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Divert dog from clock watching

Q. My German shepherd is very close to my son, who gets home from school at 4 p.m. - unless he has extra help or band practice. In that case, he gets home an hour later. The dog has come to expect him home at 4 p.m. every day, and when my son does not show up, she gets very upset and whines, drools and paces in the kitchen until he gets home. Is there any way I can help her through this?

- Shari Hunter, Babylon

A. There is much we do not know about how dogs perceive the passage of time, but we do know that dogs and many other animals can anticipate different events in their day. As with humans, some dogs are more aware of clock time than others are, and some dogs can handle random changes in their routine better than others.

It is hard to calm a sensitive dog who is anxious about an expected event not happening, as dogs rarely take our word for anything. So to pet and hug her and tell her that everything is OK is useless. In her mind, everything is not OK because your son is not home yet. The best thing is to distract her before she gets anxious.

On the days you know your son is coming home late, take the dog for a walk at 3:45 so she never has the opportunity to become worried about when your son is getting home. When she is outdoors with you, looking at and smelling everything, she will have forgotten about waiting for him to get home. The key to remember is to distract her before she starts to get anxious.

If you wait until she has become aware that your son has not yet come home, she will most likely be worried on the walk as well.

Q. We just set up our Christmas tree, and our cockatiel has decided that this is a great place to hang out. This is not unreasonable - birds do like to sit in trees. However, he is chewing on the bark of the tree and the needles. It is a balsam fir. Can those pine needles be toxic to him?

- Brian Noland, Levittown

A. If the needles on your Christmas tree were toxic to birds, then there would be dead birds in all the coniferous forests across the world. So you really do not have to worry about your cockatiel chewing on the bark or needles. If there are lights on the tree, however, that could be an issue.

Birds love to chew on electrical wires. There is not much you can do to prevent the bird from flying over to the tree once he has discovered that it is such a fun place to be, so for this holiday season you are just going to have to restrict his time out to when you can keep your eye on him. This is really the way any bird's out-of-cage time should be managed at all times of the year.

Q. All summer, I misted my gray parrot with water every day. Now that it is winter, our house is a bit cooler, and I wonder if I should continue to do it. I think he likes it - if I do not mist him, he takes a bath in his water dish - but I do not want him to get a chill.- Barbara Santos, Smithtown

A. Healthy parrots can tolerate cool weather much better than we think they can. In winter, particularly, it is important that you mist him daily as the room air is drier than it is in summer. The dry air will compromise his feathers if they are not misted daily. When a bird's feathers have dried and become brittle, they lose the ability to keep him warm, and he will be really cold. For this reason, I mist my birds daily - summer and winter.

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