Q: What should we do with our potty-mouthed bird? Bingo is a 16-year-old Amazon parrot. He's a wonderful companion to our entire family. We also have a 14-year-old son who's started using bad language. We were tipped off when Bingo began to talk like a drunken sailor. We can deal with our son, but how do we deal with a foul-mouthed bird? -- S.J., Stillwater, OK
A: "The effective way to eliminate those bad words is that from now on, no humans reinforce Bingo's behavior," says certified parrot behavior consultant Liz Wilson, of St. Simon's, GA. "That means absolutely no reaction, no gasping, laughing or scolding. One solution is to just gradually teach Bingo new words, and totally ignore the bad ones, while you wildly reinforce the new vocabulary."
Another method, Wilson says, is to replace a bad word with a similar-sounding but more acceptable word, which you clearly repeat and use frequently. For example, teach your bird words like "truck," or "sit." You can even show the object (a toy truck) when you say "truck," so there's a meaning attached. Or when your bird perches somewhere, you can say, "sit." It's all about reinforcement with praise and treats, and ignoring what you don't want to hear.
Q: I enjoy your column, but after reading Dr. James Busby's book ("How to Afford Veterinary Care Without Mortgaging the Kids"), I discovered many shots are given to pets unnecessarily. I couldn't believe how many vaccines were pushed on my healthy dog, like a kennel cough vaccine even though my 6-pound dog is not around other dogs. And every time I went to the vet for a heartworm prescription, I always left with a $300 to $400 bill. When I refused the $50 heartworm test, the vet refused to give me a prescription for the preventative. That's extortion.
My dog suffered diarrhea after one shot, like the unnecessary yearly distemper shot, and my vet charged an additional $80 for an antihistamine shot to prevent the reaction. I've since found a new veterinarian who's more reasonable. Believe me, vets' goal is to overcharge and use vaccines to accomplish this goal. What do you think?-- C.P., Stillwater, MN
A: Chicago veterinarian Dr. Sheldon Rubin points out that there are core vaccines all pets should receive. According to the 2011 American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Canine Vaccination Guidelines, the distemper vaccine for adult dogs is suggested no more frequently than every three years (not annually). Rubin explains that a blood test called a titer test can determine if a pet is still protected at three years or re-vaccination is suggested.
The antihistamine shot was administered proactively to prevent a bad reaction to the vaccine, which was likely prudent with your individual dog, though Rubin concedes $80 does seem high for that. Some vaccines, such as the one for kennel cough, must be given annually (that's only because all that's available is an annual vaccine).
"If your little dog is really never around other dogs, and doesn't go to pet stores, dog parks, or the groomer and is never boarded, I can't explain why your veterinarian wanted to vaccinate," says Rubin. "Maybe there was just a communication gap between you and your previous veterinarian."
Rubin, who happens to be past president of the American Heartworm Society, adds, "When it comes to heartworm testing, no one is trying to extort anyone or rip anyone off. The American Heartworm Society and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA CVM) recommend annual heartworm checks."
Rubin explains that while heartworm preventatives are excellent, nothing is perfect. And what if owners forgot to give the preventative, or a dog spits out the pill without the owner knowing? It's possible that giving the preventative to a dog with active heartworm disease could be deadly. Also, the American Heartworm Society and FDA CVM want to know how many dogs are getting heartworm disease, why and where they live. Naturally, any dogs with disease should be treated appropriately. For verification, check the American Heartworm Society website.
While veterinarians, of course, may make some profit off vaccines, they're hardly a cash cow. Moreover, the canine vaccine guidelines are readily available to the public through the American Animal Hospital Association. If a veterinarian repeatedly "rips off" clients, it won't take long to figure it out based on the guidelines.
As for Dr. Busby, it seems he's making money telling the public how other veterinarians make too much money. I'm personally confused about that and question his credibility, especially with regard to some of his statements about vaccines, which contradict those of many experts. Meanwhile, I suspect he's making money selling the exploitative books.
Q: I have two adorable Pugs, each 11 months old. We take them everywhere, from bark parks to Grandma's house. What's the safest way to travel with them in the car? They're a bit too active to be loose in the car. In the crate, Mabel whines. She's accustomed to sitting on my lap in the front seat. My mom says the crate isn't safe and we should be using a harness. What's your professional opinion? -- D.K., Chicago, IL.
A: Of course, all Pugs are adorable. We need not even discuss that. However, "Driving with your dog on your lap is an accident waiting to happen. A Pug could turn into a projectile," says Sandy Robins, a pet lifestyle consultant, based in Irvine, CA. "In some places, it's against the law (for dogs to sit in laps in the front seat), and I believe for good reason."
Robins says that your best bet would be booster seats made for dogs. "Your dogs will be safe and because they're elevated, and the dogs can see out the windows." Many companies make these seats, which are commonly available at large pet stores. Two excellent options are Solvit Products and Kurgo. Other ideas: a safety harness, zip line (attaching your dog to the back seat), or a front seat barrier (which prevents the dog from reaching the front seat), all available online and at many pet stores.
Robins, a mom herself, says, "Listen to your mother."
©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services
Tags: AAHA, affording veterinary care, American Animal Hospital Association, American Heartworm Society, Canine Vaccine Guidelines, dog safety in cars, Dr. Sheldon Rubin, IAABC, Kurgo, Liz Wilson, parrot behavior consultant, Sandy Robbins, Solvit Products, Steve Dale archives, traveling with dogs