Q: My daughter's dog is a 16-month-old pit bull mix, about 45 pounds, who is very affectionate and mellow. During a training session, he was attacked by another dog, requiring several stitches. He did not retaliate.
He tries to be friends with every person, cat, medium-sized or large dog that he sees. His problem is when he sees a small or tiny dog. At those times he goes absolutely ballistic, snapping, snarling, barking and trying to get at that dog. In a split second, he becomes the stereotypical pit bull that people fear. It makes no sense to me whatsoever, since he is such a gentle animal. Is there anything I can do to eliminate this behavior? I feel he can become a perfect therapy dog once he matures. I want him to be an ambassador for the breed. --Paul Pugliani, Smithtown
A: Real life is messy and does not cooperate. Your dog has learned that acting in a dramatic manner around small dogs creates a big show. His reward for the aggressive behavior is all the ensuing drama. If it were me, a professional, I would bring together lots of small dogs on leads. Then, in a controlled setting, we would all have fun together. The owners of the small dogs would not be worried that their dogs would be harmed as they know that I was there to control the situation. (You should not try this without a professional dog handler present.) Because your dog would be with all these small dogs and nobody -- neither dog nor human -- is acknowledging his goofy behavior, and because he is having fun now with the treats and praise that are handed out to all the dogs present, then he might decide that being with small dogs is fun and would choose not to go ballistic anymore.
This is always the best way to train an animal. Reward the behavior you want and ignore the behavior that you do not. Then, of course, you have take your dog back into the real world. It is not unreasonable to assume that he may act out again if he sees a little dog that he does not know in a setting that is not controlled.
So you see that you can most likely stop his current behavior if you are able to put together a situation as I have described and keep at it until the loose screws in his head are all tightened up. But life is just so complicated these days for us all. Probably the best solution is to actually adopt a little dog of your own and allow the two of them to get used to each other gradually so that he has his own little-dog friend now. That may allow him to view little dogs in a different light.
Q: My kids got a bunny for Easter from Grampa. He built a giant hutch for her to live in in our backyard. I notice that even though the hutch is in the shade, on the hottest days she stretches out and pants like a dog and seems uncomfortable. What is the best way to keep her comfortable in the hot weather? --Maria Campbell, Riverhead
A: Bunnies kept in hutches outdoors do suffer terribly in the hot weather. You may see a wild rabbit peacefully eating grass on the side of the road in the summer, but that bunny can go under a bush and lay on top of the cool earth that it will encounter there. A bunny in a hutch on a hot summer day is trapped in the heat even though the hutch may be in the shade. So the best thing to do is to get another pen that you set up in your house and keep the bunny inside on the hottest days.
Actually, bunnies do much better as house pets. Even in the most luxurious hutches they are bothered by flies during the day and by raccoons trying to get into the hutches by night. Plus they like being around people. A bunny sitting in a hutch all alone day and night is a lonely and pathetic sight and more of a specimen than a pet.
That being said, if the bunny must be kept in the hutch for whatever reason, the best thing to do is to put a couple of frozen bottles of water in the hutch for the bunny to lean against. If you keep six or so in the freezer you can put them outside with the bunny in rotation throughout the day.
Q: We had a bumper crop of string beans in our garden this year and there are many pods on the vines that we never got around to harvesting. They have matured and we cannot eat them. We have an African gray parrot that loves to pick out the dried peas in his bird food mix and I was wondering if it is safe to give those pods to him to eat? --Lance Anderson, East Meadow
A: Yes, certainly. Such an item is one of the best foods you can give a pet parrot. Not only are the beans very nutritious but the act of opening the pods and taking the beans out one by one is a great enrichment activity for any species of parrot. A handful of those pods will keep a bird busy all day long.