In January, the magic of Christmas wears off quickly. The bills come, the decorations must be hauled down and put away, and if you're among those who adopted a puppy, you're now wondering: How soon will this baby be house-trained?
Puppy-parent, meet the crate. In recent years, the use of a shipping crate, available at any pet-supply store, to house-train puppies has become standard among knowledgeable trainers and breeders. Puppies need to relieve themselves after they wake up, eat or drink, or after a period of play, and they naturally prefer to do it away from their eating and sleeping areas. Use this knowledge to set up a schedule for molding proper behavior:
-- First thing in the morning: Take your puppy out of the crate and coax him to follow you outside to the spot you have chosen for him to relieve himself. If he starts to relieve himself on the trip outside, tell him "no" firmly and take him to the part of your yard that you've chosen as the "relief zone." Choose a command -- "hurry up" is what I use -- and praise him for going. Take him inside and give him food and water, then go outside again immediately: A full tummy puts pressure on a puppy's bladder. Then give the command and praise him when he goes. At this stage he's not really minding your command, but you're associating the act with the words, which will come in handy in the future.
If you're going to work, put him back in the crate. If you're not going to work, let him play for a couple of hours, but don't give him full run of the house. Close doors or use baby gates to keep him where you can see him, such as in a kitchen/family room area. After an hour or two, take him outside again, and repeat the command and praise. He'll be ready for a little nap, so put him in his crate until lunchtime.
-- The midday break: Take your puppy out of the crate and head outside for another round of command, relieve and praise for a job well done. Then take him back inside for food and water, then back outside.
If you're home on your lunch hour, play with him a little before you put him back in his crate. If you're going to be home with him, leave him out to play where you are, under your watchful eyes. Take him out in midafternoon, and then crate him for his afternoon nap.
If you cannot come home for lunch, try to get a friend or neighbor to handle the midday break. If that's not possible, set your puppy up in a safe area like the kitchen, and realize you'll be cleaning up a mess when you get home. Don't punish your puppy for the mess, because he can't help it.
-- Dinnertime: Same as midday. Take him out, feed him, take him out, and let him play. Leave him out for play and socializing in an area where you can watch him. Offer him a little water a couple of hours before bedtime, but no more food.
-- Bedtime: One last trip outside. You may be tired and cranky at this point, but don't let your puppy know it. Be consistent. Give your command, and after your puppy does what you want, praise like the dickens. Then bring your little angel inside and put him in his crate for the night. If he didn't go in a few minutes when he was outside, put him in his crate anyway. You'll be up again, soon enough.
-- Middle of the night: For the first week or so, you may also have to add a wee-hours outing to the schedule. If he wakes up and fusses at 3 a.m, put your shoes on -- you're taking him out.
If you're patient, positive and consistent, your puppy will start getting the idea right away, even if his body won't allow him to be "perfect" for a few months. If he doesn't seem to be getting the idea, talk to a trainer or behaviorist to figure out what the problem is and get the two of you back on track.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Dog Owner's Guide (www.canismajor.com/dog), an online newspaper for dog lovers, features dozens of excellent articles, many on raising, socializing and training puppies. The Web site is updated every other month.
Avian veterinarians say parrots do best on a diet of pellets, combined with a daily helping of fresh vegetables and fruits. My friend Dr. Carla Weinberg, a veterinarian and bird lover, passes along a tip to make providing vegetables easier for the cooking-impaired: Use frozen mixed vegetables. Bags of vegetable mixes with corn, peas, beans and carrots are easy to find and easy to store, and it only takes a short spell in the microwave to bring them up to room temperature. Little shopping, no chopping and no rotting veggies in the refrigerator -- what could be better?
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I just recently got my computer and was looking up things about boxer rescues. When I first got on the subject, I read a warning regarding those who charge to rescue or adopt an animal. Someone wrote me saying that adoptions usually cost between $70 and $200. I could go buy a dog from a breeder for that amount. Is this a scam? -- B.L., via the Internet
A: No, it's likely not a scam. The growth of the volunteer, grass-roots breed-rescue movement has been one of the real bright spots in the fight against pet overpopulation. If you're looking for a purebred and are willing to accept a grown dog instead of a puppy, then choosing a breed-rescue group is a good deal and a good deed.
Breed-rescue groups work with a single breed, such as the boxer, or a couple of related breeds, such as shelties and collies. The groups range from one-person operations placing a few dogs a year to a few nonprofits with their own sheltering facilities, boards of directors, and a well-organized volunteer network all dedicated to stepping in when one of their particular breed needs a hand.
While such diversity of policies makes it impossible to describe a "typical" breed-rescue effort, probably the closest description of one would be a group consisting of two to four volunteers who work together to foster and place dogs of their chosen breeds and are both affiliated with a local breed club and loosely tied to a national network of rescuers for that particular breed.
They typically offer dogs that have been vet-checked, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered, and the adoption fees they charge cover these routine veterinary expenses. Some expenses simply cannot be covered by adoption fees, such as veterinary bills to treat sick or injured animals. In addition, transportation and fostering costs usually come out of the volunteers' pockets, and they can be significant, as is the amount of time involved.
As for groups asking for money when you give up a dog, that's probably legitimate, too. No decent rescue group would turn a dog away because the owner won't pay, but a little extra money from the person who is, after all, causing the problem by giving up the dog goes a long way toward helping keep these important volunteer programs funded.
Q: I am sick of hairballs! Is there a way to keep my cat from throwing them up? And why do they always throw up where I'm sure to step in it? -- H.D., via the Internet
A: Dealing with fur ingested as a cat grooms himself and then vomited back up in clumps is a normal part of living with a cat. If the problem is severe, however, your veterinarian may suggest the use of a mild laxative preparation or an increase in fiber in the diet to help the hairballs pass through your cat's system. Canned pumpkin is a good way to increase the fiber in your cat's diet.
Don't let your cat become a laxative junkie, however, as daily use may tie up and decrease the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Hairball remedies should not be used more than twice weekly except on the advice of your veterinarian. Instead of changing your cat's diet, consider combing him more frequently to remove excess hair.
As for why they throw up where they do, I have no answer for you except this one: because they're cats.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Write2Gina(at)aol.com.
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