EXERCISE, SUPERVISION AND REDIRECTION WILL KEEP YOUR LAWN FREE OF HOLES
Over the Labor Day weekend, a puppy joined my family. While he's still pretty small, he has a lot of growing to do, especially if he's to help fill the hole in my heart left by the death of my 16-year-old Sheltie, Drew.
The transition from a very old dog -- Drew was managed with daily fluids and medicine for kidney failure a year before his passing -- to a lively young puppy can be jarring. Drew had been a well-mannered adult since the Clinton administration, and young Ned has a normal puppy streak of naughty.
Which is why I wasn't really prepared when I came upon a hole in the backyard clearly dug by Ned's little paws. With a puppy, it's pretty easy to catch and correct unwanted behavior, but it's not impossible even with a grown dog. As with any behavior, you have to get to the root of the problem before you can come up with a fair approach to minimizing the damage.
Like many behaviors people find troubling, digging is natural for dogs, with any number of triggers driving the activity. Among them:
-- Wanderlust. Some dogs, especially unneutered males, have a strong desire to dig their way out of the yard, especially when the breeze carries the enticing scent of a female in heat.
-- Prey drive. Subterranean wildlife can be irresistible to some dogs, especially to terriers or terrier mixes -- breeds developed to dig vermin from their lairs.
-- Need for shelter. A well-dug den can keep a dog cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Although any breed or mix can show an interest in making a den, the behavior is more common in breeds such as huskies and malamutes.
-- Recreation. Digging is just plain fun. This is Ned's motivation, I'm pretty sure.
-- Excess energy and boredom. This combination is either directly responsible or a contributing factor in most canine behavior problems.
The trick to having a nice yard and a happy dog is to do what you can to eliminate the triggers for digging, and then take your pet's needs into account when planning your landscaping. Neutering can greatly reduce the desire to wander. If wildlife's a problem, contact your local agricultural extension for tips on how to get the pests to give your yard a skip. And make sure your pet has the shelter he needs to stay comfortable no matter the weather.
Every dog needs an exercise program, with the emphasis on heart-thumping aerobic interludes, such as a daily run or a game of fetch. If you keep your pet well exercised, he'll be less likely to indulge in destructive behaviors. A tired dog is always a good dog! Some trainers suggest giving dogs an area where it's OK to dig, and training them to use it. This is an especially good strategy for dogs who just love to dig.
The final tip? Design your yard for compromise. Make a less visible part of the yard a dog-friendly, free-dig zone, and limit your pet to that area when you can't be there to supervise. Provide safe chew toys to keep him occupied, such as peanut butter-stuffed Kongs. Discourage digging in off-limits areas by filling in holes and covering them with chicken wire and large rocks.
If you address the underlying issues that cause digging and then allow your dog the opportunity to do some of what comes naturally in an area that's acceptable to you both, you'll find that it's indeed possible to have a yard you can be proud to show off.
Ned seemed pretty easily distracted and pretty happy to gnaw on a chew toy rather than continue with his digging. But if he shows signs of getting a real kick of the excavations, I'll be setting him up with an area where he can dig in with my approval.
Don't give in to
demands of kitten
Q: A few months ago, we adopted new kitten from the shelter. We are not inexperienced pet owners. My husband and I both grew up with animals, and we've had many pets during our 32-year marriage. The problem? The kitten is very noisy. She follows us everywhere and has an "opinion" on everything. If we don't pet her or feed her, she gets worse. How can we get her to pipe down? -- via Facebook
A: Some cats are chattier than others. Indeed, "talkativeness" is an adored trait in the Siamese and other so-called Oriental breeds. If your kitten has a parent who's one of these breeds, then to a certain extent, you're just going to have to live with vocalization.
Some of the noisiness of a demanding cat is actually trained into the pet by people. If you accommodate her every time she demands to be fed, then you've taught her that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, even in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn. If you think your cat's chatty behavior is something you've taught her, then you can try some retraining.
Start by resolving not to give in to her demands -- and I do mean resolve. If you ignore her yowling for a while and then give in, you've taught her that all she needs to do to get her way is to make more noise, not less. If you ignore the behavior completely, she'll stop using it to get her way.
Be aware, though, that this kitten is likely chattier than the norm. You can minimize some of her demanding behavior through retraining her, but you'll also have to do some retraining of yourself to learn to appreciate (or at least tolerate) her noise. You've made it through 32 years of marriage, which always involves a certain amount of acceptance and compromise. Use these skills with your cat, and you'll be fine.
Funny thing: In reading your question I found myself wishing my own cat were a little more outgoing. Ilario is a very large, long-haired orange tabby, but he's so reclusive, many visitors to my house never see or hear him at all. -- Gina Spadafori
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A year after tragedy,
Ohio bans big exotics
-- A year after the release and subsequent killing of dozens of tigers, lions, wolves and bears from a private compound in Zanesville, Ohio, the state is poised to become one the strictest in the keeping of exotic pets. Owners of such animals have until Nov. 5 to register their animals with the state's department of agriculture, and a complete ban on owning such animals goes into effect Jan. 1, 2013. The few animals captured alive after the tragedy were sent to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, and later were ordered returned to the widow of the man who released the animals before killing himself.
-- In the wake of a disaster, animals show levels of stress that may make re-adapting to family life difficult, according to a study of pets rescued from the devastated city of Fukushima following the earthquake and tsunami. Scientists noted higher than normal levels of the stress hormone cortisol in dogs rescued from the area, and found that the animals seemed slow to form new companionship bonds. The study's lead author, Dr. Miho Nagasawa of Azabu University, likened the symptoms to post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
-- Alabama's veterinary medical board voted down regulatory changes that opponents said would have shut down the state's four nonprofit spay-neuter clinics after public protest. Some vets felt that medical care was being compromised by the high number of surgeries in the clinics -- up to 50 a day by a single veterinarian. Proponents of the clinics argued that the great danger was leaving animals free to breed in a state that reportedly kills 100,000 pets a year for population control. The regulations were proposed after a law with similar language was defeated in the state legislature. -- Dr. Marty Becker
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 affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.