Dr. Pawz answers your pet questions: Training methods, heartworm medication, crating

WASHINGTON – Dr. Katy Nelson is at it again — taking your pet questions and offering advice and best practices.

Do you have a question about your pet? Dr. Nelson (a.k.a.: “Dr. Pawz”) is here to help. Email your questions to askdrkaty@wtop.com for free pet advice from a local veterinarian.

This week’s questions from readers address training, heartworm prevention and crating.

Question from Kelly: We completed a reactive dog training class with our dog, but didn’t get much out of it.

I would like to ask whether or not you believe in the use of E-Collar training and does it hurt the dog? I need help finding a good trainer and I don’t have the money or the time to spend on 10 different trainers until I find the right one.

I love my dog more than anything in the world and I want to do what’s best for her. She is very smart and is eager to learn and please. I just need to find the right program for her. She is (probably) a pit mix, about 2 years old, and was rescued after having acid thrown on her face while in a rural shelter in Missouri.

She obviously survived, and surprisingly has no remaining scars except for two small marks on her ears. I do not want to put her in a training program where she may feel abused so that’s why I am hesitant on the E-Collar.

But, if you endorse it, I will trust it.

Response from Dr. Katy Nelson: As you’ve pointed out, every training method does not work for every dog. What works well for some, may not work at all for others.

In my years of veterinary practice and pet ownership, I’ve found that we have to treat all our pets as individuals, and you’ve done the right thing so far by starting with the training that was offered to you upon rescuing your girl.

I’ve always described training as finding your pet’s “currency” and rewarding, or correcting them, based upon what they see as valuable.

Dogs that are extremely food-motivated often respond well to marker, or treat, training because that’s what they love more than anything in the world. When they do what you ask of them, you mark the behavior by treating them, and they remember to do it when you ask them again because they want the same reward.

Working breeds often do well with clicker training, as it’s their way of “doing their jobs,” and they enjoy the mental stimulation.

Once again, you’re marking the behavior by using the clicker at the time of asking them to do something for you, and it’s kind of like saying, “Attention!” to a well-trained soldier to get them in line.

The criticism of E-collars, or “shock collars” as they were known for years, is based on older iterations of the collars that delivered an electrical shock to the dog through prongs placed on the skin of the neck.

Modern E-collars have been greatly refined, and can be used in a safe manner through the instruction of a qualified trainer and a responsible owner.

Dr. Randall Lockwood, Ph.D., and vice president for research and educational outreach for the Humane Society of the United States, is quoted as saying, “We recognize that older products were often unreliable and difficult to use humanely. But we feel that new technology, employed by responsible manufacturers has led to products that can be and are being used safely and effectively to preserve the safety and well-being of many dogs and strengthen the bond with their human companions.”

All that being said, Kelly, I wish I could tell you that, “Absolutely! If you go see trainer X, your dog will be perfectly trained in no time.”

Instead, my best advice is to schedule a free consultation with a few trainers that employ different training methods. Have your sweet girl evaluated by each of them, and have them tell you why they think that their type of training would work best for you.

After hearing them all out, you can then make your decision based on how you feel your girl will best learn so you can thrive in your training together.

The best thing you can do for your girl is to show her what you’d like for her to do, be consistent with her, and be understanding of her specific needs.

Congratulations to you on adopting your new pup, and on being a great owner who wants to do what’s best for her!

Question from Sara: I would love to ask your help about heartworm prevention. I adopted a dog back on Sept. 7. He had been given some shots, but not the rabies vaccine, due to his age (2 months old). He is due for a booster shot now.

I hadn’t planned on getting a puppy, but when I saw him my heart just melted. I have avoided walking him or putting outside on the grass because we have tons of mosquitoes.

I haven’t owned a dog in years but, I remember hearing about how heartworm medicine can be hard on a dog’s body. I researched the most holistic method possible for heartworm prevention and came across this website. Based on what I have read, I would prefer to give my dog the Filaribits (DEC) daily. I have the time to make sure that he has eaten it. I had to take him to the vet for tapeworms and I was given a medicine to give him twice daily. I mentioned the Filaribits to the vet but he was in favor of using Sentinel.

I would like to know about what testing my dog would need before being given the Filaribits. I know he would have to be checked for adult heartworms but, would he not also have to be tested for the presence microfilariae in the blood?

How can I get a vet to prescribe the Filaribits, and what tests would I have to request?

My little dog has been inside and hasn’t been walked or socialized yet.

Response from Dr. Katy Nelson: I love a client that does her research! At 8 weeks old, you will not have to do any heartworm testing prior to starting on any heartworm preventatives. It takes six months for a pet to test positive after being infected, so there’s no reason to test in a pet younger than 6 months old.

I would, however, recommend that you have a fecal sample tested for parasites to ensure that all intestinal parasites are gone. Sometimes it takes more than one round of treatments to get rid of those pesky buggers.

As far as giving Filaribits, I compare this to taking daily birth control pills in women. If you have the time and dedication to give them every single day, they are effective. But missing a day or two here or there can be problematic, so make sure you are ready for this commitment instead of just going with the once a month pill.

You will also need to be ready to do regular fecal exams because Filaribits only prevents roundworms, whereas many others treat for hookworms and whipworms, as well. If you’re prepared to do all of these things, then it should be as simple as asking your veterinarian for a prescription for the product. Then you can use that to get them from an FDA approved prescription drug source.

Question from Regan: My dog, a rescue Shih Tzu mix, has been afraid of crates the entire four years I’ve had him. It’s not a problem, generally, as he doesn’t need to be crated at home and, when necessary, I board him at a kennel that provides him with a run.

But I’ve become concerned recently with transporting and keeping him in possible emergency situations and bought a soft-sided carrier for this purpose. But he won’t go in it. He is not generally food-motivated for training, and if I put a treat in it that requires him to put more than his front paws just inside the entrance, he just leaves the treat. He loves his toys, but he won’t go any farther inside for those, either.

Is there any way help him become more comfortable with the carrier?

Response from Dr. Katy Nelson: Regan, this is a great question, and I wish I had some better advice to offer. However, in situations where you have an actual phobia, as it seems to be for your pup, it’s sometimes best to just find an alternative.

If the soft-sided carrier that you speak of has a top that opens (as most of them do), then perhaps opening the top of the carrier (so that there’s no “roof”) and putting his treats and toys in at that point may help, but I would NOT force him into it at all.

In a true emergency situation, when you just need to get out of somewhere, you can always use a breathable pillow case for containment for a small pup, like your shih tzu mix, or a kitty. Place them gently in the bag, hold the bag in your hand and run to wherever you’re heading.

If you’re trying to travel with your pet, the airline-approved soft-sided carriers like you’ve described are good alternatives for small pups that can fit underneath the seat. You’d just have to work with him over a longer period of time to get him comfortable being in there.

Dr. Katy Nelson is an emergency veterinarian in Alexandria, Va. Tune in to “The Pet Show” with Dr. Katy every Saturday at 11 a.m. on Washington D.C.’s News Channel 8, and listen on WTOP for her Dr. Pawz segments every two weeks. Have questions for Dr. Katy? You can follow her on Twitter @drkatynelson, on Facebook or email her at askdrkaty@wtop.com.

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