By Liz Palika
Universal Press Syndicate
The pleasure we get from spending time with our dogs is one of the reasons we have them. But as much as we would love to take them everywhere, the reality for most of us is that our dogs spend a lot of time alone.
Dogs aren't really designed to stay by themselves, and many times they get themselves into trouble. One helpful tool for avoiding problems is to leave your dog with a treat-dispensing toy to keep your pet busy when you go.
One of the original treat-dispensing toys, and a regular presence in my dogs' toy box, is the Kong (www.kongcompany.com). The toy is made of a hard rubber, and although I've heard of a few dogs destroying the Kong, most do not. The Kong can be filled with dog treats, kibble, peanut butter, soft cheese or some commercial treats made expressly for this toy. Some dog owners fill the Kong with peanut butter and then freeze it. The Kong works because it takes time for the dog to get all the treats out from inside it.
Another treat-dispensing toy that has been on the market for a while is the Buster Cube (www.bustercube.com). This is a cube-shaped hard plastic toy with a hole in one side. Treats or kibbles are put in the cube, and then a dial around the hole can be adjusted to let a few treats out at a time or just one. The dog has to flip the cube to get the treats out. I always have a Buster Cube around, but I have to admit the Buster Cube can be noisy if the dog is flipping it around on concrete or a tile floor.
Busy Buddy makes a toy called Twist'N Treats (www.premier.com). The top and bottom can be unscrewed so that treats can be placed inside. Then the difficulty of getting the treats out can be adjusted by how closely together you tighten the top and bottom. While testing this toy, I found my Australian shepherds figured it out very quickly, got the treats and then got bored. But my business partner at Kindred Spirits Dog Training, Petra Burke, said her Pomeranian, Keely, loves this toy and continues to play with it even after the treats are long gone.
Busy Buddies also makes Tug-a-Jug. Ever put a handful of treats in a plastic water bottle for your dog to play with? This toy is along those lines, except that the bottle is too hard for the dog to chew up, unlike the water bottle. In addition, there is a stopper in the Tug-a-Jug bottle, a hard rubber rope with a larger end inside the jug. If the stopper is pulled out away from the bottle, no treats come out. If the stopper is pushed into the bottle, treats will come out. Bashir, my 5-year-old Aussie, loved this toy. He could think about it, puzzle it out, carry it around and get the treats. He worked at it for an hour and a half before I took it away so I could try it with another dog. However, Petra's Aussie, Logan, chewed off the rubber stopper. This could have been dangerous had he swallowed it.
Designer Nina Ottosson (www.nina-ottosson.com) offers the Dog Pyramid. Treats go inside, and a hole is near the top on one side to release the treats. The dog needs to knock the toy over to get the treats, but once knocked over, the toy always rights itself because of the heavy bottom. One of Kindred Spirits' trainers, Connie, has a 12-week-old puppy named Peaches. Connie said she began giving Peaches her morning kibble in the toy. It kept Peaches occupied so Connie could begin her day.
One of my dogs' favorite treat-dispensing toys is a kiddie pool. I get an inexpensive plastic kids' pool and fill it with water. I then drop a big block of ice in the middle as well as a handful of baby carrots and apple slices. The dogs can drink, play, splash, chew on the cube of ice and dunk for the treats.
When you introduce a new toy, always do so while you're there to supervise. Some dogs can be amazingly inventive or destructive, and you don't want your pet to hurt himself on a new toy.
(Pet Connection contributor Liz Palika owns Kindred Spirits Dog Training in the San Diego area. She's also the author of many top-selling books on pet care.)
Helping cats deal with new Great Dane
Q: I am desperately trying to integrate a 3-year-old Great Dane rescue into our home with two very spoiled and loved cats. As long as the Dane can't get to them, they are OK, but she chases them if she can. I don't want to give any of them up, but I am concerned about the safety of our cats. Any advice? -- E.W., via e-mail
A: Getting dogs and cats to get along is easier if you start a "no-chasing cats" rule from day one and know how to enforce it. Since your dog has already experienced a few cat-chasing thrills, you'll need to prepare yourself for a longer haul in convincing all parties to get along.
Start by giving your cats a room that is off-limits to your dog. A dog-free sanctuary will help the cats accept the Dane while you are working on improving the dog-cat relationship. Put the cats' food, water, beds, litter and scratching posts in this room. Add a Feliway diffuser -- this product is a feline pheromone that helps cats relax.
After the cats are happy in their temporary sanctuary, you can move on to the next step and open the sanctuary door. Keep the Dane with you on a leash and do not allow her to enter the cat sanctuary. Teach her to respect this room as off-limits with a sharp "ah-ah" when she begins to cross the threshold. Use the leash to insist.
