My Pet World: Giving female dog a male name is no big deal

Question: On a walk with our dog, Payton (a male shepherd/collie mix), we met two girls with a female miniature schnauzer named Butch.

I realize dogs don't know a male name from a female name, but people laugh at this dog all the time. This is wrong, and I assume the dog has a complex about it. What do you think? — S.H., Chicago.

Answer: Dogs just accept things and move on. I suggest you do the same.

People may smile or chuckle when they realize Butch is a female, but I see no harm in that. Dogs put smiles our faces anyway — one of many ways they're healthful for us.

Now, I do believe dogs can feel demeaned, so if people truly bully Butch over her name, that would be a problem. My advice would be for the Butch's owners to stay away from those boorish, immature folks. As long as Butch's family is loving and cares for their best friend; I think I get the joke — and I think it's funny!

Q: I'll be attending a Halloween costume contest with our little Japanese Chin, Nancy Oh. I read on a humane website that we shouldn't dress up pets for Halloween because they might feel humiliated. Could this be true? — B.J., New York

A: I agree that some dogs can feel humiliated.

They might stand still as a statue, head down, ears back and tail tucked. Other dogs (they tend to be small breeds like yours), however, seem to eat up all the extra attention they get dolled up as Cinderella or Darth Vader. Thinks about it: The family dresses them up (that's extra attention), then everyone tells the dog how cute she looks. What egocentric pooch wouldn't relish all that praise?

You're the best judge of your pet. For dogs who appear demeaned or want to chew up their costumes, skip the dress-up session; maybe a bandanna will be enough. If your dog appears totally indifferent to the entire affair, or relishes the attention — go for it.

Be sure the costume you pick doesn't limit the dog's mobility or impair its vision. Tight-fighting costumes are not a good idea.

Q: My 1-½-year-old miniature Australian shepherd gets car sick.

I've tried Cerenia (a medication), holistic remedies, the Thundershirt, Dramamine, and a pet-calming tablet. I've tried feeding the dog in the car, and driving without feeding him. He gets anxious and starts to drool when he thinks we're going for a ride.

I've tried making a game of getting him into the van. No luck. We've tried to make all destinations a "happy place," and have even taken along another dog who doesn't mind car rides. The thing is, despite his problem, we take our dog everywhere. Any advice? — S.D., Cyberspace

A: "You've certainly made a great effort," says dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, host of "It's Me or the Dog" on Animal Planet.

Cerenia is an excellent drug for motion sickness, and Dramamine also works. Consequently, the odds are this problem is not limited to the motion itself. Still, it's not a bad idea to check with your veterinarian to insure the following advice makes sense.

"First, let's eliminate those pre-departure cues," Stilwell says. Pretend that you're about to go for a car ride, but only go to the door. Repeat this move until your dog doesn't seem to care anymore. Now, do the same, except this time, take your dog to the car and offer him a treat. Don't even open the car door to let your dog in. Again, repeat this maneuver until the pet isn't bothered at all.

"We want to create a positive association with the car," says Stilwell. "This may take a while because the dog is so upset about the car now. Once he's happy to approach the car, open the door and toss special treats inside."

At the same time, whenever your dog eats indoors, play a CD with music from Stilwell's new Canine Noise Phobia Series (available soon at Soon, he'll associate the music with something very positive: dinner. Once he's fine with jumping in the car and chewing on treats, play the same tune from the CD in the car, at first, without turning on the engine.

The music is specifically designed to relax dogs, not to mention creating a positive association between the music and dinner. You might also consider using a D.A.P. collar, which emits an analogue of a soothing pheromone.

Once your dog happily jumps in while you're playing the calming CD, you can finally turn on the engine. However, go nowhere the first few times. Soon, you can drive someplace nearby that your dog enjoys, like a park. Or drive around the block and return home for dinner. Repeat this trip several times before you choose a different destination.

"This is tedious because the fear is so deeply ingrained," say Stilwell. "The more time you take, though, the more chances of success."

Q: Once a week, my 12-year-old cat doesn't eat. This has been going now for about a month. Is the cat just being finicky? — C.V., Orlando, Fla.

A: I wonder if indeed something consistent happens on the day your cat doesn't eat; it could be anything: Aunt Sally arrives for her weekly visit, or perhaps you work longer hours. Any time there's a change in a pet's behavior (especially an older pet), a veterinary visit is recommended. However, it's possible your cat simply is being finicky.

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