Thursday, November 27, 2008

Toys for Dogs & Cats

I know you're thinking about holiday gift-giving. Dogs and cats are a great part of that. We not only buy things for them but for our friends' companions as well.

I want to take a minute or two to remind you to be careful when buying toys for your pets or others. There is no regulatory group for pet toys. The industry relies on manufacturers to police themselves. That cute little toy you've been admiring may not be the safest thing for your beloved companion. And the way in which you play must also be considered.

Look for loose parts. If you can loosen it, your dog or cat can, too. And if the pet consumes it, disaster may follow with a swallowed toy, or toy part, getting lodged in your pet's throat or intestinal tract. A visit to the veterinarian or emergency veterinary hospital may ensue. And so might an expensive surgery to remove said object.

Dog toys with squeakers can be a real problem if the squeaker isn't secure. Remove the squeaker before the dog or puppies does precisely that and swallows it. Any little piece glued on can be easily removed. Chew toys made like twisted rags can shred and the yarn can be swallowed. They can also get very dirty. They're not a great idea unless they can be used to grab a loose tooth. Supervise all play with this type of toy.

Be careful of feathers on cat toys. They will usually come off and can be swallowed. Mylar cat teasers can cause the equivilent of a paper cut on the cat's mouth if it is caught by the cat at a certain angle. Why take a chance?

Interactive cat toys must be put away between play sessions. Cats can easily get tangled up in the wire or cord or string. Make play sessions with these toys special times for interaction each day instead.

Laser toys shouldn't be on your list. Having had laser surgery on my eye, I can tell you how powerful a laser can be and a rapidly moving dog or cat can easily find the light in their eye while the well-meaning owner is trying to keep up with movement. Opt for another toy instead. You can always use a flashlight if you want to play with a light. But be certain that the game starts with the light coming from a specific place and is "returned" to that specific place when the game ends so your dog or cat doesn't go crazy looking for the light!

If you're buying your cat a new cat tree or scratching post, be certain that it has a solid base and can't be tipped over. Also your cat should be able to stretch out full-length against it.

Dog toys that can be stuffed should have an opening at the other end so it doesn't create a vacuum, allowing the dog's tongue to be caught inside.

Inspect everything! Don't buy anything that looks "iffy." Since there is no overseeing body to ensure safety it's up to you to inspect all toys as you would for a small child.

And remember to stay in the room the first time you give a new toy to your pet. You want to be there in case something goes wrong. If there's a problem, you want to be there, on the spot to intervene. Your pets are depending on you!

Have a wonderful, safe holiday!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thanksgiving and The Family Dog

Ahhh, Thanksgiving. It's coming and so are the guests. And the tempting kitchen smells. Turkey roasting in the oven, potatoes, yams, and the desserts. Apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie. Well, you get the idea and if you're anything like me, you're drooling at the thought. Guess who else is getting excited? Your canine companion.

If you've read my behavior book, "Rover, Get Off Her Leg!" (H.C.I. Communications) you know what dogs are capable of doing during a holiday when those smells are soooo tempting. You know where that turkey can end up and in what condition. And with company coming your dog will have to be on his or her best behavior.

Now is the time to start thinking about your dog's "company manners," his comportment, her etiquette in polite company. Well, truthfully, you should have thought about it sooner but better late than never.

Be sure you feed your dog early in the day. Your dog's daily ration should be divided into two separate meals. One fed at breakfast and the other at dinnertime. Your dog will be eating when you are so there's less temptation to give in to his pitiful glances. Never feed your dog at the table. He should learn early on that he waits politely until the family has finished eating and then he can receive a treat, whether that's in the middle of the afternoon, or in the evening. During the holiday, that treat can be a small piece of turkey. He is not allowed to beg, climb up on the table (yes, dogs do that!) or otherwise cajole family members and guests into giving him food from their plates. Remember that onions are poisonous to dogs so keep those well out of reach. The same for chocolate! And nothing laced with nutmeg....

Your dog should also greet visitors politely, with all four feet on the floor. No jumping up allowed. It's too easy for many dogs to knock Grandma or Grandpa off their feet. While this face-to-face greeting is normal dog behavior, it is not normal human behavior and your dog is living in human society and will need to learn the rules of comportment. Sitting politely and waiting to be acknowledged is optimum. Getting underfoot can be equally hazardous for some family members.

