Call them the Finger Crossers, if you will -- those folks who know if their dogs get loose they'll get them back only when conditions are absolutely right: if there isn't another dog to play with, a squirrel to chase or a scent to follow. Or if they're fast or lucky enough to corner them.
If you're one of these dog owners, you may well be in the majority. While "come" is one of the most basic of dog commands, it's probably the one dogs obey the least. While it's true some dogs are naturally more inclined to come when called than others, obedience is not an impossibility for any dog.
Figuring out why your pet won't mind is the first step toward fixing the problem.
Maybe your dog is afraid to come to you. If you're one of those people who have to chase your dog, you may also be someone who isn't very happy when you've finally caught up with him. Screaming at your dog for running away or punishing your pet when you collar him at last is a good way of making sure the next time he gets loose he'll run farther, faster. Wouldn't you?
Being reunited with you should be a positive experience. Never, ever punish a dog for coming to you or for failing to come.
If you're not punishing him, perhaps your dog really doesn't understand what you want. Few people practice the "come" command enough -- or at all. You probably use "sit" a half-dozen times a day, just around the house, but you probably don't use "come" in the house when you want your dog near you. Maybe all you have to do is open the refrigerator. If that's the case, your dog doesn't understand the relationship between the command and the action of coming to you. He just knows if he's sitting in the right place at the right time, you might drop some food.
Or maybe your dog doesn't see why he should listen to you. You may have a dog who believes that what you want is only one of the factors that go into his deciding what he's going to do. A dog who knows what's expected of him and respects you is going to mind you. A dog who thinks you're a dope who couldn't catch a bus is going to treat you like the fool he thinks you are.
If the problems are training and respect, you can fix them both together. Train your dog, work with your dog, and the respect will follow. Teach your dog the "come" command in increments, on a standard 6-foot leash, on progressively longer and lighter lines, and with lots of praise and treats. Practice, not just in formal sessions but in everyday life. And sharpen up all your dog's manners, because they all help reinforce your role as leader. Elicit the help of a trainer if you just don't seem to be getting anywhere.
Should your untrained dog get loose, there are a couple of tricks you can use to catch him. Try to sweet-talk him in with a kneeling, open-arms stance, or run away from him, enticing him to follow -- the chase instinct is very strong in most dogs. Another strategy is to use a command he knows well, like "sit." Once he's planted, you can take him by the collar. (Don't forget to praise for the sit!)
Remember, though, a loose-dog situation is not about obedience -- it's about keeping your dog from becoming road-pizza. If you're one of those Finger Crossers, keep him on leash for his own safety and start training now.
Regular brushing key to catching fur
Q: My calico sheds more than any cat I've ever known. Her hair is everywhere, especially white hair. What can I do to stop this? -- T.A., via e-mail
A: Assuming the fur coat looks healthy -- sleek, shiny and full with no bare patches -- your cat is probably shedding a normal amount, which is to say, constantly.
All pets shed. It's a myth that longhaired pets shed more than shorthaired ones. The former just appear to shed more because the hair they lose is more visible. Your cat's shedding may seem more prolific because much of the fur is white and thus shows easily on any dark-colored piece of clothing.
You can't stop a cat from shedding, nor should you try to. It's a normal process for a healthy cat, in which old fur is replaced by new. You can reduce the impact of shedding by grooming your cat daily. After all, the fur you catch on a brush won't show up on your clothes or furniture. Gentle brushing is also an experience that will strengthen the bond with your pet.
For your shorthaired cat, try a grooming glove. These have nubs to catch the fur while you're petting your cat. A couple of minutes a day will collect a large amount of the loose fur that's ready to be shed. -- Gina Spadafori
Q: Our cat had a problem with pimples on her chin. Our veterinarian asked if we had a plastic dish. When we switched to a ceramic dish, the problem disappeared. Would you please tell others about this? We didn't know. -- L.W., via e-mail
A: Although some feline acne can be triggered by an allergy to plastic, other cats may need other remedies to fix this not uncommon but not serious problem.
