Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

DOGGY DO RIGHT

And Gina Spadafori

Universal Press Syndicate

Adopting an adult dog from a shelter is a wonderful thing to do. But sometimes people are hesitant to try it because they worry their new pet won't be reliable in the house and can't be made so because of the myth that "old dogs can't learn new tricks."

If you're stalling on adoption or are already struggling with an adult dog who doesn't seem to "get it," take heart: You can teach an adult dog to do his business outside.

Before you start training, though, you must be sure that what you have is a behavior problem and not a physical problem. This is especially true with a dog who has been reliable in the past. You won't be able to train your pet if he's struggling with an illness. So check with your veterinarian first for a complete checkup.

If you've ruled out medical problems, house-training an adult dog uses the same principles as house-training a puppy, except you have to be even more diligent because you need to do some "untraining," too. And a lot of cleaning: You must thoroughly clean any soiled area with enzymatic cleaner (available through pet-supply outlets) to eliminate the smell that invites repeat business.

You'll need to teach your dog what's right before you can correct him for what's wrong. To do this, spend a couple of weeks ensuring that he has nothing but successes by never giving him the opportunity to make a mistake.

Here's how:

-- Leash him to you in the house so you can monitor his every move during his training period. If he starts to mess, tell him "no," take him outside, and give him a command for going ("hurry up," "go potty," etc.). Then praise him for doing right, so he starts to understand what you want.

-- Put him in a crate whenever he's not on leash with you. It's not unfair during training to leave him in a crate for four or five hours at a stretch -- assuming, of course, that he's getting his regular daily exercise.

-- Take him outside first thing in the morning, as soon as you get home from work and just before you go to bed (when you put him in his crate for the night). Always remember to give your "go" command, and praise him when he does as you wish. I find that people never seem shy about punishing their dogs, but too often forget to praise them -- they take it for granted that the dog should do the right thing. Never, ever forget the praise!

If you've been consistent, your dog likely will get a good idea of what's expected of him within a couple of weeks, and you can start giving him a little freedom. Don't let him have the run of the house yet. Keep his area small, and let him earn the house, room by room, as he proves his understanding of the house rules.

Accidents happen. If you catch him in the act, tell him "no," take him outside, and give him the chance to set things right. Give your "go" command, and praise him if he does. Clean up the mess inside promptly and thoroughly, so he won't feel inclined to refresh his smell there. Don't punish him for any messes you find.

If you aren't catching him, you're not keeping close enough tabs on him. Go back to the crate and leash, and start over.

If you continue to have problems, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist. One-on-one assistance can pinpoint the problems in your training regimen and get you both on the right track.

Q&A

Slimming a fat cat? Start at the vet

Q: I know you've said there's no reason for a fat pet, but I can't get any weight off our 17-pound cat. I don't think it's possible. Also, I'm not sure it would improve our cat's life to cut back on his food because he's such a happy eater. Any advice? -- S.W., via e-mail

A: Would it improve the quality of your cat's life -- or yours -- if he became diabetic? Because that's one of the risks of chronic obesity in cats. Overweight cats are also prone to joint, ligament and tendon problems, difficulty breathing and even skin problems because they can't groom themselves properly.

Talk to your veterinarian about your cat's overall health and a plan for slowly trimming down your overweight pet. Quick-loss programs can make your cat ill or even kill him, which is why a vet-approved slow-reduction plan is best.

Pay attention to what you're doing to contribute in ways you may not even be fully aware of. For example: Do you share your meals with your cat, handing him the choicest tidbits off your plate? Do you love to give him cat treats several times a day? These things all add up!

Make food harder to get. Our pets are now "born retired," and food takes no effort to find. Break up the daily portions and put them in places that are harder to get to -- on top of a file cabinet or cat tree, for example. Also make use of food puzzles that make animals work both their minds and their bodies to get the yummies.

