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Today’s resolution, from Simone: Expect treats, but watch the hand that feeds you

14 Nov

Ever the optimist, Simone shares these words from I Ching 25, Innocence (The Unexpected):

“Man has received from heaven a nature innately good, to guide him in all his movements. By devotion to this divine spirit within himself, he attains an unsullied innocence that leads him to do right with instinctive sureness and without any ulterior thought of reward and personal advantage. …

But, Simone warns, temper optimism with realism. A dog knows these things instinctively:

“However, not everything instinctive is nature in this highest sense of the world, but only that which is right and in accord with the will of heaven. Without this quality of rightness, an unreflecting, instinctive way of acting out brings only misfortune.”

Simone at the rose garden, Clinton School of Public Service. Simone notes that the metaphor here is too obvious to mention. (2011/RO)


Creature Feature: Secret to pottytraining small dogs is owner commitment

22 Sep

Creature Feature appears each Wednesday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

 Is it true that small dogs are harder to housetrain than large dogs are?

"Of course we can be trained!" (Simone/RO)

Housetraining a small or toy breed of dog is more challenging than training larger dogs — it’s not the impossible task many people believe it to be although the process is longer and requires more time and attention from the owner.

“They are more difficult to housetrain. With little dogs, you have to take more responsibility about them going to the bathroom outside,” says Lisa Mantle, a certified professional dog trainer in Little Rock. “Instead of just assuming that the dog is going to let you know when he needs to go outside, you have to be an equal partner in the process.”

Small dogs have a poor housetraining reputation primarily because owners don’t stick with the training program for the long haul, she says. Because it takes longer to train a small dog, “people get tired of it. They don’t want to keep going outside with their dog.”

Mantle, owner of Running Dog Academy, has five dogs in her home. “I have big dogs and little dogs. I don’t treat them remotely the same. If my big dogs don’t ask to go outside, I don’t worry about it. On the other hand, if my little dogs haven’t asked to to outside for a while, I put them out.”

Theories about why small dogs are more difficult to train range from their smaller bladder size to breeding to owner expectations, Darlene Arden says in Small Dogs, Big Hearts.

“There are a lot of variables, including the fact that some breeds do take a little longer,” Arden says. “It’s not a measure of intelligence, but more likely an indication of behavioral tendencies.”

Training small dogs to potty outdoors requires vigilence, consistency and commitment, Mantle says. “It’s do-able but you have to stick with it. You can’t cut corners. You have to go through all the steps.”

With small dogs, training requires some type of containment when the owner can’t be with the dog. Some people use a dog crate while others put up a baby gate to confine the dog to a specific room or area of the house.

Another tactic is tethering, which requires an owner to keep the dog with him on a leash at all times. This keeps the dog from wandering off into another area of the house to potty out of his owner’s sight, plus helps the owner learn to read when his dog needs to go outside.

The downside of tethering, Mantle says, is that most people don’t want their dog attached to them continually. “It’s just not very realistic” unless the owner is committed to it.

I agree, although I had excellent results by combining crate training with tethering when Simone was a puppy. At home, I put the leash on her and she shadowed every step I took in the house and outdoors for months. When I took a shower, I hung the leash handle on the door knob and she would settle down on the floor. In the kitchen, she laid on a mat while I washed the dishes. At night, Simone stayed in her crate except for when I got up to take her outside at about 3 a.m. (during the early weeks of training).

Simone wasn’t bothered by being on the leash. It got tiresome for me at times, but the positive results were worth the effort. Not only is Simone well-trained, but she and I are bonded for life.

A key thing to remember about tethering: The dog is attached to you and within a few feet of you at all times. You never tie the dog to piece of furniture or anything else and leave her alone.

Mantle offers this advice for training a small (or any size) dog:

** Don’t let the dog out of your sight.

** Go outside with the dog and praise him every time he uses the bathroom in the right place. Mantle says to continue doing this even after the dog consistently goes outside to potty.  “I do this all the time and  my dogs are 13, 14 years old.”

Why is it important to go outside with your dog? First, so he’ll know why he’s out there. Second, so you’ll be there to praise and reward him for pottying in the appropriate place.

**If the dog makes a mistake indoors, “just clean it up,” she says. “If you see the dog in the process of going to the bathroom, try to calmly interrupt without scaring the dog. Then take the dog outside and reward the dog for going outside.”

** The most important thing to remember is “to stick with it until housetraining is complete. Don’t look at it like the dog is now such-and-such age and should be housetrained by now. Dogs complete housetraining at different ages.”

