Top Sporting Dog Breeds

Cats are Trainable —
and That’s Not a Punchline

Program teaches layabout felines to work for their food

A kitten kindergarten class at the Houston SPCA in Houston teaches felines how to work — or at least learn tricks — for their food.

People have low expectations of cats.

Sam Connelly tells of the time that she and her cat Storm observed a Canine Good Citizen test while they were waiting for their feline agility class to start.

“I’m watching the dogs and I commented to the evaluator, ’My cat can do all that,”’ said Connelly. “At the end she said, ’Want to take a shot?’ like it was a big joke.”

To the evaluator’s surprise, Storm passed the test, successfully performing commands like sit, stay, come, down, and walking on a leash.

Storm is a cat who does some of these things for a living. He helps Connelly train lost pet search dogs in Maryland by hiding and waiting to be found.

But training cats isn’t just for professionals — human or feline. The Michigan Humane Society has a Pawsitive Start program that uses volunteers to train cats in their shelter in useful and fun behaviors like the high-five and walking into a carrier.

“A lot of people look kind of funny at us when we say we train the shelter cats,” says CJ Bentley of the humane society. Cats need more than just playtime outside the cage to be well-adjusted in the shelter environment, she says.

Problem-solving power
“It’s not just all about the physical, it’s the mental as well,” says Bentley. “To teach them to be able to solve problems on their own can reduce the stress. It gives them control over a situation.”

It’s not just shelter cats that need more, though. People expect pet cats to “just hang out, which isn’t realistic,” says Melissa Chan, behavior specialist at the Houston SPCA. Cats are naturally active animals, she says, and “one thing I wish I could tell every cat owner: Cats want to work for their food.”

Having your cat touch your hand with its nose on command is one of the easiest behaviors to train, Chan says. If you hold out your hand, most cats will naturally sniff it. Reward with a treat until the cat is doing it every time you present your hand. Then, start repeating a word like “touch” every time.

This trick can then be used to get the cat to move where you want it by placing your hand in the desired spot. “You can use it to ask them to get off the couch, or teach them to jump through a hoop by putting the hand on the other side of the hoop,” Chan says.

Another useful behavior is entering the cat carrier on their own. Sandy Lagreca, a volunteer at the Michigan Humane Society, says that this is great for both cats and people: “They go in without having to be picked up and shoved into the crate, which can be traumatic for the owner.”

Patience, repetition and a treat
All this requires is patience, repetition and a highly desired treat. Throw the treat into the crate (and if your cat is already suspicious of the carrier, step away). Let the cat go in, eat the treat, and leave, repeating until it’s completely comfortable going into the carrier. Then, start to close the door and leave the cat inside for increasingly longer intervals. Again, repeat till the cat is comfortable before you try to pick up the carrier.

Chan says that people often don’t think cats are trainable because they lack a dog’s desire to please, “but we have things that cats want. That’s all that matters.” Figure out what your cat will work for — it may be a little tuna, a bit of canned food on the end of a chopstick, or maybe a toss of a toy mouse.

Connelly says to keep training sessions short — she recommends no more than five minutes — and varied. “Teach something else when they get one thing right,” she says. “Cats get bored easily.”

In addition to the specific useful behaviors, Bentley says, training can help prevent problems by changing the terms of your relationship with your pet. “The animal learns, when I do this, you’re happy and I get a piece of food, I guess I should focus on making you happy,” she says. “Teaching our cats to successfully do what we like and get rewarded makes them more inclined to do what we like.”

And it’s also rewarding to see that your cat is capable of so much more than lying on the couch. Says Lagreca, “It’s fun to watch the progression and see the lights go on — when they make that connection it’s a magical moment.”

What Pet Would You
Recommend for Geeks?
Author: Nicole Bremer Nash -

I am mostly a dog person, though I have been known to truly enjoy the company of some cats. Dogs are great — they are always up for an adventure; they know when you need a slobbery kiss; and they literally force you to slow down and play. I have a history of keeping other pets as well. I once had a mouse named Ishtar; a rabbit named Corduroy; and I’ve had hermit crabs, a turtle, hamsters, tree frogs, and a multitude of fish. I once even kept a Venus Flytrap as a sort of “pet.” These days, the family unit includes dogs, cats, and one very large, very old albino carp that was purchased at WalMart for about 30 cents and has lived longer than ever expected and grown larger than is normal for a common household goldfish. Moby, the fish, has lived up to his name and turned into a sort of whale among goldfish. At this point, we all imagine he has a sort of personality and has been an interesting source of biology study.

I like pets, not only for the companionship, but also for the opportunity for study that they provide. But I don’t think I’ve ever had a really geeky sort of pet. Now I’m on the hunt — what is the geekiest pet possible?

