Ask Marty Becker a question about caring for your dog and he not only knows the answer — he lives it. He and his wife, Teresa, who make their home on a horse ranch in Idaho, have four dogs of their own, and on top of that, as Becker, 56, says exuberantly in his new book, Your Dog: The Owner's Manual, "My life is helping pets and the people who love them."
We talked to Becker recently to get his top tips and best advice, knowing, of course, that he brings more than 30 years of experience as a veterinarian to the task and continues practicing veterinary care at the North Idaho Animal Hospital. He has also been a contributor to ABC's Good Morning America for 10 years, writes a syndicated column on pets and is the author of many previous books about animals, including The Healing Power of Pets.
Also, as AARP's pet expert, he contributes regular columns on pet care, which are widely read. One point he stressed in talking about his new book: There is always something new going on in this field, so it's important to stay current.
Q. What's the No. 1 reason people take their pets to the vet today?
A. It's for skin problems. That's across the country and across all demographics. The dogs are biting, scratching, licking, chewing or face rubbing. The collar's tinkling at night, and it's driving people crazy. It's clear that the pet is suffering, but people don't think the reason for this is excessive shedding.
Q. Yet some dogs shed more than others. What should we know?
A. Well, there's a few things to know that aren't necessarily obvious. Smaller dogs have fewer hair follicles; they have less hair than bigger dogs. And long hair on dogs is genetically triggered to fall out less often than short hair. So if you're interested in a dog that's going to shed the least, get a long-haired small dog and keep the hair trimmed short.
Q. Such common sense! But still surprising.
A. Right. You would never think a long-haired dog would shed less. And you'd think a small dog would shed less than a big dog. My wife, Teresa, and I, practice what I preach. Our two indoor dogs are long-haired dogs, and we keep them trimmed short. A lot of people romanticize a pet. They think of the dog they had when they were a kid, or a dog that just seems, from a distance, like a great dog. You really want to do your homework ahead of time if you're in the market for a new dog.
Q. Your recommendation for best breed?
A. I tend to default to mixed breed dogs. With certain breeds, there's a lot of genetic malfunction. If you look at boxers or golden retrievers, for example, 80 percent of them are going to die of cancer. Then there's Doberman pinschers and schnauzers, who tend to have heart problems. With mixed breed dogs, the genetic defects are diluted out. You're getting what's called a hybrid vigor. They just have a healthier gene pool.