When the dog is consistently asking to be taken outside for bathroom breaks, he’s trained. But, Mantle says, if the dog is still having accidents indoors, training is incomplete.

“Some people expect dogs to just know things like they should go outside,” she says. “But remember, dogs don’t care where they go to the bathroom. We care where they go.”    

If you have questions about training, email me at        

Today’s resolution, by Simone: Get down to it

15 Sep

“When presented with two ways to approach one’s food, select the one that gets you closest to it.” — Simone’s razor (apologies to Ockham)

Nothing wrong with a little food in your fur.

Today’s resolution, by Simone: Let go of the need to understand

2 Sep

‘Sometimes you just gotta go with it. It doesn’t matter if you sit, stay or down, there’s bound to be a treat or some happy talk involved. All good.” — Simone

Pondering the big issues... or not


Creature Feature: Tails tell the tale

24 Aug

    Would you tell people that just because a dog is wagging his tail doesn’t mean he’s feeling friendly? I learned the hard way.  

A dog speaks volumes with his tail, but you’re correct that a moving tail doesn’t always mean a dog is relaxed or happy.

“The tail is the loudspeaker of your dog’s emotions — and one of the most misunderstood canine communicators,” according to the June issue of Your Dog, a publication of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

There are tail wags for different emotions, such as fear, aggression and happiness. Your Dog provides a guide for interpreting tail language:
■ A low tail that’s wagging quickly means the dog feels fearful and uncertain.
■ A low tail that’s moving slowly can indicate the dog is a little relaxed, but still uncertain.
■ When the tail wags slowly at half-mast, the dog is relaxed and comfortable.
■ At tail at half-mast that’s wagging quickly means the dog is happy and excited.
■ When a dog makes circles with his tail, he’s extremely happy and excited. In fact, the dog may make such vigorous tail circles he does a full-body wag.
■ A tucked-in tail means a dog is frightened or unhappy; the degree of tucking reveals the level of his fear or anxiety. If he’s extremely scared, he may tuck his tail between his legs so much that it almost touches his stomach.
■ A tail that’s straight up and moving slowly indicates controlled tension. When the tail is held high and wagging rapidly in a narrow range of motion, the dog is feeling even more tense and shouldn’t be approached.

The straight-up, rapidly wagging tail is called “flagging,” says the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ virtual pet behaviorist. A dog “flags” his tail when he’s standing his ground or threatening someone or another animal.

When interpreting a dog’s tail language, look at the rest of the body to get the full picture. For example, an assertive (but not necessarily aggressive) dog will try to make himself appear larger by standing tall, perhaps even rising up on his toes. He’ll hold his head high and center his weight on all four feet or lean slightly forward.

An aggressive dog’s body language looks similar to that of an assertive dog, but he’ll center his weight on his front feet so that he can lunge quickly.

Here are a few more clues to reading a dog’s emotions:
■ Hair — When a dog is scared, he may “blow” his coat and seem to suddenly shed bags of hair. A dog may also “raise his hackles,” the hair along his shoulders and spine, which can mean that he’s angry, uncertain, nervous or excited.
■ Feet — When a dog lifts a paw off the ground, he’s communicating deference. A happy dog will do a little dance by rapidly shifting his weight from one foot to the other. A nervous dog may leave sweaty paw prints.
■ Eyes — Direct eye contact is an assertive statement while looking away is a sign of appeasement or deference.

People often believe a dog looks away out of guilt but what’s really happening is that the dog is reading and responding to their body language. If the dog believes someone (such as his owner) is angry, he’ll look away to try to ease the tension.

Creature Feature appears in the Family section of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette every Wednesday. This column was published June 29, 2011.

Today’s resolution, by Simone: Make every moment one of exploration

18 Aug

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

You find amazing things when you look under the bushes. (2011/RO)

Today’s resolution: Crime scene investigation

15 Aug

While visiting my friend Laura on Saturday, I tramped out to her backyard to shoot random photos. I do that wherever I go because I find a little photo therapy soothes my brain, which is usually possessed by a fiery word fever unquenched by conversation or anything else to do with words. Words are my life but sometimes they swarm and it’s too much. Images cool the fire.

In Laura’s backyard, I found stands of whispering bamboo in a corner and sideyard and lush hydrangea, hibiscus and potted greenery beside and on the deck tucked into a corner under her kitchen window. Street noise rumbling in the background distracted me but failed to disturb the serenity of the green day.