You'll also have to enlist the cooperation of your guests. They can't pet the dog unless he's either sitting or standing quietly and no sneaking food to the dog under the table!

Thanksgiving can be a wonderful holiday or a complete canine disaster. The choice is yours. Start training now with positive reinforcement, setting your dog up to do the right thing so he can be rewarded for it. This will pay dividends in the end, for you and for your dog.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your four-legged family members.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Presidents, Dogs and The Right Stuff

There has been so much talk recently about the president elect's plan to get a puppy for his daughters, and the current president's dog biting a reporter. I promised myself I wouldn't add to the white noise of discussion and yet, here I am. I think it's because I'm frustrated by both situations.

Let's start with the current administration. There's no doubt in my mind that President George and Laura Bush love their Scotties. I don't know how the dogs were trained but I have my suspicions. There were at least two factors coming into play when dog teeth met reporter's hand. First and foremost, it's imperative that everyone know how to properly approach a dog. Never, ever swoop down on a dog and shove your hand at him. This simply isn't prudent. The dog-loving reporter was not dog-savvy. No dog likes anyone to swoop down on him. And you should never reach out to a strange dog. Move slowly. Get down to the dog's level if possible. Always present a strange dog with your closed hand and let him sniff your knuckles. And before you even think about doing any of that, ask if you may pat the dog. The dog's owner or handler will be able to tell you if that's a good idea. You, too, can avoid being bitten.

Add to this the dog breed. The Scottish Terrier is pretty well known for being "dour." Terriers are feisty dogs and the Scottie is no exception. He is, perhaps, not the best choice for a dog who is going to be greeting strangers. Any dog would be hard-pressed to be warm and welcoming all the time when being approached incorrectly by strangers, or even by people he knows. Put the huge press corp on the lawn with cameras, etc. and you have an accident waiting to happen.

Now we have a President Elect who has promised his children a puppy. One child is allergic to dogs and he's saying that he can get a "hypoallergenic" dog. Uh, sorry. There's no such thing and whoever told him this was doing his family and the potential new four-legged family member a great disservice. Dogs who have hair, not fur, are far less likely to cause a problem however the problem lies with the dander, not the hair or fur. To bring home a puppy and then discover that the child is allergic is going to cause a problem not just for the family but for the puppy as well who will be uprooted from his original home and then will be a likely candidate for rehoming after he washes out as First Pet.

Then there was that horrible moment when Obama stated that it wouldn't be a small dog because he wouldn't walk a small dog. Let me state unequivocally that I do not recommend Toy dogs for homes with children despite the plaintive voice of one of the Obama daughters mentioning a "Yorkshire." It's seldom a good match. I say that as someone whose area of expertise is Toy and Small dogs. But the statement that he wouldn't walk a small dog? I have often said, and I'm not the first to say it, that it takes a big man to walk a little dog, is true. It takes a man who is secure in his masculinity, is sure of himself as a person to care only that he has a dog he loves who loves him and those he loves. Size doesn't matter to such men. For those who won't walk a small dog, well, I have said before that those people have a problem that I can't handle.

An issue that is important for every dog, whether in the White House or your house, is training along with socialization. All dogs and puppies must be properly socialized. Crucial to the way in which the dog or puppy will respond to those around him is the way in which he's trained. Aggression begets aggression and training a dog with old, aversive methods will only come back to bite you. Literally. Some of those things may work in the short term but sooner or later the dog will react. Operant conditioning is ideal. Even a child can do it. Literally. And this would be the ideal way to get the children involved with their new dog.

So, how to choose that dog or puppy? A shelter dog would be right for most families but there's less of a chance of finding one who won't cause allergy problems. Better is to find a breed that the child can tolerate and then go to Breed Rescue for that specific breed and give a forever home to a dog who deserves a second chance, who may have been thrown away by his first owner for any one of a myriad of stupid reasons. Whatever they do, I hope for the sake of the dog and the children that the commitment is for the dog's lifetime. And doing it right is having the right stuff.