In my research, I came across the Axolotl, or Mexican Walking Fish. The Axolotl is endangered in the wild, as it only occurs naturally in Lake Chalco and the now dry Lake Xochimilco, both in central Mexico. Basically, the Axolotl is critically endangered because people messed with its only natural habitat. But, the Axolotl is a common pet in the United States, Great Britain, and Japan, and is used quite frequently in scientific research. Axolotls look cool (all white and translucent with fuzzy things on their heads); they are entirely aquatic; and they feature an interesting lack of metamorphosis, as well as a natural talent for regeneration (though you should never harm one “just to see”), making them wonderful pets for study. Plus, Axolotls appear to smile, which makes them more attractive as pets.

A similar type of aquatic salamander is the Common Mudpuppy, which lives in rivers and lakes of Northeastern United States and Canada. Mudpuppies are nocturnal carnivores, making them very interesting pets for study; however, they do rank low on the cuddle factor. Being entirely aquatic, this is not a pet that you will handle much, and while their colorations are quite attractive, they do not seem to smile in the same way that Axolotls do. Still, the Common Mudpuppy seems like a geeky pet that you could spend hours watching and caring for, thus making it enjoyable to have around.

Of course, if you have a more common household pet, you can just make it geeky, as I’ve done here with my dog Georgia.

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Advice, Freely Given

In the course of my work day, I’m often asked for advice, on so many different matters. I’ve learned the art of b.s. fairly well, though – Really! – I usually try to give my best.
One of my ex-managers would tell me “your biggest fault is you give away too much in the aisle!” I know – but…..well – its the mommy in me, I’m thinking.

I’ve found that a lot of people don’t really want advice – they just want to tell me how hard they have it while I give them figurative pats and tell them they are Oh So Burdened! I’m getting pretty good at that.
While sometimes, often, OH -ALL RIGHT -MOST OF THE TIME – sheesh!!! – I want to jump in and fix things for them, tell them what to do, how and when to do it, that usually isn’t what is needed. Sometimes while in the course of a long recitation of woes, I realize – they really don’t want things to change. They want to keep doing what they are doing and getting the same results. “I have to pre chew his food for him or he won’t eat anything!’ Seriously, people??

I’ve gotten a few pat phrases down that I haul out when asked for advice. My favorite was blatently stolen from a popular talk show host “and how’s that working for you?” And about 99% of the time I get one of two answers, either “just fine” or “its not”. Then I know if I’m giving empathetic noises or help.
Too many people worry way too much. “Is this right?” “Can I do that, try this?” My usual answer to that one is “He’s your dog, living in your house, you get to pick.” Which makes sense, no one raises their kids alike, no one’s house is exactly like another’s. We are all different.

Along those lines I also say “if its not broke, don’t fix it.” Which seems to relieve some anxiety, for some reason. “Oh, it IS working…….”
Another phrase I use fairly often is “Stop doing that.” Which is used when people tell me “when I do this, he does that”. Or the one that goes along with it “don’t let him do that anymore.”

And then of course there is my favorite phrase when confronted with a long winded whiner “Its time for class, I’ve got to go!”

Hints From Heloise
Washington Post

Curtailing a Trend

Dear Heloise: Thank you, thank you, thank you! Your great and timely article giving GUINEA-PIG GUIDANCE was just super! I wish this type of guidance would be required reading when dogs or cats become the pet of the day. The movie "101 Dalmatians" just about ruined the breed! Every breeder in the country was producing as many puppies as quickly as he or she could. This is a breed that has health issues, which registered breeders are carefully addressing in their breeding programs. There were deaf dogs being dropped off all over the country. -- Sue J., San Antonio

Sue, many rescue groups and readers have expressed your sentiments exactly. So, folks, please stop and take a minute to think before bringing a pet into your home, especially the current trendy animals in movies or comic strips. -- Heloise


Dear Readers: Beverly Sullivan of Kerrville, Texas, sent us a photo of her orange-striped tiger cat, Harold, who is lying quite comfortably in the bathroom sink. To see Harold, visit -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: Please, please, please give some advice on cleaning bird cages. -- A Reader, via e-mail

We've had several birds through the years, and they do like to drop seeds all over. Newspapers that are folded or cut into layers make great liners for a cage. You can cut them to size and set several down at one time, and then remove one or two sheets each day. You should be able to slide out the drawer at the bottom, fold up the first layer or two and toss it into the garbage. The papers should be changed daily for the health of your bird and to control smells.

For cleaning the cage, it's best to use a bird-safe cage cleaner (follow label directions). DO NOT use commercial spray cleaners, as they are toxic to sensitive bird lungs.

