Universal Press Syndicate
Summer is the time when we enjoy our yards the most -- or would, if our dogs hadn't pulled up the shrubs, sat on the flowers, dug holes in the lawn and left yellow spots everywhere.
But it doesn't have to be that way. While it takes planning, work and dog-savvy, you can have a dog and a nice yard. You can't just plant whatever you want wherever you want and then throw a bored, unsupervised dog into the mix. Here are the basic guidelines:
-- Exercise your dog. Dogs who don't get daily exercise are likely to expend that energy and cure boredom doing things people don't like -- digging, chewing and barking. Dogs who are well-exercised are more likely to sleep while you are gone. A dog with too much energy isn't one you want to leave alone all day -- and yet that's exactly what many people do. If you don't take care of your dog's exercise requirements, he's going to take care of them on his own, by digging a hole to China or by removing the shrubs in your yard. (Leaving him inside just shifts the destruction -- although it will keep him from bothering your neighbors with his barking.)
When you leave, you should also offer your dog alternatives to choosing his own amusements: Provide him with chew toys. You can make them more appealing by praising him for using them and by stuffing hollow toys -- such as a Kong -- with something delicious, like peanut butter.
-- Work with your dog's habits when planning plantings. Observe how your dog uses your yard, and plan accordingly. For instance, many dogs consider it their duty to run the fence line, leaving a well-worn trail where many people hope to put flowers. Instead of fighting with your dog, go with his natural instincts. Place your beds and plantings away from the fence line, and let him do his guard-dog patrolling behind those plants.
-- Flush pee spots with water. After your dog relieves himself, flush the spot thoroughly with fresh water. This will dilute the urine and help to prevent the yellow spots in the lawn.
-- Redirect digging. Some breeds were developed to dig, and expecting them not to indulge in it is unfair. Give your dog a dig zone. While hardly clean fun, it is good fun, especially for dogs who are happiest with their noses in the dirt and their paws flying. In areas you want untouched, you can keep many dogs from digging if you keep them exercised, limit their access to dirt, and make the digging experience unpleasant. Sometimes, putting the dog's own stools in the hole and covering them with dirt deters them. Many dogs won't dig if their own mess is under the surface.
-- Put special plants in safer places. Raised beds and hanging planters are the place to put your most precious plants. In borders, put the plants that can take being stepped on in front. What are some dog-friendly plants? Mint is a good one. This plant is nearly indestructible and greets each assault with a wave of cool mint smell. Some lilies are tough enough to be stomped or sat on, as well, and your gardening center may have suggestions for others that are dependable growers in your region.
Dogs don't know a wisteria from a weed, and they never will. That's why it's up to you not to leave them unattended around plants you want left alone. When you leave for work, limit your dog's space for his safety and to protect your plants. Most of a dog's time alone is spent sleeping anyway, so he doesn't need to have the entire run of the house and yard. Outings -- for jogging, walking, fetch or swimming -- should be done with your supervision.
If your dog is allowed in your yard under your supervision only, the chance of his digging or chewing is just about nil -- you can stop him before the damage is done. And you can enjoy your beautiful yard together.
Is there a fix for fur-pulling?
Q: Our cat has been pulling his hair out in chunks for the last two years. He now has bald spots. We took him to the vet, and they gave us medicine that didn't help. He began pulling out his hair when our dog got cancer and died. Could this be related? We have three other cats, so I can't imagine he's bored, and they all get along pretty well. What can we do to stop this behavior? -- J.M., via e-mail
A: Fur-pulling can become an obsessive-compulsive disorder in cats, one that starts as a coping mechanism in response to stress. Your cat may have started the fur-pulling to lessen the stress of losing his dog pal.
You mention the fur-pulling started when your dog was dying with cancer and finally died two years ago. The stress of not knowing what was happening and not knowing what to do could be a reason why your cat starting pulling out his fur. Your cat was unable to control the cause of the stress, but he could control the fur-pulling. When your dog died, the social dynamics in the household changed, and your cat may have lost confidence and continues to be stressed by it.
We understand how stressful it can be for many cats to ride in the car and to be at the veterinary hospital, especially if the cat expects scary and painful things to happen. However, getting a thorough veterinary exam with diagnostic testing is important. Fur-pulling can indicate a physical discomfort or stress, a hormone imbalance, a neurologic problem or other medical issue. We recommend ruling out allergies and skin infection. Your veterinarian can recommend a hypo-allergenic diet and a specialist for a complete dermatological workup to rule out allergies and skin disease. A fresh start with a veterinary specialist or a house-call vet may be easier for you and your cat.
