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Interview With Vet Marty Becker, Author 'Your Dog: The Owner's Manual'

Tips on caring for your canine family member

Q. You also like smaller dogs, especially for mature people. Why?

A. They fit into our lifestyle better. They're easier to lift up and down if you're putting them on the counter to brush their teeth or getting them into the car for a trip. They tend to be embraced in the full breadth and depth of our lives, as opposed to spending a lot of time in the house.

Q. We also need to be careful about tripping over small dogs, though, right?

A. It's easy to trip on a pet in the house; it's easiest to trip on a pet when you're walking them. They'll dart across in front of you with the leash if they see an errant squirrel. That's another reason I like smaller dogs. It's a lot easier to control a 10-pound dog than it is to control a 100-pound dog.

Q. How about male versus female dogs?

A. If you forced me to pick, I would pick female. And if you have two dogs, never get dogs of the same gender. You're better off getting a male and a female, and if you have a big dog, you're better off mixing it with a small dog. When they're very close in physical size and of the same sex, that's when you get most of the inter-species aggression.

Q. Is having two dogs a smart thing to do?

A. There's a study out now showing that in multiple pet households, the pets get sick less often. When they're hospitalized, they don't stay in the hospital as long, and, overall, they live longer. That's because they're a social species. They get to express their genetic exuberance around another dog. You and I can't share the excitement of smelling another animal that's flitted across the yard, but they can.

Q. Teaching dogs to walk on a loose leash is critical, you say. Why?

A. A dog pulling out in front, into the pressure of a leash, is really bad manners. It's also an expression of dominance. Only when your dog is on a loose leash and walking beside you — not pulling ahead — should you move forward. Every time the dog starts pulling, stop. Repeat that. You should also have tasty treats in your pocket, and every once in a while feed those to your dog. Reward him for good behavior with lots of praise. Pretty soon you'll see he'll just stay there with you, and you'll only need to reinforce this maybe once in a while.

Q. This can be particularly important for people who aren't walking as quickly as they used to.

A. Exactly, or who don't have the same balance. As you get older, you start getting a weakened immune system. You may have had a medical procedure and you're taking steroids, or you're getting chemotherapy, or you're on cyclosporine, or your immune system is compromised by something. That's where we worry a little more about zoonotic diseases, which are diseases transmitted from pets to humans.

Next: How do you save on pet care? >>

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