Before everyone seemed to have an e-mail account, it used to take a few days until I'd get my first question from the new parent of a Christmas puppy. Now, the e-mails start on Christmas Day.
"I can't get this puppy to stop peeing everywhere!" write the panicky people, typically with no shortage of exclamation points. Puppies need to relieve themselves after they wake up, eat or drink, or after a period of play, and most prefer to do it away from their eating and sleeping areas. Use this knowledge to set up a schedule for molding proper behavior, with a pet carrier (also known as a crate) for your training tool.
First thing in the morning: Take your puppy out of the crate and coax him to follow you outside to relieve himself. 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. Give the command again 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. 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.
At midday, 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 mid-afternoon, and then crate him for his afternoon nap.
If you cannot come home for lunch, 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 himself. (Rule of thumb: Puppies can "hold it" for their age in months -- a 4-month-old puppy can "hold it" for four hours.)
At dinnertime, take him out, feed him, and then 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.
Take one last trip out at bedtime. Give your command, and after your puppy does what you want, praise him like the dickens. Then bring your little angel inside and put him in his crate for the night. For the first month 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., take 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 yet. (Don't punish for "mistakes" -- just clean them up thoroughly.) If he doesn't seem to understand what you want, 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 cat could very well be man's best friend but would never stoop to admitting it." -- Doug Larson.
I love quotations! I have several books of them, and I'm always adding new ones to a collection I keep on my computer. The Pet Factory (which sells American-made rawhide chews) has collected many of the best quotes about cats and dogs on its "Fun Stuff" Web page (www.petfactory.com/quote.html). The site also has an entertaining collection of animal trivia.
The Whole Dog Journal is one of my favorite pet-related publications, and its upcoming issue for February is the most anticipated of the year. That's when the publication takes its annual look at dry dog foods and recommends a dozen or so foods based on quality, not advertising. The February issue alone is worth the price of an annual subscription, which is $20 for 13 issues, including access to all current articles on the Web site (www.whole-dog-journal.com). Subscribe on the Web, by mail at Whole Dog Journal, P.O. Box 420234, Palm Coast, FL 32142-0234, or by phone, 800-829-9165.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We have a 13-month-old Labrador who invariably wakes up at 6 a.m. The past three mornings, though, his wake-up time has been around 4:30 a.m. I'm inclined to think that he needs more exercise, since he has the typical amount of young Lab energy.
My husband wanted me to see if there's anything else we could be doing differently that would help him sleep better. Do you have any thoughts, or do we simply have a dog who's a "morning person"? -- E.S., via e-mail
A: I envy my brother, with his bed-slug boxer. When my brother gets out of bed, his dog stretches, yawns and rolls onto the warm spot my brother had occupied. The dog then falls back to sleep.
Those of us who live with retrievers have a different life. Retrievers are bred to joyfully do a long day's work, and those days simply cannot start early enough for these dogs. 4:30 a.m.? Time to go hunting!
I'm not sure why your dog has suddenly started getting up earlier, unless he's figured out that he gets fed as soon as he gets you two out of bed. (Food is another prime motivator for retrievers, who are notorious chow hounds.)
I feel safe in saying that you're correct in that more exercise wouldn't be a bad thing. Even though I haven't a clue how much exercise your dog gets currently, there's no such thing as enough activity for a 13-month-old Labrador. An evening aerobic session will help him to sleep more soundly.
You should also take away his reward for waking you. Do not make feeding him the first thing on his morning agenda -- or yours. Instead, pick the paper off the porch, make yourself breakfast, take a shower, etc., and then, when your needs are met, address his. You need to break the connection in his head between your waking up and his getting fed.
Try not to react to his alarm-clock act. Don't get up, don't yell. Just ignore. You'll have a difficult time doing this at first, but he will finally come to understand which behaviors alter your actions, and which don't. The ones that don't work, he'll drop.
Above all, be patient. Labs are often a big pain in the fanny until they grow up, which eventually happens between the age of 2 and 4. He's a big puppy now, but you'll start noticing a serious trend toward mellow as he leaves his adolescence.
Q: Our New Year's resolution is for the whole family to trim down and eat healthier, including the dog! My question: How do I know what a good weight for our dog is? Are there height-weight charts, as there are for people? -- J.H., via e-mail
A: With dogs, determining fitness is done with the eyes and the fingers. First, look at your dog from the side. You should see a "tuck up" behind the rib cage, so that your dog has a discernible waistline. Ribs should not be visible, but neither should be rolls of fat. From above, you should see also see that "nip in" at the waist -- a dog should not resemble a coffee table when viewed from above.
Now, put your hands on your dog, on his ribs, and press in gently, then move forward and back. You should feel a slight padding over the ribs, but still easily be able to feel the bones with your fingers.
Not sure? Ask your veterinarian for advice. While you're there, ask to weigh your dog to have a baseline for determining progress. Your veterinarian should allow you to bring your dog in just for follow-up weighing without charge.
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. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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