians. That includes not only those health-care professionals who care for our pets, but also those who protect the nation's food supply.
-- All but three U.S. presidents have chosen to have house pets on the White House grounds. The pet-less presidents are James K. Polk (11th president), Franklin Pierce (14th) and Chester A. Arthur (21st). Guess they didn't know the common wisdom perfectly expressed by Harry S Truman (33rd): "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."
-- It used to be that a golden retriever poodle mix puppy meant the neighbor's golden hopped a fence while Fifi was in heat. But today these canine cocktails, such as the "goldendoodle," are commanding big bucks. According to the American Association of Retired Persons, here are some of the hottest mixes and what they'll set you back:
Peagle (Pekingese plus beagle) $800-$1,100; puggle (pug plus beagle) $600-$1,600; Chiweenie (Chihuahua plus dachshund) $400-$850; Labradoodle (Labrador retriever plus poodle) $1,200-$1,600; cockalier (cocker spaniel plus Cavalier King Charles spaniel) $1,200-$1,400; Faux Frenchbo (Boston terrier plus French bulldog) $750-$1,000.
Or just skip the high prices and wait for these dogs to turn up at your shelter, where along with all the other all-American originals -- aka "mutts" (and purebreds, too) -- you'll pay around $100, including neutering and shots in many cases. -- Dr. Marty Becker
An easy way up for a big dog
Getting a large dog in and out of a tall vehicle like today's popular SUVs can be a challenge, especially as age takes the spring out of a dog's rear legs -- and the strength out of an owner's back.
The Otto Step has been invented to make travel easier for all. The 18-inch-square step slides easily into a standard trailer hitch and offers a halfway point to make loading in a lot easier. Made of sturdy high-impact plastic, the lightweight platform (less than 6 pounds) features a non-skid surface. An optional pickup extension is available.
The product is named after inventor Tim Ridzik's dog, a half St. Bernard, half Newfoundland who weighs 170 pounds. The Otto Step is $80 with free shipping from www.ottostep.com or 1-888-311-OTTO (6886).
Parson packs a lot into a little body
The Parson Russell terrier -- more commonly known as the Jack Russell -- is nobody's idea of a layabout. And that's bad news for those thinking they're getting a dog as cute and well-mannered as the TV and movie dogs who helped to drive the breed's popularity.
These hard-driving little dogs are loving, loyal and very smart. But when they're bored and don't get enough exercise, they can be destructive of property or engage in other non-desired behaviors. They dig, they bark, and many of them are extremely intolerant of smaller pets, especially those of the rodent variety.
So why are these dogs so popular? When living with people who understand them, who keep their minds and bodies exercised, who train them and work them constantly, and who set limits and gently but firmly enforce them, the Jack Russell is an outstanding companion. They are always full of energy, and their joyfulness is infectious.
The Jack Russell Terrier Club of America (www.terrier.com) is the older club for the breed in the United States, fiercely independent of the American Kennel Club and its Parson Russell Terrier Club of America (www.prtaa.org).
Both clubs oversee a breed that's supposed to be a working dog, a small terrier (less than 20 pounds), with a smooth or wiry coat, and with any combination of black and tan on a mostly white base coat. The JRTCA has a nifty interactive profiler that rates a prospective buyer's suitability for owning one of these lively dogs.
For people who understand the breed and are willing to work to keep a working terrier happy, there's no better dog in the world. For anyone else, though, if you're looking for a lazy dog, or an easygoing dog for beginners, you're better off without this high-energy breed. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Persians stay popular
The Persian has long been one of the most popular of registered pedigreed cats. In 2006, the Top 10 breeds were:
2. Maine coon
5. Rag doll
8. American shorthair
Source: Cat Fanciers' Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
How to choose a good kitten
Keep these tips in mind when choosing a shelter kitten:
-- Beware the kitten who shows signs of illness, such as lethargy, runny nose, pot belly or dull coat. You maybe be taking home heartbreak, or at least a big veterinary bill.
-- Look for a kitten who approaches the front of the kennel and seems to like people. Watch for eye contact, attempts to rub against you or kneading. The best sign of all is when you pick up the kitten and the purr machine starts as the kitten settles in for as long as you want to hold him or her.
-- Although playfulness is cute from a kitten, beware of the kitten who is in constant motion, does not welcome being held and bats at you for fun. This one could become a handful!
(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.