How to handle your dog’s leash aggression

Dear Cathy: I have a 3-year-old terrier mix that loves to go for walks. She is usually friendly with other dogs, but not when she is on a leash. When she meets a dog face-to-face on a leash, there is usually some ugly growling exchanged. Her ears go back and her hackles go up. How can I make these encounters go better? – Robyn

Dear Robyn: If she is good with other dogs normally, then this first-impression canine aggression may be the result of one of two things. First, she may be a little protective/territorial of you and doesn’t want another dog or person approaching. I am having this problem with my 7-month-old puppy, Archie, right now. My dog trainer recommended I tether Archie to the door, stand next to him, and have friends and neighbors approach me. If he growls, I am to ignore him and leave the room immediately. If he doesn’t growl, I am to reward and praise him. The trainer says once he gets used to people coming toward me, then he should adjust to the dogs approaching, too. I will keep you posted.

The second reason for this aggression may actually be caused by you (or the person walking the other dog). If you are apprehensive about these encounters, your dog may sense your tension through the leash. When another dog approaches, you probably unconsciously gather the leash close to you or tug on the leash to pull her back. Pulling on the leash often inadvertently lifts the dog’s head and upper body into a more aggressive position from the approaching dog’s point of view and can lead to a bad first encounter. Let the leash hang loose and low to the ground. Giving your dog some extra slack may enable her to make a better first impression.

Send your pet stories and questions to Cathy M. Rosenthal, c/o Features Department, San Antonio Express-News, P.O. Box 2171, San Antonio, TX 78297-2171, or cathy@petpundit.com. Cathy’s advice column runs every Sunday. She also writes another blog, Animals Matter, for the San Antonio Express News.

“Resident dogs” are usually the biters

In a sensational world, headlines about dog bites and canine aggression tend to focus on certain breeds rather than the circumstances that create these behaviors.

If you really want to understand canine behavior, then you need to know there are two types of dogs living in the United State, according to the National Canine Research Council, or NCRC — resident dogs and family dogs.

The NCRC defines a family dog as one that lives inside the home with its family. These dogs are well-socialized and learn appropriate behaviors through positive interaction with people every day. The more exposure they have to people, the less likely they will bite someone.

NCRC says resident dogs, however, are maintained outside the home, usually in a yard or kennel or tethered on a chain. These dogs are obtained mostly for negative functions, such as guarding, fighting, protection or breeding.

As a result, resident dogs are more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors if someone steps into their space or if they get out of their yards. Because resident dogs live without human interactions, they can’t be expected to exhibit the same manners as family dogs.

This distinction makes sense when you think about dog-bite or dog-mauling stories. Usually, news reports say the offending dog was a “family pet.” What they mean is that the dog wasn’t a stray or running loose on the streets but was owned by a family.

Being “owned” by a family, though, does not make a dog a family dog. A dog becomes a family dog when it lives in close connection with its family.

When it comes to dog bites, certain breeds make the news more often than other dogs. That’s because these breeds more often are kept as resident dogs, not family dogs, even though they are reported to be “family pets.”

Sadly, every breed in our country that has a reputation as a dangerous dog has received that because, one, they were extremely popular breeds at the time, and, two, they were more often than not kept in substandard conditions — on a chain or alone most of the time in their yards.

Now I know there are “resident dogs” out there that are loved by their families and interact with them daily. I know that ranch and farm dogs may live outside but receive lots of daily human interaction.

What I am talking about are dogs that spend all day outside, perhaps chained in their yards, with little to no interaction with people. How can we expect these dogs to be properly socialized? Keep in mind, all dogs have the potential to bite. Some family dogs have issues, such as food guarding and being territorial, that, if not properly addressed, can lead to unfortunate interactions.

But it makes sense that dogs that receive less socialization are more likely to exhibit aggressive behaviors toward people and other pets. Next time we read or hear a story in the news about a dog that bites, we should ask about the dog’s living conditions rather than focus on its breed. According to the NCRC, dog bites are more likely to come from “resident dogs.”

Cathy’s advice column appears every Sunday in the San Antonio Express-News and she writes a blog, Animals Matter,  for the online edition of the Express-News. Send your pet stories and questions to Cathy M. Rosenthal, c/o Features Department, San Antonio Express-News, P.O. Box 2171, San Antonio, TX 78297-2171, or cathy@petpundit.com.

Take the jump out of your dog

The other day while teaching a pets and babies class for new parents-to-be, I asked the group what their biggest concern was about their pets and babies interacting. On this day, the concerns were almost unanimous: Everyone who had dogs was concerned about their dog’s jumping behavior.

Rambunctious pooches jump because they are excited and want attention. We often are complicit in this parlor game: We use our hands to push them away, which makes them jump on us again. No one likes jumping dogs, though, and when it comes to toddling babies and children, dogs can accidentally knock them over and hurt them. So here are a few tips on training your dog to stop jumping on everyone.

