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

HOUSE RULES

Universal Press Syndicate

The first step in turning an adult dog into a reliable house pet is to embrace a key concept: There's no such thing as a "partially" house-trained dog. He either is or he isn't.

Why is realizing this important? Because if you have a dog who is "sometimes" reliable, you have a dog who isn't getting the picture, probably because no one took the time to teach it to him properly in the first place. To do that, you're going to have to go back to square one.

Before you do, though, make sure you're not dealing with a sick dog. If you have a pet who was perfectly house-trained and is no longer, you must determine that what you have is really a behavior problem, not a health problem. That means you need to check with your veterinarian first.

To be fair, if you've just adopted an adult dog who seems to be urinating all the time, you should have him checked out, too, before assuming he's not house-trained. If everything is fine, you can start training him.

You 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 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, correct him with a sharp "no," take him outside, give a "go" command, and praise him for doing right.

-- Confine him when you cannot watch him. Dogs don't like to mess where they're sleeping, and most will quickly learn to "hold it" when resting in a crate or carrier. Make sure he has a favorite chew toy to work on while he's confined, so he's less likely to be anxious or bored.

-- Take him outside first thing in the morning, at lunch, 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 when you're out with him, and praise him when he does as you wish.

The most difficult part of house-training an adult dog is your attitude toward limiting his options in such a way as to make success possible. You may not like the idea of keeping such close tabs on your dog, but bear in mind you won't need to do it forever. Crates and leashes are training tools, not lifelong crutches.

If you've been consistent, your dog will likely have a good idea of what's expected of him at the end of the two weeks, so you can start to give 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, under your supervision, as he proves his understanding of the house rules.

Accidents will happen. If you catch him in the act, correct him with a sharp "no," take him outside and give him the chance to set things right. Give your "go" command, and praise if he does. Clean up the mess promptly and thoroughly, so he won't feel so inclined to refresh his smell there.

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

Consistency and patience are necessary for house-training an adult dog. If you have both, you will likely succeed. Without them, you'll have a very difficult time getting the results you're hoping for.

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Q&A

Iguana release against the law

Q: Our son has lost interest in his iguana now that he's in middle school. I never liked the thing, and now he's my sole responsibility. We live in South Florida, and it seems the iguana would do OK on his own. I know I've seen other iguanas around. What's the harm in turning him loose? It seems he'll survive just fine. -- M.Q., via e-mail

A: Aside from the cruel proposition of turning loose a pet to fend for itself, your plan is a bad one for the environment -- and in Florida, it's against the law.

The release or escape of non-native plants and animals causes a great deal of problems in places where they can do well enough to displace native species -- and nowhere is this more true than in Florida. The green iguana has been living wild in Florida since 1966, according to state biologists, and is one of more than 40 species of non-native reptiles with a presence in the state.

Shelters and rescue groups do take iguanas and other reptiles, but the number of new homes available for even a healthy, well-socialized large iguana isn't many.

If you cannot or will not keep your pet, you are showing your son that living things are disposable, and that's not a lesson you'll want him to take into your old age. That said, I would always rather see a pet placed in a new home rather than neglected in an old home. So contact your veterinarian, local shelters and rescue groups, and be patient as you work to find a good home for your iguana, if that's the final family decision.

"Iguanas for Dummies" author Melissa Kaplan maintains a current list of reptile rescue groups, along with information on how to find a new home for your pet -- and considerations on how you may be able to keep him instead. Check out the page of resources at www.anapsid.org/societies. PetHobbyist.com has a large and active community of reptile enthusiasts who may also be able to offer advice. -- Gina Spadafori

(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

No dog-cat war in most homes

-- While the idea of dogs and cats at war with each other is a comedic staple, in fact, 47 percent of people who share their homes with a cat also have a dog. These pets get along to varying degrees, from out-and-out loathing to familiar affection. If properly introduced (as in slowly, at the animals' own speed), dogs and cats can usually tolerate each other well. More households have dogs, by the way, but there are more pet cats in the United States. How is that possible? More dogs are "only children," while the average number of cats kept in the average household has increased to nearly 2.5.

-- The phrase "Beware of dog" is so old, its Latin equivalent -- cave canem -- has been found on signs in Roman ruins. The word "watchdog" isn't quite as old, but it has been around a long, long time. The first mention of it: by Shakespeare, in "The Tempest."

-- Most cats have five toes on their front paws, but only four of them hit the ground. The fifth toe is called a dewclaw and is found on the inside of the front paw. The dewclaw is the feline equivalent of our thumb, and it's used for grasping prey and climbing trees. A normal feline back paw, by the way, has four toes that are all called into service when walking.

Any number of toes over the norm (usually an extra one or two, but occasionally as many as three or four) makes a cat polydactyl, which means "many fingers." Polydactylism is a dominant genetic trait, which means just one polydactyl parent is enough to make a litter of polydactyl kittens.

-- Helen Keller, the blind and deaf Alabama girl whose triumph over her disabilities made her an international sensation, was the first American to own an Akita. On a speaking tour of Japan in the days before World War II, Keller became infatuated with the courage, loyalty and lore of the Japanese breed and was promised a dog of her own. A breeder offered her an adult, but then realized a puppy was better-suited for her. The puppy was Kamikaze-Go, called Kami by Keller. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon

THE SCOOP

Tall, taller, tallest: Irish wolfhounds rule

While we humans measure our height to the top of our heads, the height of a dog is measured at the highest point of the shoulder, called the withers. The tallest living dog is a Great Dane named Gibson, who is 42.4 inches at the withers -- but more than 7 feet tall when standing on two legs.

In general, though, the Irish wolfhound is considered the tallest breed of dog.

The recent trend toward ultra-tiny dogs has a lot of petite pups being carried around, but the smallest so far is a Chihuahua named Heaven Sent Brady, 6 inches long from nose to tail tip.

The heaviest breed of dog is the English mastiff. For the biggest of the big, you have to go back a few years. Zorba de la-Susa, a male English mastiff born in London, was certified as the world's heaviest dog at 343 pounds. Zorba, who was born in 1981 and died in November 1989, was also the world's longest dog, at 8 feet, 3 inches long.

And that brings up an important point: While we love superlatives -- biggest, smallest and so on -- when it comes to our dogs, breeds that are extreme in any way tend to struggle with chronic illness and die young. It doesn't really seem fair that these animals should suffer because of human whims when it comes to how dogs should look.

Nature seems to have limits to just how far we can push the design of dogs, and we go beyond those lines at peril to our pets. -- Gina Spadafori and Dr. Marty Becker

BY THE NUMBERS

Big birds more popular

While the overall percentage of birds kept as pets has remained small -- 6.4 percent of all households in 2004 -- the trend in bird ownership has been away from small birds such as canaries and finches. Ownership percentages among bird owners:

1998 2004

Small birds 58 percent 45 percent

Medium birds 30 percent 53 percent

Large birds 12 percent 18 percent

Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association

ON GOOD BEHAVIOR

Dogs don't get why people spank them

Primates often swat at their offspring, but dogs do not use their paws in this way. Rather, when dogs paw at each other, it's a friendly invitation to play. When it comes to showing leadership -- or trying to -- dogs growl, show teeth or try to look bigger, with hackles up, ears and tails raised.

Puppies know instinctively that size and voice tones matter. Standing tall and using a low tone in asking your dog to sit transmits authority in a way a dog can understand.

Bottom line? Don't spank your dog. At best, it's a miscommunication; at worst, dogs who are spanked may become afraid of hands or are likely to see moving hands as a threat and a reason to bite.

(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Roland 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.

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