Q: Between 8:30 and 9 each morning, there's an unusual rendezvous at my home. At first, I thought it was a coincidence, but this happens every morning unless there's heavy rain. Our indoor-only cat sits on the window ledge. Within minutes, a crow arrives. The crow, crows. (I'm not sure what you call it when crows "talk.") Whiskers meows back, chirping like a songbird. The two have a 2- or 3-minute "conversation." Could it be they've become friends? And what are they "talking" about?
A: This pair may, in fact, be "friends." They certainly are communicating.
Sometimes, our friendships are dependent. For example, some friendships are dependant on work or another friend. This friendship seems dependent on the pane of glass separating the two. Still, either participant needs to voluntarily show up. I wonder what would happen if you took your cat outdoors on a leash and harness for those meetings.
For your cat, these encounters offer wonderful enrichment. However, exactly what each participant derives from the relationship — not being a crow or a cat — I'm not qualified to say. Feel free to e-mail me a video of a meeting.
Q: We need a new suggestion for teaching our dog not to pull on the leash. If the dog pulls on the leash, we stop walking and stand still, hoping the dog will return to us. Instead, our 7-month-old dog goes forward and just keeps pulling on the leash. Any advice?
A: There's nothing wrong with what you're doing. The technique you describe is the first step in teaching a dog to heal, or at least not to pull, says Michelle Douglas, of West Haven, Conn., president of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. However, not all dogs respond to the same techniques.
First, set yourself (and your dog) up for success by using a head halter or body harness instead of a collar. There are three other training techniques you could try. Douglas says that instead of using just one, rotate between them for the greatest effectiveness. With all these techniques, Douglas likes to praise for a good job and use occasional treats or a toy as an additional motivator:
Random Directions: As you walk, force your dog to follow you by suddenly, and without warning, randomly changing directions. To keep up with you, your dog will have to follow. Walk forward, quickly turn left after 10 feet, then make another left after five more feet, then right after 30 feet. Then stop and ask your dog to sit. Then, off you go again in random directions for random distances. If your dog does pull ahead, that's a good time to simply turn.
Back It Up: Walk forward a random number of steps and, whenever you want, or the second you feel your pup pull, go backward. Then pivot and turn so your dog lands on your left in a heel. This maneuver may require choreography by an experienced trainer.
One Step at a Time: Walk forward two steps, and stop. Now, ask your dog to sit. Start again, move forward three steps, then stop. Then, four steps, etc. Over time, build up the number of steps in increments of three, then increments of six or eight, etc.
Another idea is to speak to a trainer about how to use a clicker to reinforce your dog not to pull. For all techniques, success is a matter of practice and reinforcement. The hope is that your dog will learn to be in step with you, rather than taking you for a walk. Dog training classes are wonderful for practicing this sort of thing.
Q: Our 7-year-old Shih Tzu developed a bladder stone. She'd been on two courses of antibiotic. She seemed to improve by the time she'd finish each course, but then the symptoms cropped up again. We decided to change vets partially because our dog was never treated by the vet, but rather by a technician.
Our new vet cultured the dog's urine and put her on a 30-day course of antibiotic. Still, she had blood in her urine. A X-ray revealed a thumbnail-sized bladder stone. So, for another 30 days, she was on an antibiotic. The vet also suggested a special diet for the rest of her life that's designed to dissolve stones.
The first vet had bombarded me with products every time I walked through the door. The vets know how much I love my dog, and I fear they're taking of advantage of me because they know I'll do anything for her. Are we on the right track with treatment?
A: Dr. Jody Lulich, an internal medicine specialist and professor at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine-Minneapolis, is an internationally known expert on kidney stones and urinary infection in pets.
"The specific therapy depends on the composition of the stone," Lulich notes. "If possible, analyzing the stone would be helpful." In fact, a lab which Lulich helps oversee analyzes kidney stones at no cost to veterinarians, though many vets do assess some fee for the service and mailing costs.
Lulich guesses, based on your comments, that your dog has a struvite stone. Rather than a special diet (which would not be suggested for the remainder of your pet's life), you need to determine what's causing the infection; possibilities include hypothyroidism or Cushing's disease, the use of steroids or other immunosuppressant drugs, even obesity. If the presumption is correct, then the object is to control and eliminate the infection so it won't recur.