Why does housetraining fail? That's the question a lot of people ask themselves every day, usually while cleaning up after a growing puppy they ruefully admit is only "partially" housetrained, which is not really housetrained at all.
If you're struggling with a Christmas puppy who just doesn't seem to be catching on, take some time to review your battle plan, with an eye toward avoiding those traps that sabotage your efforts.
First among these traps is using a negative approach to housetraining. Successful housetraining requires setting up a potty schedule, limiting your pup's roaming options to areas you can supervise, showing your pup the area you want him to use, and praising him for going there. Generations may have followed the old "shove his nose in it and swat" method, but that doesn't work as well as a positive approach. You simply must go out with your puppy and praise him for getting it right. You're not being fair otherwise.
Even with a positive approach, people make mistakes. Here are a few things to remember:
-- Understand your puppy's physical limitations. Little puppies have little storage capability and need to be taken out frequently. Do not expect growing dogs to be able to "hold it" as long as a healthy adult dog can. If you must leave your puppy for the day, limit his wandering to a small area and put down newspapers to make cleanup easier. Don't punish him for any messes he makes while you're gone. Take him outside, let him relieve himself and praise. And clean up the mess inside without comment.
-- Remember how puppies work. Puppies need to relieve themselves after they wake up, after they eat or drink, and after playing. Make sure to take your puppy out then. Do not offer food and water on demand. Instead, offer them at regular intervals to help predict when your pup will need a trip outside.
-- Clean up mistakes thoroughly. What you can't see, a puppy can still smell -- and smells invite repeat business. Keep commercial products on hand that use enzyme action to break down the smell. White vinegar also does a great job of neutralizing the odor of urine. Don't use an ammonia-based product though: Ammonia smells like one of the components in urine to a pet.
-- Limit your puppy's wanderings. You wouldn't let a toddler explore your entire house without supervision; don't let your puppy, either. Close doors and use baby gates to keep your pup where your can keep an eye on him. That way, if you see him start to make a mistake, you can whisk him outside and praise him for finishing the job where you want him to.
-- Be patient and consistent. While some dogs seem to housetrain themselves, others are slower to learn. Just keep working at it.
If you're still struggling after a month or so (and especially if you're having housetraining problems with a grown dog), have your veterinarian check to make sure your dog has no health problems, and then ask for a referral to a behaviorist.
You can also get some excellent advice in two books -- one old, one new -- on the subject that go a long way toward explaining why your dog behaves the way he does. The late Job Michael Evans' work on the subject, "The Evans Guide for Housetraining Your Dog" (IDG Books Worldwide, $17.95), is a classic that's helped convert many recalcitrant Rovers. "Housetrain Your Dog Now" (Plume, $12.95), by Krista Cantrell, is a readable new book that stresses empathy and positive training.
PETS ON THE WEB
"Time spent cuddling hedgehogs is not deducted from one's life span!" So announces the Hedgehog Hollow Web site (http://hedgehoghollow.com/), a wonderful collection of whimsy and practical advice for fanciers of these prickly looking little animals. The host of this page is also the author of the Internet's Hedgehog FAQ (frequently asked questions), and you'll find links to the multi-part document on the site. You'll also find links to mailing lists and other hedgehog sites, along with lots of cute pictures and stories. Hedgehogs are illegal in some states (including California), but if you live where you can have one and have been wanting to learn more, this Web site is a great place to start.
Hairballs are normal for cats, as is watching where you walk to avoid the disgusting "gifts" that always seem to be left on the most expensive rugs in the house. If the problem is severe, your veterinarian may suggest the use of a mild laxative to help the hairballs pass through your cat's system.
You should also try combing your cat more frequently to remove excess hair. And you might try increasing the fiber in your cat's diet -- adding a little canned pumpkin daily is a great way that many cats enjoy.
Don't let your cat become a laxative junkie, as daily use decreases the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Hairball remedies should not be used more than twice weekly except on the advice of your veterinarian.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: My sister is allergic to cats and dogs. But as she has gotten older, that seems to have gone away. (She visits friends who have two very big dogs, but though they shed hair all over the floor and couch, she doesn't have any allergic reaction.)
Are there any kinds of cats with fur that won't make her sneeze? I really want a cat, but not if it's going to make my sister sick. -- S.F., via e-mail
A: A great many people who can tolerate exposure to dogs can't manage any time at all with cats before showing allergic reactions. Allergies to cats are so prevalent and so severe that they've been suggested as one of the factors in the increase in asthma, especially since more cats than ever before spend their lives inside.
Your sister may well be able to tolerate dogs for a certain period of time, but that doesn't mean she'll be able to live with one. And it certainly doesn't mean she'll be able to tolerate a cat. Any cat, by the way, because there's no such thing as a cat who isn't a potential allergy trigger. That's because it's not fur that causes the problem, but an ingredient in cat saliva that gets deposited on fur when the animal grooms and that spreads as flakes of skin and secretions commonly called "dander."
Some people survive well enough with animals and allergies, but it does require some effort. Some things that help include:
-- Keeping animals clean. A weekly water bath (no soap needed) for cats has been shown to reduce levels of dander and may make living with a cat workable. It's best if a non-allergic member of the family handles the pet-grooming chores.
-- Keeping animals out of sleeping areas at all times. While it's hard to give up the hot-water-bottle pleasures of sleeping with a pet on the bed, your body needs a break from the stress of fighting off allergens.
-- Limiting exposures to other allergens. Keeping all your allergies under control can help your body handle the exposure to a pet.
Most important is to work with an allergist who's willing to work with you. The one whose advice starts and ends with "your cat needs a new home" probably isn't the one to choose. Be aware, however, that that advice may well end up being the only thing that helps. Some people are just not meant to share their lives with furry animals.
Q: I'm tired of my cat knocking things off the shelves! I am a collector and have a lot of glass figurines, a few of which have been broken. What can I do to protect them from Calypso? - B.G., via e-mail
A: Practically speaking, you can't keep cats on the ground. The best you can do is display your treasures in ways that keep them safe or, at least, safer.
You might consider moving your collection to a single room and keeping the door closed when you're not around to supervise. Glass-fronted book cases are another option for keeping collectibles and cats apart.
Although it's probably best to keep your most valuable pieces where your cat can't get to them at all, other objects can be made safer from the wanderings of clumsy cats. Double-sided tape or Velcro can be used to "lock" objects in place on shelves, and can be found at any home-supply store. You can also try a product called Quake Hold, a putty that seals objects to their display surface. Quake Hold can be hard to find outside of earthquake-prone California, but your hardware store may be able to order some for you.
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 writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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