Tips from Cathy M. Rosenthal of My Pet World on dealing with your pet.
Why dogs greet you with toys in their mouths
I have a two-year-old spayed female cocker spaniel named Roxy. She is a wonderful dog. Whenever anyone comes to the house, including myself, she picks up one of her stuffed toys and runs over to whoever came in with it in her mouth. She gets very excited and her tail wags. I think that she wants to play or is just showing she is happy, but she doesn’t give up the toy. She just holds it in her mouth and runs away if we try to take it and play with her. Any idea why she would be doing this? I’ve only had her for four months, so I don’t know if this is something she has always done. — Nancy F., Shirley, NY
Many dogs greet people to their homes by grabbing a toy and wiggling their hips — and it’s adorable! Roxy is definitely happy to see you and your guests. While she may want to play, she more than likely just wants to show off her “prey.” In any case, just let Roxy bring her toys to guests, since this is her preferred way to greet people. Don’t try to take the toys from her mouth and don’t try to play with her at that time. Just let her walk around happily with her toy.
When it comes to playing fetch, however, or keeping her from putting something dangerous in her mouth, you need to teach her to how to “drop it.” Do this training when no company is around. It’s easy to do, especially if Roxy is food motivated.
When she brings you her toy, don’t try to grab it from her mouth as this sets up a push and pull dynamic that you won’t win. Instead, be ready with some hot dog pieces. She will be able to smell these treats in your hands. Tell her to “drop it.” When she drops the toy, click if you have a clicker to mark the behavior (or use a marker word like “bingo” if you don’t have a clicker), and then give her a treat. Throw the toy for her to fetch. When she returns, repeat the steps.
It may take a few training sessions, but eventually she will drop the toy the moment you say, “drop it.” Then no matter when you need her to drop the toy, she will do it for you.
Avoiding eye contact with dog can help with bonding
Your suggestions to James C. in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., who was having problems bonding with his daughter’s dog, were good ones, including bringing a special toy for the dog and helping walk or feed the dog while visiting. I also found avoiding eye contact with my in-laws’ dog helped tremendously. The dog was intimidated by my presence, but avoiding eye contact minimized that problem. Shortly after, the dog laid down near me on the couch, gave me a few kisses on the hand, and let me pet her while she fell asleep. I think if James tries this method, he just may achieve the results he’s seeking. — Howard R., Hermosa Beach, CA
While I advised James to just be present and not engage the dog until the dog was ready to come around, I checked and I didn’t tell him to avoid eye contact, which is good advice when meeting any new dog. Personally, I don’t engage a dog unless a dog engages me. People think that’s odd since I work in the animal world, but I think it’s a respectful way to gain the trust of our animal friends.
Update on hurricane foster care question
Last week, Paul and DeAnne from Wisconsin offered to foster a pet for pet families who need help in the aftermath of our nation’s recent hurricanes. At the time, I didn’t know of any services other than the foster care services coordinated by local shelters in the affected regions.
This past week, however, I received news that Adopt-a-Pet.com, a nonprofit pet adoption website supported by the Petco Foundation, launched a website called www.FosteraHurricanePet.org . The website allows people with pets who live in the affected regions to find people elsewhere in the country who many want to foster their pet until they can get back on their feet. I am not sure how someone in Texas or Florida gets their pet to Wisconsin for foster care, but I am sure something could be worked out if the pet owner was determined enough to find temporary foster care. It’s a good idea for a website.