3 things to teach your dog: Say please, calm focus and follow the leader
By Mikkel Becker
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Training is more than teaching a reliable sit, stay and come. It builds and improves your relationship with your dog; challenges his brain so he doesn’t get bored and decide to find his own fun; and enhances communication. Incorporating these fun training exercises into your daily routine can help you get started creating that bond.
-- Say please. Who doesn’t remember asking for something as a kid and having your mom say, “What’s the magic word?” Dogs can learn to say please, too, whether they’re asking for attention, food, treats or play, or saying hi to a canine or human friend.
Before they learn to say please, dogs ask for what they want by whining, barking, scratching, pacing, circling and jumping. It’s irksome, right? And even negative attention -- yelling “No!” for instance -- can reinforce the behavior. For a dog, that’s better than being ignored.
You can build better behavior and improve communication by teaching your dog one or more “say please” behaviors, such as “four on the floor,” with the dog sitting, standing or lying down; looking at you calmly; or responding to their name. The goal is to teach dogs to respond with one of these behaviors before being reinforced with something they enjoy: meals, treats, toys, play or attention.
The name game teaches dogs to tune in when their name is called, alerting them to pay attention to what’s said next. To play the name game, say the dog’s name once, following up immediately with a favorite treat or activity. Think tossing a favorite toy or getting out the leash to signal a walk.
If your dog doesn’t snap to attention when he hears his name, increase his interest by using a high-pitched, happy voice or inviting body language such as patting your leg, crinkling a treat bag or using cues such as putting on walking shoes and heading toward the door. Play the name game at random throughout the day, as well as at mealtimes before setting down the food bowl when he’s waiting politely.
-- Calm focus. If you meditate or do yoga, you know how great you feel afterward and how it can help you relax and focus your mind. Your dog can learn those same skills with Doga Dog Stance, a deep-breathing exercise that extends the benefits of decreased heart rate, lowered blood pressure and feelings of well-being.
Doga Dog Stance has three components:
1. Eyes focused on handler to encourage calm concentration.
2. Ears up and facing forward in a confident manner.
3. Mouth closed to promote deeper breathing through the nose.
Ideally, the dog is in a settled position, such as sit or down, to reinforce greater relaxation, but a balanced standing position works, too. Your dog may not naturally perform all three elements at once, but by practicing each component separately, you can eventually link them together so that they form a complete behavior.
-- Follow the leader. This is a great way to teach your dog to walk beside you without pulling and to pay attention to where you’re going. Start by practicing off-leash in a low-distraction area such as down your hall indoors or in your fenced backyard. Reward your dog for moving to your side (left or right is fine) on her own, or lure her in place with a treat or toy. Then move forward, encouraging your dog to follow. Any time your dog looks in your direction or stays next to you, shoulder aligned to your leg, reward with a treat to signal that being near you is a great place to be. Keep your movements interesting by stopping frequently or changing direction so your dog’s attention is on where you might move next.
How to choose
a healthy kitten
Q: We want to get a kitten -- there are so many in the shelter right now. What should we look for to make sure we choose a healthy one?
A: It is kitten season. Here are some tips on choosing a healthy baby.
Look for overall good health and vitality: a kitten who’s sleek and solid, not too thin and not too chubby. Kittens with ribs showing or a pot belly may be suffering from malnutrition or internal parasites. Both are fixable, but they may be external signs of poor overall health.
Speaking gently and caressing softly, go over each kitten’s entire body from nose to tail. Pay special attention to the following areas:
-- Fur and skin. Skin should be clean, covered with a glossy fur coat. Part the hairs and look for signs of fleas. A heavy load of them could signal that the kitten is anemic.
-- Ears. They should look clean inside with only a small amount of wax. Head shaking and dark buildup resembling coffee grounds are signs of ear mites. They’re treatable but easily spread to other pets, so be aware that they may all need treatment.
-- Eyes. Look for clear, bright eyes without runny discharge.
-- Nose. It should be clean and slightly moist, with no discharge.
-- Mouth. Gums should be a healthy pink, with no redness at the base of the teeth. Teeth should be white and free of tartar buildup. Coughing, sneezing and difficulty breathing are signs of serious illness.
-- Tail. The area around the tail should be clean and dry, with no fecal material stuck to it.
As soon as you get your new kitten, even if she looks healthy, take her to the veterinarian for a checkup. It should be the beginning of a beautiful friendship for all of you. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Cats get acne:
What to know
-- Cats can get acne. It occurs when the outer layer of skin produces too much of a protein called keratin. The excess keratin can become trapped in hair follicles, forming blackheads. Blackheads can become infected with bacteria and form pimples, just like the ones humans get. Your veterinarian can help get your cat's chin cleared up. First, keep the chin clean, and resist the urge to squeeze any blemishes. Your veterinarian may prescribe a medicated cream, ointment or gel, and may also recommend omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Some feline acne cases are caused by an allergy to plastic, so your veterinarian may also suggest switching to ceramic or stainless steel food and water dishes and keeping them scrupulously clean by washing in warm, soapy water after each use.
-- At its most basic, a parrot’s beak consists of two hard structures, the upper and lower mandibles, along with an amazingly agile and strong tongue. Beaks are remarkably well-designed for cracking, crushing, prying or otherwise destroying the protective coatings around many of the foods parrots like to eat. Like everything else on a creature designed for flight, the beak is surprisingly lightweight considering its strength -- a hard shell of constantly growing material (similar to that found on antlers) placed over a hollow, bony structure. If a beak were made of solid bone, its weight would probably force a bird to spend his life on the ground -- and on his nose.
-- Want to see clips of cats throughout recorded history? Enter the word “cat” into the search field at British Pathe (britishpathe.com), an archive of old newsreels ranging from as early as 1910 to the swinging ‘60s. You’ll find cat shows, black cats auditioning for a film, cat artist Topsy, cat shelters, cats mothering chicks, cats befriending other animals and more. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.