Ask Dog Lady

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Ask Dog Lady
If your doggie dilemma has you down in the dumps…

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Dear Dog Lady,
At a recent dinner party, the hostess allowed her dog to lick our plates after we ate. She called it the "Lucy Lab pre-rinse" and asked us to put our plates on the floor while the Labrador Retriever licked them clean. I don't have a dog and am unused to such unsanitary behaviour. Is this customary? -Dina, Toronto, ON

Dina, usually the plate-licking practice happens more discreetly. Your hostess lacked proper judgment when she allowed the prerinse to become part of the party. Understandably, this display was not the palate cleansing you had in mind.

Often dog keepers forget pet politesse. They just assume everyone will think it adorable when lovable Lucy laps up the remnants of the salmon remoulade. Dog Lady has been guilty of this and cringes when she thinks of how it plays to the uninitiated. Your letter provides a good reminder that private Rover rituals should not be flaunted when company comes. Also, not all people foods are good for dogs-think onions-so letting doggies lap indiscriminately off dinner plates is not always the best idea.

Dear Dog Lady,
My husband and I had a dog that died three months ago. Just two days ago, we went to a shelter and adopted a oneyear- old Beagle mix. I don't know how to say it any more plainly: I am not sure if I want him. He's a nice dog, good with kids and cats, it seems. He doesn't listen and whines the minute you leave the room. My husband says to give him a chance, but I am afraid we made a huge mistake. We can take Roscoe back to the shelter, which is a very nice no-kill shelter. I just don't feel a bond. Any advice? -Karrie, Grosse Point, MI

Karrie, adopting a dog from a shelter is not a cash ‘n' carry deal. Please give Roscoe more time to bond with you and feel comfortable. Goodness knows what the poor dog has been through and, remember, he's not a pale imitation of the pet you lost. He's another kind of animal. His beauty will shine in his imperfections and in his ability to warm your cold heart. Two days is not nearly enough time to bond with an animal. Dog Lady confesses she, too, was ready to give back her darling after two days. If, after two months, you're still feeling ambivalent about keeping him, follow your instincts.

Dog Lady sides with your husband here. Throw your new critter a bone of patience.

Dear Dog Lady,
I'm a new dog owner. My Havanese puppy, Boing-Boing, is great, but I hope you understand my disgust with other dog owners. At the park and in the local dog shop, it seems all they want to talk about is dog bathroom behaviour. Diarrhea is debated like it's a pressing world issue. Scolding owners who don't pick up after their dogs seems like a blood sport. What have I stepped into? -Chelsey, Chicago, IL

Chelsey, you seem surprised by this indelicate potty-mouth on the part of your canine caring colleagues. For dog guardians, their animal's daily output is the most readily available barometer of a pet's health. Hoping to understand the inner workings of their mysterious creatures, people swap information and seek support. Certainly, this extends to doggie gastrointestinal matters. Dog Lady would never have found out about the holistic benefits of Greek yogurt (a couple of spoonfuls a day has eased darling's squeaky stomach) if she hadn't heard the tip at the local dog bakery.

Also, the issue of dog waste is a political hot button as cities and towns have laws requiring owners to pick up after their pets. The responsible ones police themselves and carry extra bags to give anyone caught walking away from the scene of the grime.

Chelsey, if you scoop up enough times after Boing-Boing, you will become very aware of your pet's bowel habits. You might not think it possible now, but Dog Lady believes you will soon want to share the latest poop eagerly with others.

Dear Dog Lady,
Since reading a New York Times story about dogs being used for emotional therapy, I'm jealous because many other dogs provide much more psychological support than Chester, my Cairn Terrier. Chester has always been aloof. He never kisses me. When I go to snuggle with him, he always plants himself at a distance so I have to crawl across the floor to rub his belly. He sits on the couch with me sometimes, but he usually likes to go off to his favourite closet alone. And he's stubborn. There's no way I can guilt-trip Chester into doing anything he doesn't want to do. He only gets emotional around Beggin' Strips, squirrels, and other dogs that perk his interest, such as Coletta, the Greyhound who chases him on the beach. How can I get Chester to be more cuddly and expressive? -Barbara, New York, NY

Barbara, people who need people are the luckiest people in the world, but that New York Times piece about adults using their companion animals like baby binkies struck Dog Lady as comical. Dogs should provide comfort, joy, and an excuse to get out in the world instead of hiding behind furry behinds.

So treasure this fine romance with no kisses. Chester seems well-balanced. He savours his alone-time. He enjoys things appropriate for his species-Beggin' Strips, bushy tails, and the spry Coletta. You have your own tribe, the whole human race, to tap for emotional sustenance. If you really want your dog to kiss you, then smear your mouth with liverwurst and invite Chester to come hither. Dogs only lick lips to scrounge for stray scraps. Are you sure you want to encourage this? Somehow, Dog Lady survives without pooch smooches. Wise Chester, distinctly his own dog, has already provided you with a lot of healthy psychological support, but you're just too stuck to see it. Dear Dog Lady, Is it possible to find perfume that smells like trees to spray around the house to make your dog think he or she is outside? -Adam, Berkeley, CA

Adam, what a lovely thought was brought to mind by your inventive query, but the short answer is "no." Dogs can tell the difference between faux "Eau d'Outside" and the genuine sniffery in a millisecond. When it comes to scents, they are olfactory Olympians with sense of smell that is millions of times stronger than ours. No cologne can deceive them. The authentic toilet waters flowing in nature (or in the toilet) make dogs heady with desire, but no designer perfume can duplicate the odours.

Dear Dog Lady,
My wife and I have a four-year-old Shih Tzu named Watson. He is very well behaved. We just realized that when our cell phone goes off in the house, he gets very upset, starts to tremble, runs to us for reassurance, and will not calm down. We have tried to make him associate the cell phone ring with his wet food, but that does not seem to help. He even gets nervous if we change the ring tone or if the cell phone is on vibrate and goes off. He does not mind when the home phone rings. Any suggestions would be of great comfort because it is difficult to see our Watson in such a state. -Joshua, Aspen, CO

Joshua, let us recall the first words used by Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, when he summoned his faithful assistant via newfangled instrument: "Come here, Mr. Watson!" Perhaps your Mr. Watson channels Mr. Bell by staying loyal to the landline.

Dog Lady sympathizes with the Shih Tzu. The ringing of cell phones can be a scary thing when a cascade of digitalized calypso, classical, or hip-hop bursts forth from a purse or pocket. "Oh, excuse me, I think that's mine," says the person being called while everyone else is put on hold. So annoying.

Watson is only acting out what many of us feel. He must associate the cell phone ringing and vibrating with unpleasant stuff that even a spoonful of wet food can't erase. You could continue to try modifying his behaviour by making him sit while doling out more powerful goodies (freeze-dried liver chunks come to mind) when the cell phone rings. Or, in your home where the dog doesn't seem disturbed by the regular phone, you could turn the darned cell off. This appears to be the message your singular Watson is sending you.■

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