The Old Trainer: Barking the sign of a good watchdog

D ear Old Trainer: Shadow, my 4-year-old cocker spaniel-beagle mix, barks when anyone walks down the sidewalk or parks in front of my house. She isn’t a problem barker, but she always barks when she sees anyone in front of the house. What should I do?

– Lynn, Berkeley

Dear Lynn: Praise her, love on her and give her a treat for being a good watchdog. Then pet her and give her another treat for being smart enough to only bark when you need to know someone is approaching.

Shadow is doing a perfect job. You don’t want a dog that never barks, you want a dog that barks a warning when a stranger approaches, then stops. That bark not only alerts you, it warns a stranger to avoid your house because Shadow is keeping an eye on things.

It takes a long time to teach that to a dog, and Shadow figured it out on her own. Good dog, Shadow.

Dear Old Trainer: Polo, my white poodle, has tear stains on both eyes that leave brown marks. I wipe her eyes all the time, but the marks are still there, about half an inch long on each eye. Are they dangerous and how do I stop them?

– Erin, Mill Valley

Dear Erin: First, take Polo to your vet to make sure there is nothing wrong with her eyes. If your vet tells you Polo’s eyes are healthy then the stains are merely a cosmetic problem – pigment in the tears causing the hair to be discolored.

When that happens with one of my dogs I ignore it. It is natural for a dog’s eyes to water. It doesn’t bother the dog, so why should it bother me?

And what is the alternative if you do want to do something? Every vet I know prescribes steroids or antibiotics to treat the problem.

I apply the same rule to my dogs I apply to myself – never take any drug unless it is necessary to maintain health. I advise you to follow the same rule with Polo.

Dear Old Trainer: You always advise adopting dogs from rescue or shelters, and I am thinking about it, but a guy at work says if you adopt a rescue dog you just adopt someone’s mistake.

– Darryl, Sacramento

Dear Darryl: That statement is absurd. There is not a single fact that supports such a clueless statement.

Rescue dogs are just like all other dogs – wonderful, loving and smart companions.

And there is a special quality found only in rescue dogs. They know you saved them, and they develop a special bond.

Visit your local shelter and let a dog adopt you, Darryl. You’ll see what I mean.