7 Tips for Better Bonding

Your pet can’t tell you what it wants—so we asked the experts



Q: What’s the best obedience school for my particular dog?

A: When you covet someone’s dress, you ask where she bought it, right? So ask your friends and neighbors who have exceptionally well-behaved pets which trainers they use, advises Kimberly Radke, the shelter manager for Paws and Claws Humane Society in Rochester. Then call up the trainers or schools and ask about their experience with your specific breed. “Most trainers will do a free consultation,” she says. “If it’s group training, you should ask to watch a class.” But if you really want to gauge a trainer’s abilities, observe his or her pets. “Trainers are really only as good as their own dogs,” Radke says. âž¼ Try this: Twin Cities Obedience Training Club, tcotc.com.

Q: How can I convince my company to let me bring my pet to the office?

A: As with anything at the office, buy-in from the top helps. At Yamamoto Moss Mackenzie, a 35-person brand-management company in Minneapolis, pets have hung out with their masters for years, starting with the cat of one of the founders. Though there’s no official policy, says president Shelly Regan, there are some guidelines: “Potty training is critical and playing well with others is a must.” She adds that not every office can be pet-friendly. “Be sensitive to your staff and office visitors, whether it’s pet allergies or pet fear. Use common sense,” she says. Bonus points if they can contribute to brainstorming sessions. âž¼ Try this: Encourage your office to participate in the national Take Your Dog to Work Day. You’ll find additional tips here: takeyourdog.com.

Q: I think my pet could be the next Rin Tin Tin, but how do I prove it?

A: Know this: Your dog will need more than a pretty face to make it as a model or actor. Maureen Bain’s beagle, Bridget, has appeared in ads for Target and Purina, and Bain says the key—outside of outright adorableness and top physical condition—is obedience. “They have to be good at commands like down-stay and stand-stay, and they have to come when you call them. It also helps if they’re food-motivated,” she says, as a dangling treat is how photographers get animals to do their bidding. Have professional photos taken and search the Internet for auditions where you might catch the eye of an agent. Then keep your fingers crossed that a casting director likes your pooch’s look. “The work is pretty sporadic, because there are a lot of different dogs,” acknowledges stage-mom Bain. “I don’t suppose you could make a living off of it, but it is a lot of fun.” âž¼ Try this: Animal-connection.com hosts occasional open-call auditions in the Twin Cities.

Q: What’s the best food to feed my pet?

A: Look for nutrient-dense food with few filler ingredients, says Paula Zukoff, supervisor of behavior and training for the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley. “The first ingredient should be a meat, not a grain,” she says. “And don’t settle for a food that has artificial ingredients.” She adds that there’s a close connection between price and quality, so pay for the best food you can afford. “Environmental influences, like food,” she says, “can affect the length of life for many pets.” âž¼ Try this: Flint River Ranch Super Premium Natural Cat and Dog Food, flintriver.com.

Q: What criteria should I use to choose a vet?

A: Make sure the basics—business hours, location, costs, and available services—are a good fit, says Zukoff of the Animal Humane Society. Also find out how after-hours emergencies are handled. After that, she says, go with your gut. “Schedule a visit to meet the staff and get a tour of the facility, and find out the clinic’s philosophies and policies,” she says. “You should feel comfortable asking any kind of question, just like you would with your own doctor. Don’t be afraid to go to another vet if you feel uncomfortable.” âž¼ Try this: The Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association offers a find-a-vet service at mvma.org.

Q: How can I say goodbye gracefully?

A: Since animals can’t spell out their end-of-life wishes for us, such decisions can be wrenching for pet owners. But an outside opinion from a trusted veterinarian can help ease the burden. “If you’ve been seeing the same vet for most of your pet’s life, it will make this much easier to talk about and to trust their advice,” says Zukoff, of the Animal Humane Society. Some vets will do home visits—and those who don’t should be able to recommend a colleague who does. “We tend to second-guess ourselves, but if you’ve given your pet the best life you could,” Zukoff says, “it’s easier to make those tough decisions.” âž¼ Try this: House Call Vets, housecallvets.org.

Click here for “15 Sure-Fire Ways to Please Your Pet.”