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Photograph: Jason Little
The Chicago Pet Lover's Guide >

Activate Your Dachshund’s Inner Badger Hunter

Animal behaviorist Steve Dale, a longtime columnist and WGN radio host, knows how you can stop your pup from digging up your roses.

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PHOTOGRAPH: COURTESY OF STEVE DALE

What is the most common concern you hear from pet owners?

Cats that are [peeing] outside the box. The No. 1 cause of death for cats is behavior. They are either given up to shelters or tossed outside. When the human-animal bond fractures, it fractures. Peeing on someone’s bed six days in a row could do it.

What’s the solution for freethinking cats?

Many people will jump to the idea that it’s a behavior problem. But there are a zillion reasons a cat could be missing the litterbox, and No. 1 is medical. My hope is that people see their veterinarian first. Another example is a golden retriever — perfect family, wonderful dog — who bit the little boy in the house. They were about to relinquish the dog to Chicago Animal Care and Control. I begged them to see the veterinarian. These things happen for a reason: The dog had a really bad ear infection.

What’s one of your most memorable calls?

The guy was a truck driver — and he sounded like a 6-foot-8 truck driver — and he said, “I lost my dog 35 years ago, and it was the toughest thing in my life.” I said, “Well, how are you doing now?” And he said, “I still haven’t gotten another dog.” The emotional bond we have with our pets is so impactful that it’s almost hard to put into words. For many people, they spend more time with their dog or cat than they do with their spouse, their children.

How do you know when it’s the right time to put down your pet?

Because the human-animal bond is what it is today, sometimes people wait too long. Euthanasia is literally gentle death, and the best gift that we can give our animals is to let their life end before a lot of suffering.

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What is the biggest mistake that new pet owners make?

Housetraining. Dogs are babies. No one emailed these babies the information that’s in great books about housetraining. But people expect their dogs to be perfect somehow, and if their dog has one accident, it’s like, “Oh my God!” But it's like expecting a baby not to use a diaper.

Is it possible to spoil your pet?

Nothing wrong with loving that dog or cat with all your heart. But we’re sometimes not letting them be dogs or cats.

How do we do that?

Dogs were all bred to do something. A dachshund was bred to dig for badgers, and then when we let them out and they dig at the rose garden, how can we be surprised? Provide a place in the yard where they can dig.

And cats?

We live in a nation of brain-dead, fat cats because we’re not providing the enrichment they require indoors. Cats are hunters. Put a percent of the food in different places around the house to give them something to hunt when you’re not around. It activates their prey drive.

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