Although most classic acne cases occur in cats who are simply not good chin groomers, there are other possibilities, including mites, ringworm and various allergies. As you've done, checking in with the veterinarian will help get to the bottom of the problem. If switching the bowl doesn't work, washing the area frequently may, or medications may be needed to clear things up. -- Dr. Marty Becker
(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" and "The Dr. Oz Show" 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 more. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Bites not likely triggered by breed
-- Circumstances are a more likely indicator of a dog's potential to bite someone than the animal's breed or mix, according to an analysis of bite statistics by the Coalition for Living Safely with Dogs and the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association. Loose dogs, territory-protecting dogs, frightened dogs and dogs involved in fights with another animal were most likely to be involved in biting a person. Most bites in the home were triggered by a dog guarding food or a toy, or biting a visiting friend or relative in a display of territory- or object-guarding. The number of bite incidents roughly correlated with a breed's popularity -- more of a certain kind of dog meant more bites from that kind of dog. Age and gender also played a role, with adolescent male dogs more likely to bite -- and bite more severely -- than older dogs or female dogs. Children were bitten more often than adults.
-- The top two thoroughbred racehorses in North America last year were both female -- Rachel Alexandra, winner of the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes, and Zenyatta, the undefeated winner of every race she has run, including the $5 million Breeders Club Classic. Both horses showed their heels to male competitors easily and often, but the racing industry gave the top award to Rachel Alexandra, naming her Horse of the Year. The two mares are expected to compete against each other for the first time ever in April, in a special edition of the Apple Blossom Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.
-- Birds most likely did not play any part in spreading the H1N1 or the 1918 flu virus, according to research published in the Journal of General Virology. The viruses were injected into chickens, which by the end of 18 days after injection showed neither tissue damage nor signs of the flu. Ducks also showed no response to either strain. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Patience key to getting good pet pics
Taking lots of pictures is one of the keys to successful pet photography. Keeping your camera ready to use is another. Great pet pictures, like great kid pictures, pop up when you don't expect them.
For more formal photo sessions, here are a few tips:
-- Use the right attention-getter. Dogs will react to jingled or thrown keys, or squeaky toys or tennis balls. But try the same thing with a cat, and the only thing you'll get a picture of is the tip of a tail as your pet departs in disgust. Talk sweetly to your cat for a better response, or tease him with a favorite toy. Food is another winner, and it works with both dogs and cats.
-- Use natural light. Available light avoids the dreaded red-eye shot, where the flash makes your beautiful pet come out as a monster. Taking pictures outside also gives your pet a more natural, healthy look. If you must take pictures inside, avoid the reflection by not pointing the flash straight at the animal, or by having the animal look off to the side, at another person (kids are great photo assistants).
-- Come in close. If you want a good picture, you're going to have to go where your pet is. Shoot at just below your pet's eye level and zoom in as closely as you can for good detail.
-- Watch your backgrounds. Think neutral -- a plain wall, not a cluttered cabinet. Think contrast -- light for a dark pet, dark for a light one.
Keep your sessions short -- kids and pets get bored quickly -- and don't forget to keep them fun, with lots of praise all around. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Training with cookies
Almost half of all dog owners responding to a trade group survey said they didn't use any training devices or services at all. Of the remainder, here are the most popular responses:
Treats 37 percent
All other 12 percent
Books 11 percent
Hired professional 9 percent
Whistle 5 percent
No-bark collar 4 percent
Videos 4 percent
Electric fence 3 percent
Clicker 3 percent
Source: American Pet Products Association
Get that puppy into class!
One of the best things you can do to get your puppy off to a good start is to get him into a puppy class. These classes are more about socialization and teaching puppies to pay attention than they are about overtaxing a puppy's short attention span. And that's perfect for a youngster who's just learning about the world around him.
Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation, or check out local pet-supply shops or park and recreation districts. You'll often find puppy classes running nearly year-round, to help catch little problems before they become big ones. -- 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.