First, hands off. Don’t reward your dog for jumping by giving him attention or using your hands to push him away. Instead, tell your dog “no” and turn away. When the dog’s front paws hit the floor, turn back, pet him and praise him using a soft voice. (Don’t use an excited voice since that will only make him jump again.) Remember, your dog must keep all four paws on the floor to receive your attention. When you walk into the house, walk past your jumping dog and only turn to greet him when all four paws are on the floor.

Second, distract your dog. A dog can’t do two things at once. When a dog is barking, you can say “hush” and then call him to you. Once your dog starts running to you, he can’t bark anymore. You can do the same thing with a jumping dog. If your dog jumps on a visitor, say “no” and then call him to you. He can’t jump on a visitor if he is responding to you.

Third, teach your dog a new behavior. It might be as simple as teaching your dog to sit instead of jump — although this can be difficult for an excited dog to do. Or you can teach him to shake a paw, drop down for a belly rub when company comes over or any other behavior that you think will distract him from jumping.

Here is my example. My golden retriever Brinkley used to jump at the front door. While I could get him to eventually stop, he always had to jump a few times before he would settle down.

So I taught him to jump on command. When he jumped, I used a hand signal and said the word “jump.” After a few times, he understood the hand signal and word “jump” meant he could jump. Then I trained him to “sit” after the “jump” command.

What this meant is that when the doorbell rang, he ran excitedly to the door where I asked him to jump four or five times before asking him to sit. He got to jump and I got a calmer dog who let me open the door.

Jumping behaviors require time and patience to correct. But if you are consistent in your training — and don’t ever give him attention when he jumps, your dog will eventually learn he only gets attention when he stays on all fours. If you give some time to training, you can have a well-behaved dog.

Five ways we pick pets names

A few weeks ago, I asked readers to share their pets’ names. After reviewing your e-mails, I realized that a pet’s name can provide as much insight into a pet owner’s personality as it can about the pet himself. Here’s my take on the five ways we name our pets.

First, there are “human names,” like Maggie and Max, that pet owners may choose to make pets feel like family. “They are mybabies,” says Liz M.

Second are “personality/appearance names” that reflect something unique about the pet’s personality, behavior or appearance. Judith Gunn Bronson of Bandera says she rescued a tiny cat who “chewed on everything.” Her husband said, “You are just a little termite, nothing but teeth and mouth.” So, she was named “Termite.” Erin Harrison’s blue heeler was the runt of the litter who made all sorts of unusual sounds as if he was trying to talk, so she named him “Verbal.”

Third are “discovery names.” These names tell us where the pet was found, rescued or adopted from, like a dog named Freeway. Angela Hoeffler named her Maine coon cat Baby Jessica after the famous Texas rescue. “When we found her, she crawled into a hole in the wall under the bathroom vanity and did not come out for two days,” says Hoeffler. “It was like the rescue of the other Baby Jessica, except our Jessie was in a ‘wall,’ not a ‘well.’ ”

Fourth are “revealer names,” which give insight into pet owners’ favorite things. Who loves Star Trek? Helen Harrison of Cibolo has a terrier mix named “Tiberius” after Captain James T. Kirk and a dachshund mix named Tribble. Her daughter Heather loves poker, so she has a cat named Aces. Joe and Susan Mustacchio appear to love Italian history and literature. They have cats named Nero, Mercuria and Bucharacio.

Finally, the last category I call “Other.” It’s the category where you sort of give up on finding a name and start calling the cat “Kitty.” Lex Caswell explains this category best. As a kid in upstate New York, “my dad came home one day with six cats from the local shelter,” says Caswell. “My four siblings and I were given the job of naming them. We ran out of names so we called the sixth cat the ‘Other’ cat. The name stuck. ‘Other’ was with us for 15 love-filled years.”

What happens when you combine names? Mark Crider of Corpus Christi has a toy rat terrier who is “Blenheim with pink skin where the hair is white and dark where it is Blenheim, which gives her spots all over her tummy,” says Crider. “When she rolled over and showed her speckled tummy, my wife said “Dotty” (personality/appearance). I looked at my reddish latte and said, ‘Latte’ ” (revealer). Since then, we’ve called her “Latte Dotte.” (“Blenheim” is a color description for a reddish brown and white pattern on a dog.)

How do you name your pets?

My most recent pets have been Brinkley (revealer: The movie, “You’ve Got Mail”), Smokey (personality/appearance: Named by our son when he was 5), Maggie (human), and Miss Kitty (other: She came with the name).

Who defines humane treatment for farm animals?

While this column focuses on companion animals, my background includes time on Capitol Hill, where I worked on companion animal, wildlife and farm animal issues.

So I am going to step off the curb and address an article by Mike Barnett, publications editor for Texas Agriculture Talks, a publication of the Texas Farm Animal Bureau, about a bill introduced in Congress called the Prevention of Farm Cruelty Act, HR 4733.