Cages should be deep-cleaned once a week at minimum. Again, use a bird-safe cage cleaner, and be sure to clean drawers, grates, perches and toys. You might need a sturdy brush to get into all the nooks and crannies. If perches are chewed or permanently stained, they should be replaced.

Rinse the cage completely, and don't put your bird into the cage until it is completely dry. -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: If your pet would benefit from elevated food and water dishes, don't go out and spend a fortune on them! Instead, purchase two clay pots -- the opening on each should allow the food/water dishes to set in them securely. Add some rocks to the inside of each pot to weigh them down, and you now have a more affordable alternative! -- Adrianna in Texas


Dear Readers: Make plans for your pet to be cared for after you die. There are many ways to do this: a pet trust, in your will, a designated guardian or a caretaker. Check laws in your state. -- Heloise

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Pet Health Care Expert:
Dog Walking Often More
Popular Than Gym Exercise

Dog walking during one week can total more hours of exercise than the gym alone, a new study shows.

According to pet health care expert Bob Martin, the average pooch owner will take it out for a stroll at least five times in seven days, spending more than eight hours in the fresh air.

However, those who do not share their home with a furry friend get an average of 80 minutes worth of exercise each week from the gym or a similar workout.

Bob Martin spokesperson said dog walking minutes and hours often add up quickly, meaning pet owners often get much more exercise than those who rely on a more structured plan.

It was also found that 47 per cent of non-pet owners do not work out at all.

More than three-quarters of the people surveyed said they prefer to take their furry friend for a stroll, rather than hit the gym.

"Dog walkers are able to rack up the miles and enjoy fresh air while admiring the Great British countryside," Bob Martin told the Telegraph.

Pet insurance customers who want to make sure their dog is walked enough this winter could think about visiting parks and recreation areas a little out of their usual range. Some variety and difference can be great fun - for you and the pooch.

Dog Potty Training Tips –
Teaching Her To Toilet Outside

If you are to be successful in teaching your dog to wee outside you need a plan of action. It will not work if you do not have some rules, and keep to them.

Whenever you take your dog or puppy outside to wee, make sure you have a couple of treats with you, hidden from your pet until she performs for you in the way you want her to. The object is to reward the behaviour you want from her, then she will likely repeat it. This is the way to success.

Have your dog on a leash when you take her outside to toilet. Young dogs especially are easily distracted by so many things going on around them. So by leashing her you are helping to reduce these distractions. Take your time and be patient with her. When she does toilet, give her a reward straight away.

Decide on a keyword to use when you want her to toilet. This can be a single word, or a two word combination. Examples might be pee, and go pee, but you might prefer to your own choice. Once you have selected you keyword, be sure to keep to it.

Be vigilant when your puppy or dog is inside the house. Watch for the tell tale signs that she needs the toilet. These are likely to be circling movements, or sniffing. When you see this happening, take her outside straight away. You might make it outside in time. If not, do not be upset or angry, but be patient with her.

Signs of annoyance, such as shouting or threatening, will only confuse her and set back all the progress you have made so far in training her to potty outside.

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Top 10 Sporting Dog Breeds

The Sporting Group includes pointers, setters, retrievers and many spaniels. This group of fairly active dogs is composed of a wide variety of breeds, which were developed to aid hunters by finding, flushing out and retrieving game. Members of this group all need a fair amount of exercise but you don’t have to be a hunter to own one of these dogs. Many breeds in this group are usually very good with children and include the: English Setter; Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Welsh Springer Spaniel, English Cocker Spaniel, and Flat Coated Retriever. Dogs in this group range in size from small dog breeds like the American Cocker Spaniel up to medium to large dog breeds with the setters (English, Irish and Gordon) and the Weimaraner being the largest The two most popular family dogs in the world are the Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever. The top ten most popular sporting dogs in the US are the following.

1.Labrador Retriever
Labrador Retrievers are the most popular dog in the US (#1) and one of the best family dogs in the world. The Lab is gentle, loyal, intelligent and extremely reliable with children. These large-sized Retrievers are not apartment dogs but can adapt well to city living if they are given sufficient exercise. The Labrador is good natured and eager to learn and can be easily trained to do everything from competitive obedience and field trials to becoming a “seeing-eye” dog for the blind.

2.Golden Retriever
This Retriever is a good hunting dog, seeing-eye dog, obedience and agility competitor, and outstanding family dog. The extremely popular (#2) Golden is a gentle, confident and loyal dog that is cheerful, trustworthy and responsive to training. This breed makes a wonderful family dog that is friendly with everyone – both human and other animals. This large-sized Retriever does very well with children but toddlers should always be supervised as young untrained dogs can be over exuberant.