Happily, I snapped photos as fast as the digital camera lag let me, then …

… I stepped onto the deck, where I encountered a grisly scene. Choking on the bitter black bile of horror, I gazed upon two floppy bodies limp with their eyes staring … staring … staring.

They appeared to have been shaken violently and flung to the ground, then left to lie as they fell. The hard rain of the previous night had reduced them to soggy lumps. It looked like a scene from Toy Story, the one in which we first see the tortured toys.

See for yourself.

Callously flung aside, left out in the rain

Take a closer look.


Can you stand any more?

Keep scrolling.

Splat, splayed

As you can see, my photography was no longer casual, but forensic.

Clues? I looked for clues.

I found one. What do you think?

A suspect?

Here are the suspects. Who looks more likely? They have a history, you know. Laura has recorded their escapades on her blog — Check it out, then decide.



Creature Feature: Prevent heartworm infection

10 Aug

I’ve been told that I have to give my dog medicine all year long to keep him from getting heartworms. Is that true?

Pet owners often question the necessity of giving their pet heartworm preventive medication year-round, but it’s the only way to protect an animal from getting heartworms.

All it takes is one bite from one mosquito to infect a dog or cat with heartworms, says veterinarian Wallace Graham, president of the American Heartworm Society.   

Mosquitoes breed in standing water so given this year’s heavy rain and flooding, Arkansas could have more mosquitoes than normal. Plus, the state lies in the area of the country that the society describes as “heartworm endemic,” meaning there’s a high rate of heartworm cases reported annually.

“Anything that will enhance the mosquito population will enhance transmission of heartworms,” Graham says. “We know that weather conditions do impact, to some degree, heartworm transmission.”

How heartworms develop: Mosquitos pick up heartworm microfilariae (tiny larvae) when they bite an infected animal, then those mature into an “infective larval stage” in 10-14 days. At that point, if a mosquito bites a susceptible animal, the larvae enter though the bite wound.

Heartworm larvae then migrate through the body until they reach the heart and lungs, where they mature. Adult heartworms — thin, stringlike  and 10 to 14 inches long — clump together in arteries serving the lungs. As their numbers grow, they spread into the right chamber of the heart, which could weaken the heart and cause congestive heart failure in dogs. (Photos of this are on the heartworm society’s website; be warned, they’re gruesome.)

Cats are just as susceptible as dogs to contracting heartworms, Graham says, but heartworm disease in cats is a “whole different ballgame.”

“In dogs, the primary effects are in the lungs and heart while in cats, it’s almost completely a lung disease. The pathology in the lungs of cats is completely different. Cats have severe respiratory signs generally at two times during infection,” he says.

The first “crisis period” for cats is when a heartworm first emerges in its lungs. At that point, the infection can appear to be asthma or allergic bronchitis but is actually a syndrome known as “heartworm associated respiratory disease.”

“If a cat survives that, then the heartworm will die of old age,” Graham says. “But the death of the heartworm causes tremendous problems.” When a cat’s body tries to get rid of the dead heartworms, the cat may go into shock and die.

Dogs with heartworms can be treated successfully in all but the most advanced cases, but there’s no treatment for cats, Graham says. ‘That’s why it’s important for cats to be on a heartworm preventive even in they live indoors.”

A dog in the early stages of heartworm infection won’t show any symptoms but as the number of heartworms grow (sometimes to more than 30), signs appear. They include coughing, tiring easily, lethargy, loss of appetite and weight loss. If they aren’t treated, it becomes harder and harder for them to breathe — death by heartworms is slow torture for an animal.

A cat’s symptoms mimic those of other diseases and can include rapid breathing, gagging, vomiting and weight loss.

Blood tests will reveal if a dog or cat is infected, Graham says. Owners sometimes resist having their pets tested because they are certain that they never missed giving their pet the preventive. Often, they misremember so it’s better to test and be certain that the dog or cat hasn’t been infected.

For infected dogs, treatment is expensive and takes at least two months during which the dog must be kept inactive — no running, jumping or playing although walking on a leash is allowed.

During treatment, the heartworms die and decompose and “are eaten up by the white blood cells,” Graham explains. “That process takes some time and we have to do what we can to manage the side effects.” 

The main side effect is that the decaying heartworms may block the animal’s arteries and lower blood flow to the lungs. “We have drugs and protocols that minimize effects on the dog, but it’s critical that the dog not get any exercise throughout the entire course of the treatment.”

