The first dog I house-trained using a crate was Andy, who'll be 15 years old in June, just to give you an idea of the amount of time that has passed since. Before Andy, I scooted a lot of puppies and dogs outside at the first sign of a squat, and cleaned up a lot of messes when my timing was off or my attention was elsewhere.
Clever boy that he is, young Andy learned the house rules in a couple of weeks, without a single misplaced puddle or pile. From that point on, I've been sold on crates. They are an essential part of puppy-raising, and a good investment in developing the kind of relationship you dream of having with your dog.
Finding the right size of crate is the first step to house-training your pup. Pick a crate that fits your puppy now, with just enough room to stand and turn around. (With a crate that's too big, a pup may decide to use one end for sleeping and the other as a relief zone. It pays to shop around, or simply to ask around. The crate you need could be gathering dust in a friend's storage area, or you can buy one rather inexpensively at a tag sale.
Crate-training limits a puppy's options to three: He's either empty and playing in the house, or he's in the crate and "holding it" because he doesn't want to sit in his own waste, or he's at the place you've chosen for him to relieve himself. Puppies need to relieve themselves after they wake up, after they eat or drink, or after a period of play. Set up a schedule to accommodate his needs -- puppies can't go very long without eating, drinking, sleeping or relieving themselves -- as you work to mold behavior. A good rule of thumb: Puppies can hold it as long as their age in months. A 2-month-old pup can hold it for two hours, for example, up to a limit of about eight to 10 hours for adult dogs.
Let the puppy sleep next to your bed in the crate -- sleeping near you speeds the bonding process -- and lead him to the chosen outside spot as soon as he's awake in the morning. When he goes, praise him thoroughly with words and pats. Then take him inside for breakfast. Feed him and offer him water, and then take him out for another chance to go. If he goes, more praise and back inside for play. If you're not sure he's completely empty, put him in the crate.
Ignore the whines and whimpers. A dog has to learn to stay by himself without waking the neighborhood or destroying the furniture, and the time to start learning is when he's still a pup. If left alone, the puppy will soon be fast asleep and will stay that way until it's time for the next round of out, eat/drink, out, play, crate.
Eventually, your pet will be spending more of his time loose in the house under your supervision, and he will start asking to visit his outdoor spot. Don't forget to confirm his early attempts at proper behavior by praising him profusely.
If you spot an in-house accident, don't punish your pet. Rubbing his nose in it is pointless and mean. If you catch your dog in the act, a stern "no" will suffice, followed by an immediate trip to the yard and praise when he finishes up where he's supposed to. Clean up the inside mess thoroughly, and treat the area with a vinegar-and-water solution to neutralize the smell.
With crate-training, the number of such incidents will be few, and you'll end up with a dog who is not only reliable in the house, but also confident in his own abilities to stay alone when you are gone.
Using a crate to house-train is truly the easy way, on both you and your pup.
PETS ON THE WEB
The cute reptiles we call geckos are the stars of the Global Gecko Association's informational Web site (www.gekkota.com). The site encourages people to join the association, which offers its members a semiannual color journal and regular newsletters. The GGA isn't stingy with its information, though, and it offers care information and photographs on the Web site to anyone who wants to click them up.
The photographs are a little hard to use because most of the listings use the scientific names of the species, not the common ones. So if you're looking for a picture of the good-natured leopard gecko, you're going to need to know that the scientific name is Eublepharis macularius to find a picture of these reptilian cuties on the site.
The GGA offers a generous selection of useful links and classifieds to help gecko lovers buy and sell equipment and more. I was particularly taken with the "personal" listings, which turned out not to be for gecko fans to find one another, but rather to help lonely geckos find mates.
If you're looking for a way to share some of the generosity of the holidays, spread some of your goodwill at your local animal shelter. Most shelters have a "wish list" of goods that will help them help animals, and many aren't expensive at all.
