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Pets: Train dog not to lick street salt

Q: My dog likes to lick up street salt. I’m worried because I’ve read that this salt is toxic to dogs. So far, he’s been OK. Any advice? – K.S., St. Paul, Minn.

A: “A lot of people say street salt is poisonous,” says Dr. Justine Lee, a veterinary toxicologist in St. Paul. “Mostly, it’s sodium chloride; that’s table salt, though there are other types of chloride salt products. None are really dangerous. If a dog gets into a package of street salt and makes a meal of (it), that’s another story.”

The concern I have goes beyond street salt. If the dog is licking up salt from the sidewalk, my guess is he’s also scarfing all sorts of other things. Teach your dog to pay attention to you on walks, looking up toward you rather keeping his nose to the ground.

First, take your pup for a walk on a leash inside the house. Holding a treat at waist level or higher, say, “Watch me,” as the dog glances toward you to get the yummy.

Soon, you’ll be able to say, “Watch me,” and your dog will always comply.

Next, drop some kibble on the floor as you’re walking indoors with your dog. Then hold a different, far yummier treat up for him to sniff as you walk. Once again, say, “Watch me,” and odds are your dog will prefer the better treat. Indoors, training is more predictable, as there are fewer distractions. Perfect this technique indoors before trying it outside.

Vacuum-cleaner dogs who suck up anything can wind up at an emergency veterinary clinic, so prevention is better than hoping your dog doesn’t swallow anything dangerous.

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Q: Our 2-year-old Labrador mix likes to hold one of our hands in her mouth. She doesn’t bite; she just seems to want to hold something in her mouth. What’s this all about? – C.H., Las Vegas

A: In fancy terms, this is called an affiliative behavior; it’s both attention-seeking and comforting for your dog to hold things in her mouth, including hands.

In my opinion, while your dog doesn’t mean any harm, it’s important for her to learn not to hold hands in her mouth.

What if she were to hold the hand of a senior citizen with thin skin, and accidently break the skin? What if she grabbed the hand of a child, who became scared and told Mom or Dad that the dog had bitten him/her?

Substitute a large rawhide chew toy or antler chew for your hand (available online or in some pet stores) – something your dog can walk around with, which is more important than the chewing value. A plush toy will also suffice for many dogs.

Human body parts just don’t belong in dogs’ mouths.

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Q: Do dogs recognize our individual voices on the phone?

– A.L., Seattle

A: Not exactly. When you talk to your pooch on speakerphone, the animal’s recognition and tail wagging is mostly about hearing happy words like “Mommy” (as in, “Talk to Mommy!”) and the general excitement of the moment, rather than distinguishing Mommy’s actual voice.

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Q: Do dogs recognize their own barks? – T.J., Baltimore

A: Dogs do have some general understanding of the meaning of the barks of other dogs. They may sense, for example, if another dog is joyful or in distress. They also may recognize the “voices” of dogs they know. However, it’s unlikely they recognize their own “voices.” After all, why would a dog ever need to do this?

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column. Send email to petworld@stevedale.tv. Include your name, city and state.