Tricks of the Trade

Pets can surprise and soothe us with their kindness, warm our hearts and bust our guts. But, let’s admit it, as wonderful and unpredictable as pets can be, they can also be mind-numbingly redundant, something you tend to realize when your Schnauzer barks at a passing car … again.

In fact, one of the things that unites and keeps the pet companion community as tight as it is owes to the fact that we share so many of the same issues, whether they be about grooming, behavior or … Gypsy! Get down from that mailman!

Tell someone your dog’s urine is burning your grass and your bound to hear about their troubles with the local homeowner’s association regarding their “leopard-skinned” lawn.  Relate that your cat is relentless in scratching your furniture and prepare to listen to horror stories from the Ethan Allen crypt.

Hey, we’ve all been there, over and over and over (and over) again. We know because we hear about the same few problems all the time here at Petsguide all the time. It got us to thinking, if pets bring with them some very common issues, could there be pet experts out there ready to supply some very common, and useful, tips for dealing with them? The kind of folks who wouldn’t just nod a compassionate head in regards to your lawn but suggest a dietary supplement or planting a sturdier grass as a solution.

We talked to some of our favorite experts, check out others on the web, and they gave us some great tips on some relatively easy, quick and straight forward solutions to some of the more of the most common problems.


This is one of the most common issues dog trainers hear about. But common doesn’t necessarily mean simple. We talked to two excellent trainers, Theresa Botello of Brat Dog ( and Dan Atkinson of Kind of Canines (, and they agree that the key to solving the problem lies in understanding its origins.

• “Barking is not a bad behavior,” Botello said. “Dogs bark because they are stressed; you’ve left them alone and they begin to act territorial.”

• She believes the best solution is to “educate yourself and understand crate training. What you accomplish by denning the dog is to calm the dog. If they can’t act when they’re denned, they become submissive, they can’t feel territorial.”

• Atkinson says one of the most common reasons dogs bark is inactivity. “Most dogs, like most people, don’t get enough exercise,” he said. “And it’s not just a matter of taking them for a quick walk. Say you have a Weimaraner, well that dog shouldn’t be walked, it needs to be run. You have to know what your dog requires to physically wear it down.”

• Atkinson says that if you investigate what triggers barking, it’s possible to soothe your pet to their affects. “For instance, if there are kids going by your yard skateboarding and the dog can see it, he’s going to bark. But if you can take your dog to where lots of kids are skating, it will  desensitize it to that stimulus.”


Ever wonder why those photos of dogs and cats, you know the ones you see on the internet and on calendars, look so beautiful and soulful but whenever you try to take a photo of your pet they either look distracted, disinterested or I’m Outta Here!

We asked pet photographer Robert Semrow ( for some helpful tips. As usual, as with so many pet issues, Semrow says the biggest issue is not with the photo subject but the camera holder. “The biggest challenge,” he said, “are not with the animals, it’s with the humans.”

• Semrow says the single most important thing a person can do when taking pet picture is have patience. “We’re so quick to want to get that picture, we’re nervous and fidgety and the animals feed of our energy. Now they have this nervous energy and we expect them to just sit there and look natural.”

• Be aware of your surroundings. “You want the dog or cat to stand out. If you take a picture with a bunch of trees or lawn furniture cluttering your picture, your animal is not going to pop the way they should.”

• Don’t be afraid to get dirty. “I want to be down on the same level as the animal,” Semrow said. “I call it full contact photography. I don’t want the animal looking up, I want them looking straight into the lens so I can get that great, full-eye expression. There are such deep emotions in their eyes.”

• Take your dog for a long walk before your photo session. “It burns off nervous energy,” Semrow said. “They come back and lay down and have a real calm and very peaceful look about them.”

• Don’t call out your dog’s name if it is looking somewhere else. “That means come to the dog. They don’t realize the signals. When you go down on one knee, that means come play or let me rub your belly, the dog isn’t thinking ‘Oh, he wants to take my picture.’ ”


The most important thing about the cat scratching problem is to remember that there is no cat scratching problem. Cats scratch; it’s what they do. Like men watching football on TV, scratching is in their nature. They do it for pleasure and exercise and to mark their territory, which is pretty the much reasons for guys watching football.