Once you determine your cat is healthy and comfortable, the question becomes whether or not the fur-pulling is interfering with your cat's quality of life. If your cat's fur-pulling is at the expense of other normal cat activity, we urge you to get help from a veterinary behaviorist. On the other hand, if the cat is acting normally and not pulling fur all day long every day, then a reasonable decision is to simply let it go. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp, AnimalBehavior.net
(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." Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Pet-food companies report strong sales
-- The pet-food industry has lived up to its reputation of being recession-resistant, with U.S. sales up 6.4 percent to $5.9 billion in 2008, according to PetFood Industry magazine. Sales were also up for the first quarter of 2009.
-- Nobody has broken out of the Idaho State Correctional Institution in 20 years. Prison officials like to think a hard-nosed corps of sentries with names like Cookie, Bongo and Chi Chi had something to do with that. According to The Associated Press, this institution is the only state prison in the United States to use snarling, snapping sentry dogs to patrol its perimeter. In a program that began in 1986, 24 mean dogs roam the space between the inner and outer chain-link fences by themselves 24 hours a day. Get close to the fence, and they'll lunge at you with bared fangs. Set foot in their space, and they'll attack. The animals themselves are former death row inmates -- dogs deemed too dangerous to be pets.
-- Trustees of Leona Helmsley's estate say they're giving $136 million to charity -- with just $1 million going to the dogs. Helmsley had left her multibillion-dollar hotel and real estate empire entirely to dog-related charities. But a judge ruled that trustees for the Leona M. Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust had sole authority to decide which charities benefit from her estate.
-- An animal-rights activist has become the first domestic terrorism suspect named to the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list. Daniel Andreas San Diego, a computer specialist from Berkeley, Calif., is wanted in connection with two bombings in 2003. San Diego is the 24th person on the list, according to USA Today. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Some parrots can be taught to 'go'
With patience and consistency, many birds can be taught to relieve themselves on command, in a place of your choosing. Young birds seem to pick up the skill most quickly and reliably, but you can sometimes teach an older bird new tricks, too.
Start by observing your bird, noting the times of day he's most likely to relieve himself and the body language he uses just before, such as wagging his tail feathers. Pick your desired command. "Go potty" or "hurry up" will do, as will anything, just as long as you're consistent.
When you see your bird getting ready to go or you know it's the usual time he does (such as first thing in the morning), ask him onto your hand and hold him over a lined wastebasket, newspaper, paper plate or whatever "poop zone" you've chosen. Give your potty command and praise him when he obeys -- even though the response is just a coincidence at first, of course.
The larger the bird, the longer the time he can "hold it." Budgies and cockatiels aren't good for much more than 15 to 20 minutes, tops, while large parrots can hold it for several hours or more. Be aware that no bird can ever be expected to be perfectly reliable: Sometimes a bird just has to go. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Rabbits hop to popularity
When it comes to small mammals as pets, rabbits are the most popular, followed by hamsters and guinea pigs. All small mammals are common children's pets, but most have considerable followings among adults as well. Among those households with small mammals as pets, here's how the animals rank in popularity (more than one answer allowed):
Rabbit 43 percent
Hamster 36 percent
Guinea pig 20 percent
Mouse/rat 8 percent
Ferret 7 percent
Gerbil 5 percent
Chinchilla 4 percent
Source: American Pet Products Association
Cigarettes a hazard to a pet's health, too
Everyone knows cigarette smoking is dangerous, but what about cigarette eating? Nicotine poisoning is a real concern anywhere a pet may find cigarettes, cigarette butts, chewing tobacco, or even nicotine gum or patches.
The toxic dose for nicotine in pets is 20 milligrams to 100 milligrams. A cigarette contains 9 milligrams to 30 milligrams of nicotine, and a cigarette butt contains about 25 percent of the nicotine of the original cigarette, despite its deceptively small amount of tobacco. (Smoking seems to concentrate some of the nicotine in the tail end of the cigarette.)
Some good news: One of the first things nicotine does in the body is induce vomiting, which may save the pet's life. Still, if you think your pet has eaten cigarettes or other tobacco products, call your veterinarian right away.
And as always, the best medicine is preventive: Watch what your pets get into. -- Dr. Marty Becker
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.