WATCH OUT FOR YOUR DOG TO KEEP SWIMMING SAFE AND FUN
Rivers have always been a part of my life. I grew up in Sacramento, Calif., a city that began at the spot where two mighty rivers meet. Such placement has always been a risky business, and the levees that hold the waters in place don't seem strong enough many a year.
But even when the rivers stay where we want them, they're still plenty dangerous -- to swimmers, to boaters and to the dogs who love the water as much as we do.
Most times, some caution on the part of their owners -- not only around rivers, but near any body of water -- would prevent potential problems. The keys to water safety for dogs: prevention, preparedness and awareness.
At this time of year, I always like to remind everyone that yes, dogs drown. And no, they don't know better than to just swim -- even when it's dangerous. You need to look out for your pet.
No dog should be given unsupervised access to a backyard pool or a neighborhood pond or creek. Swimming pools are best fenced off for safety. And if that's not possible, they should be equipped with alarms that sound when the surface of the water is broken by a child or pet falling in. Escape ramps are a great idea, but it's better to prevent pets from getting in unsupervised in the first place.
Prevention also includes teaching your pet what to do when he's in the pool. Dogs don't understand the idea that the steps are on one side only, and they may tire and drown trying to crawl out the other side. If your pet likes to swim, work with him in the pool to help him learn where the steps are, so he can get out easily. Tip: Put contrasting paint or tape on the fence behind the steps to give your dog a visual clue he can count on.
Finally, obedience training is extremely important. Your dog should come when called, even while swimming, so you can call him back before he heads into deeper water or stronger currents. Emergency shortcut: Always carry extra retrieving toys. A dog who's heading out into a dangerous area after a ball or stick can often be lured back to shore with a second item thrown closer in. It's no substitute for training, but it could save your dog's life.
Before letting your dog swim in any natural surroundings, survey the area for safety. Rivers and oceans can change frequently, and an area that was safe for swimming one visit can be treacherous the next. Consider currents, tides, underwater hazards and even the condition of the water. In the late summer, algae scum on the top of standing water can be toxic, producing substances that can kill a pet who swallows the tainted water. When in doubt, no swimming. Better safe than sorry.
One of the best things you can do is to take courses in first aid and CPR for your pets. Many local Red Cross chapters offer these classes, and some veterinarians may also teach them in your community. A dog who's pulled out near death from drowning may be saved by your prompt actions -- if you know what to do.
If your dog isn't much of a swimmer, or is older or debilitated, get him a personal flotation device. These are especially great for family boating trips because most have sturdy handles for rescue if a pet goes overboard.
Last year, I moved from a neighborhood near one river to a little farm closer to another. This year, I'll be extra careful before I let my retriever swim, because I don't know the hazards here yet, and I need to before I throw a stick into the current for the first time.
What do dogs see when
they look in the mirror?
Q: Our dog will sometimes come into the bedroom and startle at the sight of herself in our mirrored closet doors. Sometimes she'll even bark. Other times she takes no notice of her reflection at all. Does she recognize that it's her? Or think it's another dog? -- via Facebook
A: The answer is actually a little more complex. In psychology circles, the mirror test is considered an important evaluation of self-awareness in animals and a sign of the normal development of cognitive skills in children.
Humans are typically 18 months old before they are able to recognize themselves in the mirror. Among animals, only higher primates, dolphins, orcas, elephants and, surprisingly, European magpies are currently known to recognize that what they see in a mirror is a reflection of themselves. Even more interesting, perhaps, is that while pigs show no sign of recognizing their own reflections, they are able to use other information seen in the mirror, such as identifying the location of food placed behind them.
That doesn't necessarily mean other animals aren't intelligent enough to know when they run across other signs of themselves. The animals who "pass" the mirror test rely on vision as their primary sense. When a cat or dog first sees his image in the mirror, he often reacts as if a strange animal suddenly appeared. But when the image doesn't pass the "sniff test," the pet generally decides to ignore it for good.
Animals do recognize their own urine smell, however, as anyone who has ever walked a male dog knows. Checking "pee-mail" and hitting "reply all" with your own scented urine is a priority in any male dog's to-do list. As animals who rely more on their sense of smell than vision, dogs believe that when one contradicts the other, what the nose knows goes, every time. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
prone to problems
-- If you find yourself falling in love with that puppy in the window of a pet shop, or dying to click "Buy me!" on an Internet puppy site, you'd better think again. A study of behavioral problems in these dogs -- which typically come from large-scale commercial breeders known as "puppy mills" -- suggests you'll be buying more than your share of trouble.
The study of more than 2,000 dogs, published recently in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, looked at puppies from commercial sources versus small-scale, home-based breeders. The puppies sold through typical puppy-mill outlets had high rates of behavior problems, including shyness and aggression, and extreme sensitivity to touch. The animals were also harder to house-train.
"Until the causes of the unfavorable differences detected in this group of dogs can be specifically identified and remedied, we cannot recommend that puppies be obtained from pet stores," the study's authors state in conclusion. Veterinarians have long noted higher rates of acute and congenital disease in animals from high-volume sources.
-- Some dogs need their space. That's the message of YellowDogProject.com, which is raising awareness of the meaning of a yellow ribbon on a dog's leash. The ribbons mean a dog may be fearful, aggressive or even too fragile to be pounced on by friendly people or dogs. Sometimes the situation is temporary and the dog is being rehabilitated, either physically or mentally. But sometimes the Yellow Ribbon status is permanent. The website says the concept has been introduced in almost 50 countries. It's based on putting a ribbon on horse's tail, to indicate and animal who may kick. -- 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.