Articles Home About the Dr. Reference Make an Appointment Furry  Friends Pet Store
Peace of mind... for pets and their people.
In the dog world, body language is everything
Now that we've seen some signs that spring is on the way, we're sure to see more dogs out at our parks and on our streets. Which brings up the question, How should you approach a dog, especially if it seems friendly and you'd like to meet it? If the dog is on a leash, first ask the owner if it's all right to pet him. If the dog's pulling and jumping and lunging on the end of its leash to get to you, stay away from this dog (it may be the nicest most exuberant dog in the world, and you may have no problem with it, but you will be rewarding the dog for what its owner surely considers intolerable behavior). If the dog is reasonably calm and the owner says it's okay, ask the owner what the dog's name is, and talk to the dog at a distance, then keep talking as you calmly and smoothly walk up to the dog a few steps at a time and offer the palm side of your hand just in front of and at the level beneath the dog's chin. If during your approach you see his tail stop wagging or it goes between his legs or he backs away from you, or he lifts his lip or growls or snarls, it's time to stop your approach, take a step back, and walk on. This column is here for you, animal lovers of the Delaware Valley. I have been in Delaware for 7 months and have met with many people from various parts of the animal care community. And in all my encounters the single-most unifying thread has always been a common love of animals. This typically starts with the relationship we share with our own pets. Our pets are many different things to each of us. Their tendency to bring warmth and comfort is evident in their frequent displays of affection. There is nothing quite like the greetings we receive from our pets at the end of a long and busy day, or the blissful purring of a cat that has chosen your lap as the most comfortable place in the house. The therapeutic use of pets for relaxing and positively stimulating people is widely recognized, and yet most individual pet owners simply do not realize the tremendous benefits that living with a companion animal can have on one's physical and mental health. Despite the wondrous relationships that we can all enjoy with our companion animals, we are a nation that disposes of 10-20 million pet dogs and cats per year (that figures at roughly 250-500 dogs and cats killed in the time it will take to read this article). How can this be? Spaying and neutering is effective, but it alone does not address all of the principal factors underlying this dilemma. The assertion has been that there are not enough homes for all of the unwanted litters. But there is rarely a shortage of demand for puppies and kittens. They are cute and cuddly, innocent and playful. These youngsters, not unlike adopted children, get snatched up the quickest. Most of the dogs in the shelters are actually between 9 months and 3 years of age. Young and healthy, most of the time with a good 8-15 years of live ahead of them... and they've been abandoned. Why are these animals in the shelters? They are there most often because of behavioral problems. The subsequent troubles that result from the onset and continuation of animal behavior problems are not only damaging to the pets, but to our homes and our hearts as well. Millions of people are bitten every year by dogs and cats. The damage resulting from digging, scratching, chewing, and the elimination of bodily wastes can have devastating effects on our homes and our feelings toward our pets. Many other problems (especially attention seeking behaviors) can just grate on our nerves. With failed attempts to fix their problems, owners may experience despair, continued frustration, and/or a final resolution to part with the animal. Ultimately, if a pet is destroyed, the pain can be great for some, and the psychological community has responded with pet loss counselors - - psychologists who can provide a valuable service for people who are suffering with actual or potential pet loss problems. Still, most people who have pets with behavioral problems need not experience such a loss. Most problems can be greatly diminished, if not eliminated, with appropriate treatment. This is your column. From next week on (same day, same newspaper, same section) the format will be Question and Answer. Kind of like "Dear Abby," only the focus will be on topics and concerns, from personal to global, in the world of animal behavior. Questions and/or comments should be sent to: PO Box ... or can be faxed to.... Please include your daytime phone number. I can be reached for consultations and appointment inquiries by calling (302)478-6925 or (610)444-0505. Some food for thought. I hope some of you will share an interest so that we can discuss these and other topics in upcoming columns: There is no greater tool for learning than play. There are few things better for you and your dog then a regular morning walk. Those with medical conditions should consult their physician first. If you don't have to Declaw your cats... Don't! It's rarely necessary if cats are brought up right.