Training a dog to eliminate in one spot
Q: We have two Cavalier King Charles spaniels. We also have 18-month-old twins who now play in the yard every day. I regret not having trained the dogs to eliminate in a specific area of the yard when we got them four years ago. Now the yard has to be carefully searched and cleaned every day. We do not have the time to always physically lead the dogs to a spot. Are there other ways to accomplish this? --Seth Goldman, Kings Park
A: Dogs are creatures of habit and like to eliminate in one area and one type of ground surface all the time. If a dog is led to that particular area by hand and is forced to stay in that spot every single time it has to eliminate, then that area gets hard-wired into the dog's mind as the place to go. The operative phrase here is "led to that area by hand," and you indicate there is not enough time in the day to do this with 18-month-old twins to care for.
I was in a similar situation years back with multiple dogs to train, and I solved it by fencing in a small area with chain link by the back door and against the house so it was under the eaves and protected from the rain. I covered the ground with driveway gravel. When it was time to let the dogs out, I would lead them to the fenced area -- it was about 8-feet-square -- put them in there, close the gate and go back in the house. After 20 minutes, the dogs finished what they had to do, and I let them out into the yard to run and play.
After a few weeks of this, the dogs got so used to the routine that I was able to take the gate off and the dogs would go in and out of their "bathroom" of their own choice. Many fence companies can put together such a dog run at an affordable price and the gravel is sold at garden centers.
Q: We found a nest of baby rabbits in our yard at the edge of the lawn next to a thick juniper bush. The gardeners blew off the layer of fur and grass that the mother had covered the babies with. We put the fur back over them, but we do not see the mother coming back to them. Should we take them indoors to bottle-feed them? --Toni Richards, Smithtown
A: Bottle-feeding baby rabbits is a huge undertaking that very rarely ends in success unless you have lots of time and experience. Rabbit milk is very rich and the mother rabbits -- called does -- do not stay with their babies as dogs and cats do. Instead, they build that nest you saw and line it with their fur. That is enough to keep the babies warm. (Their milk is so rich they do not have to nurse the babies continuously and just visit them a couple of times at night under the cover of darkness to do it. Then they cover over the babies with more fur and grass and stay far away from them until the next feeding time.)
So the best thing to do here is to just leave them all alone. Do not worry about the mother not caring for the babies because your scent is on the nest -- that will not happen. If you truly think the mother is not caring for the babies, you can determine it for sure by dusting some flour around the area that surrounds the nest before it gets dark. In the morning, if the flour is undisturbed, you can say with certainty that the mom is not caring for the babies and you can then take them to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who has experience in bottle- feeding motherless bunnies.
Q: We have a Russian tortoise as a pet and she is a wonderful addition to our family. Our son is allergic to any animal with fur, and we do not have time for a bird. We feed our tortoise a "spring mix" of salad greens we buy in the grocery store, and we dust the greens with a vitamin supplement. However, our backyard is full of dandelions and other weed-type plants that look very much like the greens we have been feeding her. Can we feed them to her as well? --Cindy Grant, Lawrence
A: In springtime, the world is full of nutritious greens that can be fed to pet reptiles, birds and small animals. The best are dandelions, chickweed and purslane, and all of these grow in many flower beds and up against the sides of houses, where they are safe from the landscapers' herbicides and poisons. That is the only issue you have to worry about. For this reason, I feed greens I collect for my pets only from areas that I know have never been sprayed.
If you have small birds such as finches, parakeets or cockatiels, another nice treat you can forage for them are heads of seeding grass.
Many grasses growing wild in remote areas (those never cut by a lawn mower) produce seed heads you can cut off and give to your birds as a very nutritious and all-natural treat.