TEACHING A DOG TO RELAX IN CONFINEMENT IS ESSENTIAL FOR A HAPPY LIFE
There's nothing harder for a young puppy to learn than being alone. Dogs are social animals, just as we are. And when you bring a puppy home you're not only asking him to do something for which he isn't really wired, but also to do it for the first time, under the stressful circumstances of being in the new home.
Under those conditions, you'd scream, too. Especially if past experience had shown you that vocalizing brought your mom and littermates on the run. Alone? Scared? Scream, and you'll be surrounded by help.
And yet, the ability to relax alone is a critical skill for a modern dog. Being able to relax while isolated in a comfortable carrier is essential to riding safely in a car, resting after medical care at the veterinary hospital, and even being cared for away from home by strangers during times of disaster.
On the flip side, dogs who don't learn to stay alone are at higher risk of losing their homes or even their lives.
Veterinary behaviorists call the problem "separation anxiety," and see it in their practices constantly. Some dogs may be capable of learning not to be frantically destructive and noisy when alone through changes in their environment, behavior modification and medications such as Prozac. Others may suffer throughout their lives, even if they stay in their homes.
For all these reasons and more, it's essential to "crate train" a puppy. While crate-training has long been used to shape the equally important behavior we know as "house-breaking," the use of a crate to teach relaxed confinement is just as important.
There's a puppy at my house now, a retriever named Riley. I'm raising him for a couple of months before he goes to live with friends, and that means he's now learning many of his first, most important "grown-up" lessons at my house, including crate-training.
I know some people "cold turkey" a pup when it comes to crate-training, but I don't think that's necessary. While I never open the pen or crate door on a screaming puppy (and thus reward him for the noise), I set him up for a whole lot of "win."
With Riley, as with any young puppy, that means making sure he's tired or has just been fed before being crated, making it more likely he'll sleep.
I make the sessions short, and add a word and a treat to him going in. "Crate!" I say, throwing a toy or treat in and praising him for following the motion to go inside. Before he's ready to wake up, I wake him up and take him out for a walk.
I also alternate between putting him in the crate in my office while I'm working or the pen in the living room while I'm watching TV in the evenings. The pen is harder for him to endure, because it's around the corner from where I sit and he can't see me from there.
I prefer letting him fuss in the pen, since being distracted from a rerun of "The Big Bang Theory" is something I can live with short term. For someone self-employed, however, not being able to work because a puppy is crying is a much bigger deal. Fortunately, the crate in my office is right next to my leg, which means he's "behind bars" and learning, but not particularly isolated.
Like any normal puppy, Riley wants to be where the people and other dogs are. He's learning quickly that that's not always possible. This lesson takes time, and I'm patient.
I know that soon Riley will know that being alone isn't forever, and that's as important a lesson as any dog can learn.
Are 'kiddie pools'
safe for dog play?
Q: Our friends keep a blue plastic pool -- the kind you buy for toddlers -- in the yard for their dog. Is this safe? -- via Facebook
A: Just as it seems that as many "baby" gates are purchased for pets as for children, the ubiquitous "kiddie pool" has thoroughly gone to the dogs as well.
Safe? If used under supervision, with both pool and water kept clean, then absolutely.
These small pools made of hard plastic are perfect for dogs of all sizes, providing a tummy-cooling wallow for an overheated retriever or a safe way to wade for a swim-challenged pug. (Be sure to choose the hard-plastic variety; the inflatable kind doesn't hold up well to dog claws.)
Kept clean and stored in a covered spot for winter, a kiddie pool will last for many seasons. Just remember in the summer that standing water is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and toxic algae, so rinse it clean after every use and refill it with fresh water every time.
If you want something bigger and sturdier, check out the selection at your nearest feed store. Hard-plastic stock tanks are excellent pools for dogs (and yes, for kids as well). Be sure to keep it small enough that you can dump it out regularly for cleaning and refilling. At my house, a Rubbermaid 50-gallon stock tank works perfectly for canine use and shows no signs of wear after several seasons. -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
House bill seeks fix
for mobile pet care
-- The Veterinary Medicine Mobility Act of 2013 (H.R. 1528) seeks to fix an unintended bug in the Controlled Substances Act that marks mobile veterinarians as lawbreakers because they carry drugs used to treat animal pain and end suffering. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had historically looked the other way when it came to veterinarians doing the work they need to do. The American Veterinary Medical Association is asking pet owners to contact their members of Congress to ask for support. As it stands, the law puts at risk providing veterinary care for animals in homes (including the practice of at-home euthanasia), on farms and in disaster-relief situations. It may also keep mobile spay-neuter clinics from rolling.
-- While you can't -- and probably never will be able to -- deduct your pet as you can a human dependent, you actually may be able to deduct some animal-related expenses when figuring out your taxes. The San Jose Mercury-News notes that a landmark 2011 ruling allows people who foster pets for 501(c)3 shelters or rescue groups to deduct their related expenses. People with service animals or working dogs can also deduct costs related to the care of those animals. If you need to move because of your job, the cost of moving your pets may be deductible as part of your moving expenses. Check with a tax-preparation professional to see what deductions apply in your case.
-- Four men in the Miami area have attracted attention for a novel building project: They're replicating Noah's Ark. The Miami Herald reports the men say the project will cost $1.5 million, and they hope it will serve as a tourist attraction on the outskirts of Hialeah. While Noah built his ark without official intervention, local officials say the project needs a building permit. The lower deck has been completed, but the time frame for completion is flexible, to say the least. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
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.