By Gina Spadafori
Universal Press Syndicate

Forget the better mousetrap: Build a better nail-trimmer, and grateful pet lovers will beat a path to your door.

Or at least that's the idea behind a trio of new nail-trimmers that takes the age-old designs and improves on them, a little or a lot. Here's the rundown:


  • SmartTrim. Pick of the litter. One of several new pet-related products brought out by the folks behind the incredibly successful Greenies dog treats, the SmartTrim is lightweight and easy to use. It features a unique adjustable guard that limits the amount of nail that can be clipped each time. Trimmings fall into a container that can be cleaned out by opening a little door on the unit. A battery-operated grinder is in the handle for finishing off the job, and batteries are included. (Suggested retail: $30)


  • Bamboo Care. In both scissor and guillotine styles and two sizes, Bamboo's nail clipper benefits from the company's strength in design and efficiency. The clipper is attractive and comfortable in the hand, and its handles contain both a file and styptic powder container for stopping blood if the quick is nicked. Like most of Bamboo's pet products, it's an improvement on an age-old design. (Suggested retail: $10 to $15, with two-pack refills of styptic powder tubes sold for $5)


  • Careful Clipper. A basic guillotine-style clipper with a twist: A flexible light is attached to shine through the nails and show where the quick is. While not a problem with dogs with white nails, finding the quick can be hard with black nails. You can do the same thing with a penlight if you have at least three hands, but the Careful Clipper makes handling the light much easier. Batteries included. (Suggested retail: $19)

    As with any nail-trimming, you won't get anywhere trying to force your pet to cooperate. If you have a pet who hates to have his nails trimmed, you need to back up and start over.

    Spend some time reintroducing the clippers and associating their presence with treats and praise. After your pet is comfortable with this step, advance to touching the paw and eventually to the nail with the clippers, with the accompaniment of more treats and praise. Soon, you'll be able to cut a tiny bit off one nail. Treat, praise and call it a day. Don't advance to the next step until your pet is comfortable with the step you're on. Eventually, cutting nails will not be a reason for a wrestling match.

    When my oldest retriever came to me, he was young, strong and utterly uncooperative when it came to having his nails trimmed. After several weeks of retraining, he learned to tolerate nail trims and hasn't been a problem since. I no longer have to treat him at every stage of the procedure, but he does appreciate the steady supply of praise and the dog cookie at the end of the job.


    Grind 'Em

    Some dogs find it more tolerable to have their nails ground rather than clipped. As with clipping nails, going slowly and using lots of praise and treats along the way is key to a good experience for both you and your pet.

    Dremel and Oster both make rotary grinders intended solely for pet use, but you can just as easily use any regular rotary grinding tool. I use a corded Dremel with a medium sandpaper head. (For my parrot, though, I like Dremel's small cordless pet model No. 761-01, with a suggested retail of $30.)

    In the early stages of training, just let your dog see the grinder, and praise and treat. In a later session, turn the grinder on and praise and treat. Praise and treat for your dog progressively, allowing the grinder to get closer to a paw and to briefly touch a nail tip. The first time you grind -- which may be several sessions after the first introduction -- be happy with working a little with just one nail and don't forget to praise and treat.

    Be sure to either clip the hair of longhaired dogs or hold it back so it won't get wound in the shaft of the grinder. Support the dog's toe, but don't squeeze too hard. Hold the grinder against the nail for no more than a couple of seconds at a time to prevent heat buildup, and don't push the grinder against the nail -- just hold it there and let the grinder do the work.

    Grind across the bottom and then carefully in from the tip of the nail. If you do this weekly, the quick will recede, and you'll be able to maintain short nails on your dog with ease.


    Losing baby teeth normal for pups

    Q: My daughter got us a puppy for her birthday. He is supposed to be a golden and something else. He's about 3 months old. I am a little concerned because he is losing his baby teeth. Is that normal? We did call the vet, and he said it was OK. What do you think? We had a golden retriever for 14 years, and I don't ever remember her losing her teeth. -- E.C., via e-mail

    A: Your veterinarian is right. It's perfectly normal for your puppy to be losing his baby teeth. Puppies have 28 of those sharp little puppy teeth, and they're usually replaced by 42 permanent ones by the age of 4 months.

    It's not unusual to overlook the loss of puppy teeth. Sometimes they're swallowed; others may land in the grass or somewhere else they'll be hard to spot. Sometimes, though, they're stubborn about leaving, hanging on even when their replacement has erupted. If you observe a double row of teeth, call your veterinarian -- the baby teeth have worn out their welcome and may need to be surgically removed.

    Teething can be irritating or even painful for a pup. Be sure to provide lots of chew toys to help your pup through the process. Don't blame your puppy if he finds things to chew on -- pick up your stuff! If you find him with something you don't want chewed, substitute an appropriate chew toy and praise him for using it. Frozen marrow bones can feel really good on gums while a puppy is teething and are a great (if messy) teething aid.