Over time, your cats will probably venture out of their safe room to see what you are doing. By keeping your Dane on leash, either connected to you or connected to a piece of heavy furniture near you, you can prevent any future cat chases. When the cats are out and you see the dog getting worked up, assume she is thinking about chasing cats. Interrupt her train of thought with that "ah-ah" and then give her something else to think about. Ask her to "sit," and then deliver a tasty chew for her obedience. Praise her "no interest" behavior toward the cats.
Your Dane must learn basic obedience so you can insist she follow your instructions on a daily basis. This will help her understand and obey your house rules. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a dog trainer who makes house calls to help you teach her the basics of canine obedience on- and off-leash in your home.
Be sure you also give your dog enough outdoor exercise and indoor play daily to exhaust her physically and mentally. You don't want your cats to be the best game in town, so offer alternatives.
If you are able to prevent any further chases, give your cats a safe, no-dog place to hang out, and help your Dane learn your house rules, you can achieve your happily ever after canine-feline-human home.
Your cats may never love your Dane, but they will regain their quality of life. You can be sure they will also appreciate you for having their backs until your new dog learns that chasing cats is against your house rules. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp, AnimalBehavior.net
Campaign raising funds to fight canine cancer
-- Cancer in dogs is the No. 1 cause of disease-related death in dogs 2 years of age or older, with one in four dogs dying from cancer. The Morris Animal Foundation (www.morrisanimalfoundation.org) is seeking to raise $30 million for cancer research by 2012. It will use the money to fund prevention studies related to genetics and tests on innovative techniques to save lives and ease suffering, to fund a tumor-tissue bank, and to establish an endowment to continue research for the future. The foundation points out that the research helps people as well as pets.
-- Cats can hear nearly three times more frequencies than humans can. For you technical types, a cat's hearing stops at 80 kilohertz, a dog's at 45 kHz, and a human's at a pathetic 20 kHz. Because cats can rotate their ears and focus each ear independently, they also can hear well from all directions.
-- Earth is home to about 1,000 species of bats, but fewer than 50 species live in North America.
-- A new product called Bowlingual claims to decode your dog's barks and is being released for sale in Japan this month. The product purports to decode a dog's vocalizations into human language and emoticons. The microphone transmits a bark to the handheld monitor, offering translations that its makers say include joy, sadness and frustration.
-- Carl Switzer, most famous for his childhood role as Alfalfa in the "Our Gang" comedies, died in 1959 at the age of 31, shot to death in an argument over a dog. -- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Dog parks thrive on savvy owners
The best candidate for a dog park is a healthy, well-socialized and friendly dog of medium size or larger. Smaller dogs are more easily hurt, and shy ones can be intimidated.
Dogs who are aggressive toward people or other dogs have absolutely no business in a dog park -- no excuses.
Puppies who have not completed their course of vaccinations and haven't been cleared by the veterinarian for outings should also stay clear. That's because you just can't tell the disease status of other canine visitors. And until your pup's immunity is where it should be, you're taking a potentially deadly risk by introducing him to a dog park.
The biggest problem with dog parks is not the dogs, but the people. Some of those problems are caused by people who know better, but other conflicts could easily be prevented with a little knowledge and foresight on the part of dog owners who truly don't know better.
The preparation begins before you ever set foot inside a park with your dog. Don't go in with food (for either you or your dog) or with your dog's favorite toy, since these high-value items can trigger fights. Do go in with lots of cleanup bags, and be sure to use them.
Once inside, don't open a book or get too involved in socializing with the other dog lovers. Your dog needs to be monitored at all times to keep him out of trouble. Don't allow your dog to be bullied, and don't allow your dog to bully others. Sometimes the park mix isn't a good one, and you'll need to take your dog home.
Dog parks work only when people work at them. Be responsible for your dog and help to keep the drive for more dog parks alive. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Younger vets like pet health insurance
The more recently a veterinarian graduated, the more likely he or she is to support the concept of health insurance for pets. So says a survey of veterinarians by the trade publication DVM Newsmagazine:
Approve of pet health insurance Year of vet school graduation
'Pug-nosed' dogs can't take the heat
Dogs with pushed-in "pug-nosed" faces -- boxers, bulldogs, shih tzus and, of course, pugs -- are formally known as "brachycephalic" and come with some special health risks.
Perhaps primary among these is an intolerance to heat, because these dogs don't pant as well as other dogs. A dog with a more conventional face and throat is able to pass air quickly over the tongue through panting. Saliva evaporates from the tongue as air is passed across, and the blood circulating through the tongue is cooled and circulated back to the rest of the body.
In a brachycephalic dog, the extra work required to move the same amount of air causes the airways to become inflamed and swollen. This can lead to a more severe obstruction, distress and further overheating. As a result, these dogs are at high risk for heat stroke and should never be put in a position of being stressed by heat.
These dogs may also present a higher risk during anesthesia, which is why it's important to discuss pre-anesthetic screening and risk-management with your veterinarian before any procedure requiring that your dog be anesthetized. -- 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 email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.