Most dogs can be treated successfully, but some experience complications and don’t survive. Vigilance by an owner can prevent this, Graham says.

Preventives work simply by killing the infected larvae when they enter an animal through a mosquito bite. Dead larvae mean no heartworms.

Heartworm preventive is available in pill form, as a monthly topical treatment applied to the skin, and as a shot given every six months. Your vet can explain how each works and what may be best for your dog or cat.

While heartworm preventives have always been considered effective, the American Heartworm Society is currently conducting a study to determine if there are any strains of heartworms that have become resistance to a specific chemical compound now being used.

The study doesn’t cover a specific type or brand of preventive, but there has been controversy about the effectiveness of HeartGuard Plus. In 2005, the federal Food and Drug Administration ordered the maker, Merial LLC, to stop claiming 100 percent effectiveness on its labels.

Graham says he can’t address the controversy because there is no scientific evidence to “definitively answer” all the questions about the effectiveness of any specific product. Scientific studies in this area are only in the early stages.

“People ought to be having conversations with their veterinarians about what they ought to do in terms of preventives,” he says. “This needs to be between the pet owner and veterinarian. He may have reason to believe one product is better in their area.”

He notes that veterinarians tend to recommend the preventive they’ve had success with.

Creature Feature appears weekly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. This column was published June 15, 2011.   

Creature Feature: No fleas, please

3 Aug

    We’ve been having a problem with fleas on our indoor/outdoor cats. Will treating the lawn get rid of our problem?
    Fleas in your yard aren’t the real problem — fleas don’t live in sunny areas but breed in shade under shrubs, trees and porches.
    The American Animal Hospital Association says treating your cat for fleas is the most effective way of dealing with them but if you decide to treat areas outside your home, follow the safety directions on the package and focus only on areas where your pets sleep or run. Ask you veterinarian about products that are safe for pets. You may also want to consult with or hire a professional exterminator.
    Inside your house, the assocation suggests using an insecticide in crevices, plus washing your pet’s bedding and vacuuming the floor regularly. But be judicious about where you apply insecticides in your home and keep them away from your cats. As you know, cats groom themselves by licking their so whatever gets on their fur goes into their mouths.
    The key element to combatting fleas is using a flea preventive such as a spray or monthly topical product on your cat. Take care to get an anti-flea product labeled specifically for use on cats. Avoid anything that’s labeled “for dogs only” because these products contain permethrin, a chemical that can be toxic to cats. Some outdoor insecticides also contain permethrin, so read labels before buying anything.
    In fact, veterinarians recommend using products that are clearly labeled “for cats only.” Revolution and Frontline both have products that are safe for cats, but it’s best to ask your vet for a recommendation before buying anything.
    The June issue of Catnip, a publication of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, addresses misconceptions about dealing with fleas. Among them is that one application of a flea product will get wipe out a flea infestation.
    The reality is that you have to treat every animal in the household for three consecutive months to eliminate fleas.
    Another misconception is that  “flea season” occurs during during the spring and summer months. Actually, fleas are more active in September, October and November whether it’s in the colder northern states or on the Gulf Coast. So pet owners are encouraged to not quit using flea preventives when summer ends.
    Catnip’s veterinary experts say natural flea remedies such as mixing garlic and yeast into a pet’s food don’t work. Also ineffective are electronic flea collars.
    Flea collars in general have only minimal effect, according to They might kill adult fleas in the area of the head and neck, but not on the rest of the body. That means the collars have no effect on the flea’s favorite hangout — the base of your pet’s tail. Flea collars are most useful when vacuuming the floor. Just put them in the vacuum bag and they should kill any fleas sucked up.
    Powders and sprays that are applied to a cat’s fur kill adult fleas and are effective for one or two days. However, topical preventives applied to the skin between an animal’s shoulder blades are effective for a full month. Some not only kill adult fleas but also affect flea larvae to interrupt the reproductive cycle.

Originally published June 22, 2011. Creature Feature appears weekly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

‘Petscape’ for peace in the yard

11 Jul

Trying to have both pets and a nice-looking yard can make amateur landscapers wring their garden gloves in frustration.

Dogs can be particularly destructive — not that they mean to be. It’s just that they don’t know the difference between an ornamental bush and a fire hydrant. They don’t see the flowers and other plants along the fence line as anything more than obstacles blocking them when they patrol the perimeter of their territory. They don’t know — or care — that their urine discolors and kills grass.