    Wait for older pup

    Q: What is the right age to take home a puppy? We are looking at a litter the breeder says will be weaned and ready to go at 4 weeks, which seems young to us. -- S.N., via e-mail

    A: It isn't 4 weeks, that's for sure. Seven weeks is the youngest a puppy should ever leave his littermates. Weaning shouldn't be the trigger for placing the puppies, and the seller who thinks so is ill-informed.

    Puppies pick up some important lessons from their mom and their littermates in their fourth, fifth and sixth weeks of life, learning the complex social language that will not only help him get along with other dogs later, but will also help you to train your new pup.

    Some breeders, especially those with small breeds, hold onto their puppies beyond seven weeks, primarily because they're so delicate. That's fine, as long as you've got a breeder who understands the importance of socializing -- safely introducing puppies to new sights, new sounds, and to people of all ages and both genders.

    If you cannot convince the seller to keep the puppies together for an extra three weeks, my suggestion is to find another breeder, one well-versed in the developmental stages of dogs. Or go to a good shelter, where young puppies are placed with others of their age and are socialized by savvy volunteers.

    You want to get your relationship with your puppy started right, and that "right start" happens before you ever bring your new dog home. Choosing the right source for your pup is just as important as choosing the right breed or mix.

    Those extra couple of weeks of learning from littermates are extremely important when it comes to starting off a pup right. A puppy-seller who doesn't understand or doesn't care about critical puppy development is best avoided.

    (Do you have a pet question? Send it to

    PET Rx

    Know the signs of dehydration

    Dehydration can be a serious problem demanding urgent intervention by a veterinarian.

    To check for dehydration, pull up a "tent" of skin over the shoulders of your dog or cat. In a healthy pet, the skin will immediately slide back into place. In a pet with mild dehydration, the skin will be slow to return to its normal position.

    In severe dehydration, the skin will remain in the "tent" position. The animal's mouth and gums may also be dry, with thick or ropey saliva, and eyes may appear sunken into the sockets. An animal with any of these symptoms is in need of immediate veterinary care.

    A pet with mild dehydration can be helped by being moved into a cool area and offered small amounts of water every few minutes. Don't allow a dehydrated pet to drink all she wants, and don't offer dry food.

    If you're in doubt as to how serious the situation is, call your veterinarian for advice.

    (Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (, an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at


    Basset hounds fans love Daily Drool

    The folks behind the Daily Drool ( love basset hounds and want to share their admiration of the breed with other like-minded people. The well-designed Web site offers everything you could want in the way of information about bassets, along with plenty of entertaining diversions such as e-cards, games, images and more.

    A definite labor of love, the Web site supports itself and basset rescue through donations, and with the proceeds from steering people toward Drool-endorsed books and other products. Either way, it's a good site to support and a good cause, too.


    Friendly malamute needs exercise, grooming

    They shed, they roam, they dig, they pull on the leash, and they eat like horses. Why, you might wonder, does anyone on Earth want an Alaskan Malamute?

    It's because, like a force of nature or an Arctic wind, the Malamute is hard to resist. Handsome, smart, friendly, exuberant, joyful and possessed of an enormous curiosity, these dogs are crazy about people and great with kids.

    Of course, as with all large, powerful dogs, careful supervision with children is required. And as with all intelligent dogs, when bored they can get into a lot of mischief. These dogs can and will destroy a car interior or even the wall of a house. The cure and the prevention are the same: Mals need exercise (lots of it) every single day -- rain, shine or blizzard.

    That exercise can't take the form of running free. That's not because a Malamute will ever leave his territory; he won't. It's because his territory is the entire continent of North America, and most Mals are eyeing South America, too. So a good fence is not optional equipment.

    Malamutes need daily brushing to control their shedding, although "control" may be a bit optimistic: Think big drifts of hair everywhere, even in rooms that are off-limits to dogs. On top of that, twice a year, the Malamute will "blow coat," and you may need a professional groomer to rescue you from that avalanche of fur.

    Malamutes suffer from some genetic health problems, and a very few can have temperament problems. So obtain your dog only from a reputable rescue organization or an experienced breeder who does genetic screening tests on his or her dogs. Do not accept assurances that "My lines don't have these problems." Insist on written documentation.

    And buy a really powerful vacuum cleaner. -- Christie Keith,


    Great pet pictures easier than ever

    Ever wonder how the pros get those adorable pictures of dogs and cats nuzzling for ads and commercials? It's easy to get your pet to kiss your kid for a picture using an old trick of the pros.

    The trick: a dab of butter or margarine in just the right spot. You can't see it, but your pet can smell it and won't be able to wait to lick it off your child's cheek.

    Another trick: To get your dog's attention for a picture, rattle keys or squish a squeaky toy. If you're looking for that super-alert look, throw the toy in the direction you want your dog to look. That's what dog-show photographers do.

    Digital photography makes it easy to get great pictures. You can take hundreds of pictures and print just the best without going broke on film or developing costs.

    Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at