At the top of the list of things that shelters go through constantly are newspapers and old towels. New goods that will help include can openers, office supplies, pet food and cat-box filler.
Finally, don't forget that nothing is as versatile as the gift of money. You can give money outright, in memory of a special pet, or you could honor your friends and family with the gift of shelter memberships. Every little bit helps!
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I am curious about putting a large dog (100 pounds) on a plane for a flight of 3 1/2 hours flying time. I am not in favor of this. What are your thoughts? -- B.G., via e-mail
A: The kind of flight you're talking about -- direct -- is probably the safest of all airline adventures for a pet. It's those trips with layovers and plane changes that tend to make me nervous.
Still, while air travel may be no picnic for those family members who must fly in the cargo holds, it's really pretty safe, with the airline industry's figures claiming that 99 percent of all pets shipped by air arrive safely.
Putting your pet in the care of strangers is never easy. But you can and should take steps to ensure a smooth and safe trip. Here are some tips:
-- Talk to the airline. The carriers that take animals - not all do -- have limits on the number of animals on a flight because a set amount of air is available in the sealed cargo holds. You also need to know the rules for your particular airline, including where and when your pet has to be presented, and what papers (health certificate, and so on) you'll need to bring. Also, you'll need to know the airline's rules for when they cannot ship pets at all -- when it's too cold or too hot.
-- Be sure that your pet is in good health and isn't one of the pug-nosed breeds. These animals find breathing a little difficult under the best of circumstances, and the stress of airline travel may be more than they can handle. Boxers, Pekingese, pugs, Persians, and other dogs and cats like them are likely better off on the ground than in a cargo hold.
-- Be sure that your pet is traveling in a proper carrier that has contact phone numbers at both ends of the journey. The crate should be just big enough for your pet to stand up and turn around in, and you should be sure all the bolts holding the carrier in place are as tight as possible. Put an ID tag on a piece of elastic around your pet's neck. (It's not safe for an animal to travel in a crate while wearing a collar.)
-- Don't ship your pet when the weather is bad or when air traffic is heaviest. Avoid peak travel days. And be sure to choose flights that are on the ground when the temperature is neither too hot nor too cold, not only at the departure airport but also at the connecting and arriving airports. In winter, a day flight is likely better, while the reverse is true in the summer.
-- Be on the same flight as your pet whenever possible. Keeping on top of things is easier when you're there to talk to airline personnel directly. Also, cats and small dogs can often fly in the cabin if accompanying a paying passenger.
-- Choose a direct flight. If that's not possible, try for a route with a short layover. Most pet fatalities occur on the ground, when pets are left in their crates exposed to the elements on airport tarmacs or left struggling for air in ignored cargo holds. Direct flights eliminate layovers, and short layovers reduce time on the ground.
-- Remember that your pet's life relies on the attentiveness of airline personnel. Most of these employees are excellent and caring, but mistakes do happen. You should be prepared to pester airline personnel to confirm that your pet has been loaded and has made the same connections you have. If your pet is flying unaccompanied, talk to freight-handling personnel at every airport the animal will visit. Be polite but persistent. And don't take "I'm sure he's fine" as an answer. Make sure staff members check on your pet and report back.
Contrary to popular belief, it's generally better that your pet not be tranquilized before flying. The combination of high altitude and limited oxygen is a challenge your pet's body is better prepared to meet if not sedated. Still, your pet may be an exception. Discuss the issue with your veterinarian.
Q: One little trick I have found that sometimes works when introducing cats (and this counts only if people groom their cats) is to brush the resident cat and then the new cat without cleaning out the brush between, then back to the resident cat and so on. It seems as if the new cat doesn't smell quite so "new" this way. -- Peggy, Magic, Sneezy, Phobe and Phadra, via e-mail
A: Thanks for the tip, Peggy. It seems as if you have a happy houseful! Cat introductions are tricky business, to be sure, and strategies like yours are always worth a try.
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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