The “problem” is not that cats scratch but what they scratch, i.e. dining room table legs, plush couches, the men sitting on the plush couches for the past nine hours. The key to solving this issue is to make their present scratching areas unattractive while offering an desirable alternative. We consulted the which, turns out is not a site dedicated to the wit and wisdom of Ted Nugent, but is a great place for answers about this problem.

• Get a scratching post, one that has the kind of rough surface, such as sisal, that cat’s crave.  A good post should be tall enough to allow your cat to stretch its body. It’s extremely important that the post is secure. If it topples once, your cat will likely never return.

• Since scratching is a way for cats to mark territory, it’s important to put the post where your cat already goes to scratch, i.e. by the couch, dining room table, etc. Gradually, you can move the post into a less popular place in the room for humans.

• Feed and play with your cat by the post. You can also rub dried catnip leaves or powder on it to entice them.

• To make your cat’s old scratching objects less desirable, suggests covering them in aluminum foil or double-sided tape, since neither are very fun to mess with. It also suggests removing your cats scent from those areas with pet odor removers or lemon-scented sprays and/or orange peels. Cats hate citrus.


It happens, especially if you have a female dog—they tend to squat and deposit their urine in one place—have a large dog—again, more quantity—or tend to fertilize your lawn regularly—the nitrogen in the dog’s urine reacts with nitrogen in the fertilizer. If your lawn has a decidedly polka dotted look to it, here’s a few things you can do.

• Train your dog to urinate in one particular area and cover the ground in that area with something strong and urine resistant. Clover, for instance, or rye or fescue.

• Adjust your dog’s diet. Make sure they are getting all the water they need and think about adding water to food. Also, a high quality diet will help since protein is more digestible and there tends to be less waste products. You may also consider a supplement designed to neutralize nitrogen in the urine. Consult with your veterinarian first.

• If possible, water down the area immediately after your dog urinates.


We’ve seen it and we’ve been there. A nice walk out in the fresh air with the dog either turns into a tug-of-war as your pal refuses to be moved or dashes out ahead of you leaving you to desperately hold as if you were George Jetson (kids, ask your parents.) Aside from taking some training classes, which he sincerely wished you would, trainer Dan Atkinson says your problem could also have something to do with the equipment your using.

• “A lot of people simply don’t know what the proper training device they should get for their dog,” Atkinson said. “Head halters, no-pull harness, choke chain, pinch collar … It’s very specific to the breed. For example, a bulldog’s pain tolerance is through the roof so if you have a pinch collar or choke chain on them they’re just not going to care. You can pull all you want, it’s not getting through to them and so is not going to have the desired effect.”

• “German Shepherds, on the other hand, have a super low pain threshold. The choke chain will correct the immediately. Actually, the choke chain was originally designed in Germany for German Shepherds.”

• “If you have a hound, a beagle or basset hound, a dog that wants to track with its nose, you’re gonna want a head halter to keep its head, and nose, up and deter pulling.”


There may be no more embarrassing moment in regard to your dog as when he jumps on guests. You are immediately put into the role of boxing referee, trying to separate the combatants, assuring your guest that your dog never does that (he does) while yelling out commands to your dog that he doesn’t understand.

According to trainers Botello and Atkinson this problem arises because people tend not to deal with the issue until it is happening. “Everyone wants to address it in the heat of the moment,” said Atkinson. “But that doesn’t work because it’s all too chaotic.”

OK, so take a breath and take in these suggestions.

• “A lot of people fail to understand the benefits of using a leash inside the house,” Botello said. “We think of it as something to be used outdoors, but you shouldn’t be afraid use it and a training collar inside.”

• Botello suggests when you know guests are coming over to coordinate with them. “Have them call you a few minutes before they arrive. That way you have the dog on a leash. Have them knock hard or use the doorbell. You want to desensitize the dog to the sound and be able to provide the proper correction when it is needed.”

• Atkinson says one of his pet peeves are dogs that are allowed to rest and sleep at the front door threshold. “Any dog is going to jump and be agitated if he’s right there.” He suggests creating a buffer zone of about 10 feet and suggests using a different terrain—carpet, if you have hardwood floors—to make the boundary clear.