A pet primer

Sit! Establishing clear expectations and boundaries for your pet leads to a healthier pet, says dog trainer Heather Polechio. photos by Jake Frankel

As a professional dog walker, my pet-care motto is: “When in doubt, wear them out.”

Exercise makes a difference for your pet. It helps keep Fido or Garfield at a healthy weight, which prevents such debilitating health problems as arthritis and diabetes — just a few problems that plague overweight pets. Exercise and mental stimulation also help minimize unwanted household behaviors (otherwise known as the cat scratching the couch or the dog chewing on your favorite slipper). Overall, keeping your pet thoroughly exercised will contribute to lifelong health and a happier home.

But there’s more. While appropriate exercise and stimulation go a long way, pets also thrive with clear, consistent boundaries and a high-quality, species-appropriate diet. Combined with physical activity, these are the very best things we can offer our pets.

Heather Polechio, certified professional dog trainer with The Dog Door Canine Services in downtown Asheville, emphasizes the importance of giving your pet a predictable, reliable protocol in the form of an exercise regimen or general behavioral rules — such as teaching your dog simple concepts like “sit means please” and “nothing is for free.” For example, sit to be fed, sit to go out of the door, sit before putting leash on, sit before taking leash off, sit before petting and sit before tossing the ball. Polechio explains that establishing such expectations “is actually very important, as these concepts create a sense of predictability for the dog. You as the owner become reliable and predictable, thereby creating a sense of ‘safety’ for the dog, as predictability equals safety. This is the first defense against anxiety, which is the root of many problems a lot of newly homed dogs face.”

Another way to maintain a happy home is to provide your pets with healthy outlets for species- and breed-appropriate behaviors. Don’t hesitate to research your dog’s breed, looking for toys or activities that might particularly interest him, given the job he was bred to do. It is also important to keep indoor cats entertained, stimulated and exercised. A high-quality scratching post (one that will not tip over when the cat tries to scratch) is critical, both for your cat’s health and the health of your furniture. Cats have a natural need to scratch and should be provided with an appropriate outlet.

Interactive toys can help wear out an energetic kitten or puppy. I’m a big fan of the toys that chirp and tweet for cats. For dogs, I always go for Kong Toys — a stout, snowman-shaped rubber chew toy, which can be stuffed with peanut butter or other treats. Above all, know your pet. Figure out which toys pique his interest and stock up. Try to avoid leaving the toys out all the time, however, as your pet will be much more interested in the novelty of a toy that is not always lying lifeless around the house.

I am also an advocate of setting clear, consistent boundaries with your pet. With dogs, it is especially important to establish good habits and maintain consistent boundaries early. You might not be annoyed by the cute little 5-pound puppy jumping up and pawing your leg for attention now, but how will grandma feel when she comes to visit and puppy has grown into a 75-pound lab, jumping and pawing for her attention?

Kristi King, maker of locally made Green Earth Pet Food (greenearthpetfood.com), offered some words of wisdom on pet nutrition, another basic health component. Like many folks who emphasize a holistic approach to pet care, she notes that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. … A healthier diet can cost more than a cheap, unhealthy one; but in the long run, it is less expensive because your pet can avoid such chronic and costly diseases as diabetes, heart disease, skin allergies, obesity, kidney disease, liver disease, arthritis and cancer.”

Nutrition affects your pet’s immune system and behavior, for better or for worse, and King believes that by feeding a species-appropriate diet, “your pet will have a better temperament, less stress or hyperactivity, or the opposite — less lethargic [and] easier to train.”

Some pets, just like some people, are sensitive to artificial colorings and flavorings. Know your pet. Watch his reaction to new foods and learn to read your pet-food ingredient labels. There are many local sources for good pet foods, but one local company, Lucky Dog Delivers (www.luckydogdelivers.com), brings it to your door.

Next week: natural healing and stress relief for your pets.

— West Asheville Dog Walking owner/operator Karen Oelschlaeger can be reached at karen@avlpetsitter.com.


Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

2 thoughts on “A pet primer

  1. twinkie223

    “Next week: natural healing and stress relief for your pets.”

    Oh good lord. What’s next, psychoanalysis and past-life regression therapy?

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.