Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pet peeves

New year's resolutions to fix some bad critter behaviour? Make sure to consult a veterinarian or trainer first

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It's time to lick bad habits in 2012. January is traditionally the month when people want to change things they don't like in their lives. But how many of us tackle the things our pets do to bother us?

My husband would. He embraces this time of year with annoying fervour. He starts nagging the family in November with, "We have to talk about our goals." By December, he gets anxious. He works on lists that he not-so-subtly leaves on the dining room table. They reference everything from getting our kids to make their beds to ensuring someone brushes the cat daily. It would be easier to make a list of what he wants our family to continue doing.

When we were in Edmonton for Christmas, his obsession with resolutions was particularly difficult to avoid. He'd ambush me with his advice in the car where I couldn't escape. Everything from organizing the laundry room to getting the kids to do the daily backyard dog doo-doo cleanup was on his agenda. I felt like a dog caught in a car with a smoker and thought, "If only I could bite him maybe he'd stop."

On the second day of my vacation, I realized he wasn't alone in wanting changes. Friends and family came to me to solve their pet problems. One of my nieces consulted me about new treatments for claw removal and whether they were humane. "I won't do it unless it's humane, but I can't stand my cat's clawing," she said. "She's ruining my furniture."

Another request came at a party. A friend's five-year-old Irish wolfhound refused to sit. "She is a wonderful family pet," my friend said, "but she has no interest in being trained." The dog is huge and looks like she wouldn't move unless a bomb went off under her. I wanted to lie to my buddy and say, "Sitting's overrated," simply because I didn't have enough time or body armour to tackle that training project. Instead, I advised him to consult the breeder and determine if there was a good trainer who specializes in that kind of dog.

I heard more complaints. "She doesn't clean the box... no wonder the cat goes elsewhere," griped a cousin. I replied: "Cats do need a clean box. Have you tried one of those automatic cleaners?" Sensing this was more a spousal spat, I excused myself quickly.

Another friend longed for advice on getting a new dog. She and her boyfriend moved in together and are always busy. They travel nearly every month, work shifts and have no backyard. He wants a large dog and she a small pup. I wanted to tell them to get a hamster. Instead, I advised them to go to their local shelter and discuss their lifestyle with volunteers who can tell them to get a hamster.

The most interesting request for pet advice came from my niece. She and her family adopted a mixed-breed a year ago. They suspect it has some Rhodesian Ridgeback, a breed that supposedly hunts lions. Based on the pup's leaping ability, I wouldn't be surprised. My dog, Bella, merely stared at the dog with wonder (and a bit of old-dog jealousy).

My niece complained that the dog licks. "Can you get her to stop?"

Apparently, it waits for you to speak and slips you the tongue whenever you open your mouth (maybe she's training humans to shut up, but I suspect that there's more to the problem). Not only does the pup lick at faces, she also bites and licks at her paws (which can denote a few things, such as an anxious state or allergies). All I could say was: "Consult your veterinarian."

As much as I wanted to offer friends and family the solutions to their pet resolutions for the new year, I couldn't advise them fully. Many of their concerns are complicated. Small, annoying issues can be linked to serious ailments. I wouldn't offer off-the-cuff advice to anyone seeking a solution to pet-related goals without first researching and corroborating the advice with either a veterinarian or related expert. For some reason, few veterinarians are eager to take my calls at midnight on Jan. 1.

I do know, however, that my friends and family aren't the only ones with pet-related annoyances. Like my husband, you want to start the new year off right. I'd be happy to address your concerns in my column. Just make sure they're pet-related. Unlike my husband, I don't think I can fix teenagers' aversion to housecleaning.

But with research, expert's consultation and patience, I might be able to help you lick your pet's problems in 2012.

Happy New Year!

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2012 C5

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