Dear Matthew: I live in a one-bedroom apartment, and I want to get a dog. The problem is, I'm one of those people who can't stand little dogs with annoying barks. I want to get a big dog, but I'm not sure if it's fair to keep a big dog in my little apartment for the long hours while I'm at work. Is this a good idea?
- Big-Dog Lover
Dear Big-Dog Lover: Didn't anyone ever tell you? It's not the size that counts. . . . There are plenty of apartment dwellers who are proud owners of healthy, happy, large dogs. The key factor you should consider when determining what kind of dog you should get is the dog's energy level.
For instance, if you get a hunting dog such as a golden retriever, it's going to need more exercise than a Great Dane because, although the Great Dane is bigger, it's more lethargic. On the other hand, a tiny dog with a high energy level will ravage your apartment while you're gone.
This leads us to another important issue you need to consider before getting a dog: Do you have a lifestyle that will allow you to take proper care of a dog? Besides having to walk your dog in the morning and evening, you should either be able to take your dog out around lunch or arrange to have someone else do it for you. Do you travel much? Do you have the time to properly train your dog? If your dog barks incessantly and you don't have the time to train him not to, you might start receiving some nasty complaints from your neighbors.
If you have the time, however, big dogs and apartments can be perfectly compatible. In fact, apartment-dwelling dogs usually receive more attention and care than yard dogs. It's a lot easier to ignore a dog that spends most of its time lounging around the pool than one whose smiling face greets you the second you roll out of bed in the morning.
One more thing: Don't worry about your dog getting lonely while you're at work. Dogs aren't lonely; people are lonely. Dogs don't get bored; people get bored. As long as you get him the right type of toys and give him the right type of exercise for his energy level, you'll have a happy dog.
Dear Matthew: My cat, Harold, and I are the best of friends. He's very affectionate and well-behaved - I brag about him to all my friends.
Recently, however, he's developed a very disgusting habit: He keeps bringing me dead animals. He's brought me mice, birds and even an occasional snake. Why is he doing this, and how do I get him to stop?
Dear Patricia: Don't all best friends like to give each other little gifts? You should be flattered that Harold is taking the time and effort to present you with his hunting trophies.
Actually, there's more to Harold's behavior than simple gift-giving: Harold is trying to give you a crash course in Mousing 101. Most cats have a teaching instinct that compels them to catch little creatures and bring them back to show their young how to hunt and kill. Obviously, Harold thinks your mouse-catching skills could use a little work, so he's taken it upon himself to bring you up to speed.
Unfortunately, there is little you can do to discourage this behavior. Any sort of punishment will probably just confuse Harold and leave him wondering what he did wrong. The next time Harold brings you one of his "presents," your best bet is to simply ignore it until Harold wanders away and then dispose of the unlucky victim.
Dear Matthew: I want to get my dog trained, but I'm not sure how I go about picking the right trainer. I had a friend who took his dog to get trained, and he ended up with a dog that was meaner and more disobedient than it was when he started. How can I make sure that doesn't happen to me?
- Man and His Loyal Dog
Dear Man: Sending your dog to training is a lot like sending your kids to school: Nobody doubts that the education is good for them, but every so often, you can get a bad teacher who'll ruin the whole experience. If you choose carefully, however, you shouldn't have to worry.
When picking a trainer, there are some questions you should ask: What kind of experience does he or she have? How many dogs has he trained? Is he certified? Has he trained your breed of dog before? Does he believe in punishment? How does he correct a dog's improper behavior?
Obviously, if he says that he hits or frightens the dog, that's a big clue that he's not the right trainer for you. The most important thing is to be observant while talking with the prospective trainers. Do they seem gentle? Do they relate well to your dog when they first meet? Do they guarantee their work?
Ask yourself if you feel comfortable having the trainer around your dog. If the person has the right experience and you feel you can trust him or her, then you're probably on the right track.