The legislation would prohibit the government from purchasing animal products that are not “humanely” produced for school lunch and other federal programs — a step in the right direction for farm animals.

Barrett poses the question, “So who defines ‘humane?” He is worried it will be animal rights groups.

To address this question, I called Adele Douglass, who founded Humane Farm Animal Care about a decade ago to recognize farmers for their transition toward more humane treatment of farm animals. Douglass is not a vegetarian; she believes, though, that farm animals should be treated humanely from birth to death.

So I asked Douglass, “Who should define humane treatment?”

“How about the animals?” she said.

“Right now, current industry standards define humane treatment by whether the animals are producing, eating and growing. If they aren’t growing fast enough, they are given hormones. If they are confined too closely, they are given antibiotics to prevent disease. These are not natural living conditions for the animals.”

Douglass said gestation stalls, battery cages and other confinement housing systems do not allow animals to move naturally.

To put this in terms most people can understand, she quoted Dr. Temple Grandin, who not only serves on the Humane Farm Animal Care’s highly regarded scientific committee but also is considered one of the nation’s top authorities on the development of humane protocols for farm animals.

Count your Mutt in the Mutt Census

After you fill out your national census form, there’s an opportunity to participate in the National Mutt Census, too. While purebreds are registered and accounted for through the American Kennel Club, there never has been a registry or census for the nation’s mixed breed dogs — until now. Mars Veterinary is conducting the National Mutt Census now through Aug. 31 that they hope will provide insights into the background of the nation’s mixed breed population.

To make sure your mixed breed dog is counted, go to www.muttcensus.com and take a five-minute survey that asks about your dog’s size and weight, his feeding and exercise habits, whether he was adopted from a shelter — as well as other questions about the dog’s health. All participants will be entered into sweepstakes to win prizes for their dogs.

The findings of the Mars Veterinary National Mutt Census will be released this fall. Make sure your dog is counted.

Xylitol and a major pet emergency

When Tarin Goodnight, a student at Texas State University, ran to the store, she didn’t expect to come back home to a pet emergency. But during the short time she was away, her then 18-month-old Chihuahua, Carmen, had jumped onto her desk and eaten four pieces of nicotine gum, leaving the paper wrappers as the only evidence of her misdeed.

The daughter of a veterinarian, Goodnight reacted quickly. “I remember my dad telling me that if you give a dog some hydrogen peroxide they will throw up,” she says. Goodnight gave her puppy two teaspoons of hydrogen peroxide. Carmen vomited in the car en route to the emergency pet clinic. “There were little chunks of gum in the vomit,” says Goodnight. “I was relieved.”

But turns out, nicotine poisoning was just the beginning of Carmen’s agony: She also had ingested xylitol, an artificial sweetener found in many products, including nicotine gum, sugar-free gum, mints and chewable vitamins, to name a few. While xylitol consumption is considered safe for people, dogs that ingest xylitol can develop life-threatening symptoms rather quickly, including liver failure, bleeding and clotting disorders and sudden hypoglycemia.

Rushed from the emergency hospital in New Braunfels, Texas, to a hospital in San Antonio, Carmen spent four days in critical condition. Doctors monitored her glucose levels and hooked her up to IV fluids to flush her system. For Goodnight, it was a huge relief when Carmen was allowed to go home four days later. But veterinarians warned that her dog would remain at risk of sudden liver failure for several weeks.

“I have never worried so much,” says Goodnight. “I think we were just lucky that I found her so quickly and knew what to do. She definitely consumed a lethal dose, and the vomiting might have helped get some of it out of her system quickly.”

Indeed, if Goodnight had come home later or if Carmen had swallowed the wrappers, Goodnight might not have known what happened until the first signs of nicotine poisoning, which is generally hyperactivity — a difficult symptom to detect in a young Chihuahua.

But here’s another big “if”: If Goodnight had not had pet health insurance, would she have been able to pay the emergency vet bill? With a dad as a vet, my guess is yes. But her dad, David Goodnight, DVM, and president and CFO of PurinaCare Pet Health Insurance headquartered in San Antonio, helped her even more. When she got Carmen, he got her an accident and illness pet health insurance policy for the dog.

“As a vet in private practice for 19 years, I have seen many pet emergencies,” he said. “I can take care of Carmen’s preventive care, but I am not the doctor Tarin would need in an emergency. I wanted her to have the resources to care for her dog and for money not to be an issue.”

Goodnight loved the gift. She only had to pay $500 of the $1,500 vet bill.

Pet health insurance has become worthwhile protection for both dog and cat owners who want help with preventive care or to safeguard their pets from economic euthanasia. In talking about PurinaCare Pet Health Insurance, Dr. Goodnight notes that premiums are less expensive for cats. Of course, they are. What cat in its right mind would even consider chewing gum?