Most of all, remember that food is not love. Instead of interacting with your cat over food, bond over grooming or play. Your cat will love you just as much for a loving session of gentle brushing and combing, or a playful half-hour spent being teased with a cat "fishing pole" or other toy. Time spent in either pursuit is better for an overweight cat than eating, and the exercise will help take the weight off. -- Dr. Marty Becker

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com.)

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.

On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

PET BUZZ

Another way dogs can save lives

-- Sniffing out ovarian cancer is another talent accredited to a dog's nose. Swedish researchers taught dogs to detect ovarian cancer, even in early stages. Ovarian cancer has a high mortality rate, in large part because the cancer usually is not found until it is in the later stages, making early detection sniffing dogs a potential lifesaver.

-- An elk product can promote healing for arthritic dogs, according to a study in Canadian Veterinary Journal. The study found that velvet antler -- the early stages of antler growth, before the antlers calcify -- in elk can be used to promote healthy joints in dogs. The elements found in velvet antlers can help reduce swelling and pain, making it a natural remedy for treating arthritis pain.

-- No more need to pop pills down your pet for skin infections, thanks to a new one-dose antibiotic shot. Convenia, a veterinarian-provided treatment from Pfizer Animal Health, gives 14 days' worth of antibiotics in a single shot.

-- The long-term prospects for mammalian life don't look good, according to Science magazine. Of the world's 5,487 mammal species, at least one in four land species and one in three marine species face extinction in the near future. Land mammals face their greatest risk of extinction in South and Southeast Asia, where 79 percent of monkey and ape species are threatened. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon

THE SCOOP

Experts advise a pass on a Christmas puppy

The Christmas puppy is the gift that never seems to fall in popularity. But there are reasons why shelters, rescue groups and responsible breeders are uniform in their advice to think twice about a Christmas puppy. Here are the reasons why:

-- Holiday stress. Puppies are not toys. They are animals who need a lot of attention. Who has time for a pup during the holidays, that stressful season of socializing and shopping? With a houseful of guests and a holiday dinner to prepare, who will make sure the puppy isn't being mauled by overly enthusiastic children and guests?

-- Bad timing. Try house-training a puppy when it's cold and stormy. And what about the rest of the training? The first few months of a dog's life are crucial: Bad habits are far easier to prevent than they are to break later, and ongoing socialization is critical. Will you really feel like training and socializing your pup when the holidays are over, the days are short and the kids are back in school?

-- Poor selection. Many reputable breeders and shelters will not cooperate with your Christmas puppy desire. That means if you're looking for a puppy, you may be choosing from sellers who don't know or care enough to offer healthy, well-socialized puppies.

Dogs can be great for children, and children can be great with dogs. A better bet would be to wait until late spring or summer to find the perfect pup from a shelter or reputable breeder. When the days are longer and the weather is better, it's easier to train and socialize a pup. -- Gina Spadafori

PETS BY THE NUMBERS

The bride wore fur

According to a survey by the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co., having a pet at a wedding is no longer unusual, even if it's still not accepted by traditionalists. In a survey asking about the presence of pets at weddings, VPI got the following responses:

42 percent: Involved or planned to involve a pet in their wedding ceremony

11 percent: Weren't planning to take a pet to the wedding party

47 percent: Got married in a pet-free ceremony

Source: Petinsurance.com

ON GOOD BEHAVIOR

Give your dog a bonus

Everyone likes to get a bonus for great work. Share the wealth with your dog by using a sliding scale of rewards to improve responses.

Think of a low-key "good dog" as worth a dollar, an enthusiastic "good dog!" as worth two dollars. From there, add it up: a back rub, a favorite toy, a game of tug or a great treat is worth more. Watch your dog to see which rewards have the highest value.

Use the reward that best matches your dog's level of performance. If your dog comes slowly when you call, that's worth a "dollar" reward. If he drops everything and comes running, that's worth a lot more.

Over time, your dog will learn to earn the best rewards by giving you the best responses.

(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)

Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.