3.Cocker Spaniel
The American Cocker Spaniel is smaller than its English cousin – the English Cocker Spaniel. This beautiful spaniel has a luxurious thick and silky coat with trousered legs. This small- to medium- sized gun dog can be used for hunting and retrieving but is extremely popular (#15) as a companion and show dog. Cockers get along extremely well with children and strangers and can adapt to apartment living if exercised twice daily.

4.German Shorthaired Pointer
The German Shorthaired is a very athletic gun-dog that doesn’t belong in the city. This large-sized dog is loyal, intelligent and eager to learn and can be trained for field, agility and obedience competitions. This breed is extremely popular (#20) but needs to be challenged both mentally and physically. The breed makes a good family dog but may be too exuberant for toddlers and small children

5.English Springer Spaniel
The cheerful medium-sized English Springer Spaniel is the progenitor of the English hunting spaniels and the largest of the spaniel dog breeds. These popular (#28) Spaniels make both excellent hunting retrievers and good family dogs that get along well with children. Some Springer bloodlines have shown some aggression and dominance so early socialization and obedience training for males should be a priority.

The popular (#30) Weimaraner is a large-sized hunting dog breed. This high-energy dog needs an athletic family that can satisfy his demanding exercise requirements. The Weimaraner needs an experienced owner who can manage and control this headstrong breed and provide early socialization and on-going obedience training. This dog doesn’t do well with children unless it is raised with them. Weims need to live indoors and spend a lot of time with their families. Well trained Weimaraners are a delight but poorly trained dogs can be destructive, rambunctious, have a high prey drive and try to dominate other dogs.

The Brittany Spaniel is an active medium-sized dog that is intelligent, loyal and easy to train. It makes a terrific hunting dog or family pet and requires very little grooming and does very well with all children. This popular breed (#30) needs lots of exercise and makes a fairly good watchdog.

The Short-haired Vizsla is a popular (#44) medium- to large-sized hunting dog breed with an elegant bearing and strong and muscular appearance. The Vizsla is lively, sweet, affectionate and somewhat sensitive. This athletic, sporty and agile breed needs lots of exercise and lots of human companionship. Vizlas must be socialized and trained early to build confidence and prevent neurotic behaviour. This is not a city dog and it needs to live with a very active family.

9.Chesapeake Bay Retriever
The Chessie is the strongest and most powerful of the sporting dogs. This large dog loves hunting but also is a great family dog and gets along well with all children. This intelligent breed is quite popular (#49) and somewhat distrustful of strangers and makes a good watchdog. Chesapeakes are not city dogs and need a lot of regular exercise and love to go swimming.

10.Irish Setter
The popular (#67) Irish is an exuberant, happy-go-lucky, goofy, kind, charming and intelligent dog. This breed has no aggression and welcomes everybody. These Setters can be somewhat independent and easily distracted but are intelligent and eager to learn and therefore can be trained fairly easily. The Irish is a superb hunting dog and must have lots of exercise with challenging field and retrieval exercises. If these dogs are given early obedience training, they adapt very well to older children. However this breed is so lively and impulsive when it is young that it could knock toddlers over.

Mike Mathews is a contributing writer and editor for the popular dog breed site: . He provides informative, real-world advice and tips on dog breeds, dog health , dog grooming and more.

Your Pet Loss Stories

by Diane
(Milw, WI)

I found Barney a yellow lab in a dumpster in the town of Ten Mile Oregon. He was inside of a large dog food bag the first thing in the big metal container. My husband climbed in and brought him up. He was such a tiny little white ball of fur. He cried and nestled right in my arms. It was love at first sight. He was only 5 weeks old.

I gave him a bath, fed him soft food along with a bowl of warm milk. I slept with him for the next 4 weeks he went everywhere with me. We were mom and son. My son considered him his little brother. He was as good as gold eager to please. I got him toys and a special collar we went to the ocean together. I did't have any friends because I was new to the state. So Barney was not only my son but my best friend.

I put the word out but no one claimed him. I suppose for fear of being charged with animal abuse. After a while Barney had his own chair to sleep in. Barney protected me. No one could harm me, or enter our home or get in the car. That was his way of saying thank you for saving him.

Barney loved butter. He ate about a pound and a half before I figured out it was him. I kept it in the middle of the table, it took a while before I caught him. He never moved the plate and it looked as though I never put butter on it. All I could say was Barney you little stinker.

Barney was in my life for 2 and a half years. Until one day when I went to the mailbox down the hill. He got a little too close to a fast moving log truck. I miss my dear Barney. The pain of losing him still leaves an ache in my heart. I miss him so. We buried him under a tree on the property. I blame myself. I am waiting for the day I can hug him, and pray to god he forgives me for letting him go to the mailbox that awful day.

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