Universal Press Syndicate
Biting, destructiveness, noisiness, house-soiling -- these problems can be more of a threat to a pet than a disease such as cancer. That's because too often behavior problems are eventually "solved" by getting rid of the pet, a solution that's often a dead end for the animal.
Even when people refuse to give up on their pets, behavior problems can mean a lifetime of misery. "Bad" pets may spend their lives locked up, locked out or punished in ways that reflect the frustration and ignorance of their owners but do nothing to solve the problems. It's safe to say that neither side realizes the full benefits of the human-animal bond in such sad situations.
It doesn't have to be that way. While some behavior problems aren't fixable, most can be. To accomplish such change, though, you have to be prepared to put some time into changing the situation. Quick-fix, half-hearted efforts are doomed from the start.
The first rule of solving any behavioral problem is to make sure it's not a medical problem. The cat who won't use the litter box may be struggling with an infection that makes urination painful. A dog who snaps when his ears are touched may be suffering from chronic infections. Situations such as these need to be accurately diagnosed and completely treated with the help of your veterinarian before any retraining begins.
When your pet is healthy, your veterinarian can still be of use. While few veterinarians have the training or knowledge to help solve behavior problems, the numbers of those who do are growing -- and your vet may be one of them. Even those veterinarians who have no interest in behavior work can refer you to someone who can help. Loosely grouped under the term "behaviorist," these pet professionals can help fix what ails the relationship you have with your pet.
Consulting a behaviorist can save you 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 a new sofa. And aggravation? You understand that one if you're living with a problem pet.
Be aware, however, that animal behavior is an unregulated field -- anyone can call himself a behaviorist.
One of the best choices is a veterinarian who's board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. These professionals have gone through years of study in animal health and behavior and have done a residency in the field as well. A plus with this group: They have access to medications being used now to help correct behavior problems.
People with other academic degrees (such as psychology) and people who've picked up their knowledge in the field also make themselves available for advising on behavior. Some can be excellent, so don't let the lack of a DVM or any degrees at all 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"?).
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 form the consulting takes varies. Some behaviorists consult by phone; others take appointments with or without your pet, while still others make house calls. All these can work, depending on the problem and the pet.
If you're in a situation where your pet is causing problems in your home -- and certainly if you're thinking of getting rid of your pet -- don't delay: Ask your veterinarian for help, or call your closest college of veterinary medicine.
Tips for pictures: Take lots of them
Q: You always have such great pictures with your articles. Do you folks take them? Can you offer some tips? -- U.D., via e-mail
A: Most of the images with our articles are taken by professional photographers -- and it shows! That said, now and then we'll use a picture I've taken. With a houseful of pets and decades of practice, I can proudly say that I now take a pretty decent pet picture. Here are a few tips that might help you:
-- Take lots and lots (and lots) of pictures. Digital cameras have changed everything. I bet I take 200 images for every one I like, and delete the rest. Not only does it not cost me anything but time, but with practice, I keep getting better.
-- Head outdoors. Natural light (early morning is best) avoids the dreaded red-eye shot, where the flash makes your beautiful pet come out as a monster. Taking pictures outside gives your new pet a more natural, healthy look.
-- Get down and get close. If you want a good pet picture, you're going to have to go where your pet is -- on the ground. Shoot from below your pet's eye level and zoom in as closely as you can for good detail. If getting down isn't something your back will tolerate, bring the pet up. Have someone hold him, which will have the added benefit of keeping him still, or put him on an elevated surface, such as on an outdoor table.
-- Watch your backgrounds. I have a wonderful picture of my dear old dog Lance, gone more than a decade now. He's freshly groomed. He's standing perfectly. His ears are up, his mouth smiling, his eyes bright. And he has a utility pole that seems to be growing out of his back. Be sure you have an uncluttered background, so your pet can shine.