Many homeowners are frustrated in their landscaping efforts by neighbors’ outdoor cats or feral cats that see flower beds as the natural litter boxes. Really, if you’re a cat, wouldn’t you think that soft dirt is there for your benefit?

Pet owners needn’t give up on landscaping their yards, but should consider “petscaping” — creating an environment in which pets and plants may co-exist, even thrive.


Dog urine “burns” or kills grass because it contains nitrogen. While there is nitrogen in the soil, the amount in urine (and the bigger the dog, the more urine and, therefore, more nitrogen) upsets the balance in the soil, in turn leaving ugly yellow or dead spots in the grass.

Dilute the effects of the urine by saturating the area with water within nine hours after a dog pees on the spot. You can also resod or reseed the area but, of course, if the dog continues pee on that spot, the problem will reoccur.

Replant with a hardy grass such as fescue or  one of the ryegrass varieties, which are more resistant to damage from urine.

Another option has nothing to do with landscaping, but deals with training. Train your dog to do his business in one area of the yard — an area of your choosing. (I’ll give you tips for that in another post.)


Many dogs like to dig. They dig under bushes, in the lawn, along the fence; dogs have even been know to dig up small shrubs. They dig for fun, because they’re bored or to create a cool spot to curl up in.

Filling holes with dirt (or, as some pet owners do, yuck, with a dog’s own feces) is a temporary solution. Think longterm. Give a dog his own space, either by creating a separate yard within the main yard or by building a digging spot.

For a digging area, create a raised bed using railroad ties, rocks or some other type of edging. Then fill the bed with a mixture of soil and sand. The sand will keep the dirt from clumping and the dirt will provide the cool dirt sensation that dogs prefer. Make a game of hiding toys or treat balls in the digging pit for your dog to discover. Make the pit a rewarding place and your dog should stop digging elsewhere.

A yard within a yard involves sectioning off an area and designating it solely for the dog. To make the area attractive, edge it with decorative fencing and line the area with decorative mulch.

The yard within the yard doesn’t always have to be strictly delineated; it may simply be an open area where the dog has room to roam. Don’t fill a yard with so many plants and landscape elements that the dog can’t move around without breaking or trampling on something.


Dogs naturally patrol the perimeter of their territory whether it’s a wall, a fence or a hedge, so anything planted in those areas may be crushed, broken or destroyed.
Dogs also check out any noise they hear outside the yard, so high-traffic areas (such as gates and and where your yard meets your neighbor’s) will also suffer.

Identify the high-traffic areas and plan for them. Leave at least 18 inches along a fence line open for the dog. Cover areas trampled bare with mulches or pea gravel, but don’t use anything with sharp edges (such as crushed gravel).

Although you need to leave space for a dog to move along the fence line, create a fence within a fence by planting a row of low shrubs or varieties that get tall enough and create an overhang with room for the dog to walk under the foliage. If you want a hedge, keep it full on the side facing your yard and trimmed back on the fence side.

Deciduous shrubs to consider planting include crepe myrtle, barberry, forsythia,  buddelia (butterfly bush) and Rose of Sharon. Evergreen shrubs you may want to look at include American holly, yaupon, camellia sasanqua, Burford holly and juniper. Check with your county Cooperative Extension office for more suggestions.

If your dog or cat likes to chew on plants, you can check with the Animal Poison Control Center of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for lists of toxic and non-toxic plants.


If you have a problem with cats visiting your yard or digging in your garden spots and flower beds, then you know there are no sure-fire ways to keep them out. But there are things you can do to make an area unattractive to cats.

Before planting in a bed or garden, spread a layer of chicken wire over the planting area. Cats don’t like the feel of chicken wire on their paws and will avoid it. You can cut holes in the wire to give you spots big enough to put plants into the ground.

Engage in scent warfare by planting things such as rosemary, sage, lavender and coleus nanina, which all have pungent aromas cats dislike. Some cats abhor the smell of coffee, so you could spread a layer of coffee grounds in the garden. The scent of oranges turns off some cats, so you could sprinkle orange peels in problem areas.

Some people suggest putting mothballs in a flowerbed to keep cats away. I tried this without success. In fact, I found my neighbor’s cat napping in the middle of the mothballs.

Go for texture. Cats don’t like walking on bristly or rough surfaces, so make the area unappealing with  rock mulch or pine cones.

For folks who want to go high-tech, there are motion-activated devices (such as the Scarecrow Sprinkler) on the market that spray water or make noises to drive away cats, and other animals from specific areas.

A version of this article appeared July 25, 2009, in the HomeStyle section of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.