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One barks, the other plays hard

It's time to catch up on letters.

Velma complained about her neighbor dog's barking, sort of.

It seems the exuberant adolescent next door has always barked occasionally, but it has never been a problem for her, or anyone she's consulted in the neighborhood. Her complaint is not hearing the dog occasionally bark, but the high- pitched yelp that follows.

Yes, the dog is on a no-bark collar, and Velma is troubled by the dog's obvious painful response to the correction it is receiving. She wonders if the dog's owners are aware of the situation, and what she might do to help.

What goes through the mind of a new puppy owner? As they cuddle the new addition, look into those deep brown eyes, and purr, "Your name will be Lucky," do they also add, "And when you get a bit older and active, I'll be shocking you with electricity when you bark?" And how does one become lulled into thinking that electronic collars are acceptable to place on a dog? Because the pet store clerk said so, or because an experienced "dog person" uses them and makes assurances that it doesn't hurt? Puh-leeze.

As I've stated in the past, dogs have very few needs, but they are non-negotiable.

Basics include regular stimulation and activity, both mental and physical. Barking is not a problem, it is a symptom -- sometimes of fear, alarm or stress, but most often of boredom. The chronically understimulated dog will develop a variety of ways to deal with boredom, which include digging, destructive chewing and barking. A dog that receives regular attention and inclusion with people, daily physical exercise that results in near exhaustion, and creative projects to focus on when left alone is a contented dog and not a chronic barker.

These basics are fairly easy to provide, and if they seem to be too much trouble, why even have a dog?

Velma, you might kindly offer your leash-walking services to your neighbor, or wrap up a few special gifts for your dog friend and describe how they can best be used to stave off doggie boredom, and therefore, barking.

You might also mention that if they insist on using a corrective collar, there are humane, no-bark citronella collars that are just as effective, but spray the dog with orange oil instead of delivering a painful shock.

You are a good neighbor and, even better, a voice for a misunderstood furry friend.

David wrote to ask about teaching his dog Daisy to play correctly with her toys.

It seems that he buys her many items that end up quickly shredded, and continuous replenishment is getting expensive. Although he doesn't mention Daisy's breed or size, it really doesn't matter. I stipulate that Daisy is playing correctly with her toys -- it sounds like she's enjoying them immensely!

Whatever notion one has about what constitutes proper toy play among dogs is immaterial. There is no wrong way to play; take a bit of time to watch and learn what your dog likes to do with her toys, and then shop accordingly. For many dogs, including my own, the entire purpose of playing with a plush toy is to rip it open and pull out the stuffing! Denying your dog this activity is no solution; buy inexpensive plush toys, offer them to Daisy occasionally, and sit back and enjoy the show.

Once she has sufficiently ripped it to shreds, pick up the stuffing and place it back inside the "skin." Use a needle and thread to sew it up, and stash the recycled toy away, to be offered again at another time.

Power shredders and chewers should be offered inexpensive toys they can destroy only under supervision, so you can prevent the remains from being ingested. Toys to leave these dogs with while unattended, however, should be tough and durable. There are plenty of these toys available, but you must shop carefully.

Look for thick, rubber items, or items that are too big to pick up or chew on. These toys may appear to be bland and boring, but if they have an area to swipe a bit of peanut butter on, or stuff some chicken jerky in, your dog will dive in with gusto.

And keeping in mind that dogs are oral players, have a special rope toy on hand to occasionally offer for a rousing game of tug-o-war.

Why let Daisy have all the fun -- you can also play together!

Lisa Moore's pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Weekly Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.