-- Be creative. If you want your pet to kiss your children, do as the pros do: Put a little butter on your children and let the pet kiss it off. Another professional's trick: Just before taking the picture, rattle keys, squish a squeaky toy or throw something in the air. Your pet will come to attention, splendidly. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Dog's guilty look the owner's fault
-- Your dog may look guilty, but he's not feeling that way. A study published in the journal Behavioral Processes had dog owners tell their pets to leave a tasty treat alone before leaving the room. Researchers found that whether or not the dog showed the "guilty" look did not depend on whether the dog had eaten the treat or not, but rather on whether the owner had scolded the dog. Dogs who didn't eat the treat but were scolded by their owners displayed the "guilty" look more than dogs who had actually eaten the treat, but their owners did not believe they had, and thus didn't get scolded. The research suggests that "guilt" seen in dogs is not really an effect of the unwanted behavior that the dog performed, but is instead a reaction to the owner's behavior.
-- Goldfish are able to avoid running into the side of the fishbowl not because of their ability to see the edge of the tank, but by using a pressure-sensing system. So says "The Book of General Ignorance" by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson.
-- Not only can primates imitate human actions such as sweeping or doing the laundry, but they can also imitate sounds from other species, like whistling. Bonnie, an orangutan at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., has been whistling for about 20 years, although she was never directly taught to do so, but learned from imitation. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
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.
Seeds a treat for parrots, not a diet
While most pet parrots love seeds, they're not a good regular diet. All-seed diets will make most birds sick over time, denying them the nutrients they need and weakening them to the point where other diseases find it easy to take hold.
The trend in recent years has been toward pelleted diets, and pet birds are healthier than ever before as a result. Pelleted diets are readily available from many reputable manufacturers and can be purchased from any good pet store or from many veterinarians who work with birds. Ask your bird's veterinarian for a recommendation that's best for your parrot.
Pelleted food is a blend of grains, seeds, vegetables, fruits and various protein sources. Manufacturers mix the ingredients and then either bake and crumble them or extrude them, ending up with pellets of a proper size for any given species (large pellets for large birds, small pellets for small birds).
Pelleted foods should be the foundation of your bird's diet, but they're not enough. Your bird also needs a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with other "people foods" such as pasta, eggs, breads, rice and unsalted nuts in their shells.
In addition to rounding out a commercial diet, fruits, nuts and other people food gives your bird something to keep him occupied and entertained. To that end, leave fresh food as "au naturel" as possible. Clean it, of course, but make your bird work some to eat it. Just be sure pellets and fresh water are available at all times.
And what about seeds? Use them for training. Birds love them and will work for these treats as a reward. -- Dr. Marty Becker
BY THE NUMBERS
Weird pet names
Employees of Veterinary Pet Insurance (www.petinsurance.com) scanned the names of the company's nearly half-million insured pets and then voted on the 10 most unusual names for dogs and cats. Here's what they came up with:
1. Doogie Schnauzer, M.D.
2. Sergeant Sausage
3. I Am Spartacus
5. Angus Sir Loin
6. Bam-Bam Noodle Butt
7. Mouse Meat
9. Kanye East
10. Inspector Foo Foo
1. Snag L. Tooth
2. Clawed Monet
3. Velvet Elvis
4. Eartha Kitty
5. Blue Man Chew
7. Thurston Picklesworth III
10. Polly Prissypants
Nontoxic efforts keep fleas fleeing
Flea-control products have gotten so good in recent years that it might be easy to forget one of the best ways to fight fleas doesn't cost anything more than your time, and it uses appliances you likely already have: a washing machine and a vacuum cleaner.
Washing pet bedding on a weekly basis, along with thoroughly vacuuming areas where pets hang out, is a great way to rid your house of any adult fleas, larvae or eggs. An added benefit: Keeping pet areas clean keeps pets cleaner.
Just make sure any pet beds you buy are completely washable or have zip-off covers that are. -- Gina Spadafori
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.