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Got yourself a new pet for the holidays? Are you wondering how to make it understand the simple requirements for living in your house? Wondering why it is taking so long and smells so bad?

Well, switch paws for a minute.

Got yourself a new human for the holidays? Are you wondering why it's so moody and irritable? Why it locks the food up, closes doors, scrubs away all the good scents you have been so generously sharing? Why you are not allowed to play with all the great toys? And why it hollers every time you relieve yourself?

The great news is that pets learn faster than children. They want to cooperate. They come with willingness to have their behaviors modified into ones you can tolerate and perhaps exploit. Behavior modification is easier if you can figure out how to motivate and also be aware of what you have actually taught.
  A high priority for most people is house breaking their pets.

Let's talk first about cats.
Cats come with the preference that what they produce should vanish. Completely vanish. Cat litter allows urine to be absorbed and feces buried. So does sand, soil, and occasionally sofas and laundry. Pee magically vanishes into carpets. Since cats prefer their waste to vanish, keep the litter box very clean. A dirty litter box and a clean carpet motivates a switch, and if repeated often enough, becomes habit. The cat didn't invest multiple paychecks to buy that carpet and doesn't consider it ruined; in fact, to your cat, its value has become enhanced now that it is multifunctional.

If your house is large, or you have more cats, get extra litter pans. Keep them all clean. If you really have to keep the pan in the basement, make sure the door stays open. The cat can not (will not?) turn the door knob and especially where there is a magic carpet.

What about dogs? Dogs come with the preference of not soiling their nest. It doesn't seem to be an instinct for cleanliness, since they are quite happy to play with, roll in, taste, and otherwise express their artistic talents with their feces. Close confinement will inhibit elimination. This is a technique called "crating". While we tend to think of it as cruel imprisonment in a too small cell, it works out when you give a dog it's very own room within your house. A puppy should be kept in its crate when not being supervised. First thing in the morning, last thing in the evening, lots of times during the day, bring the pup to where you want it to do its stuff and praise/reward it whenever successful. Make sure opportunity is ample, as forced "accidents" in the crate can overcome the inhibition (a puppy in a pet shop cage for months usually won't "crate" successfully) Also, it's really horrible to clean up.

The only reason for a dog to eliminate where you want it to, is to please you. Dogs do seem to find what they make quite fascinating and are all experts in their own and each others creations. If it goes on the floor and you find it later on, it is too late to punish. The dog will understand that you are pissed off that there is stuff on the floor, but won't understand that you are pissed off because he put it there. You will teach him to hide the evidence (= eat it ).


    Be really really consistent in what you teach, and then step back and see what the dog actually learned. Some dogs will learn very specific things. Go on that spot, no other spot, no similar spot; all other spots are sins. These dogs do have a problem when they leave home, and do need to be retrained if you move. Other dogs are great generalizers, and figure out that outdoors is ok, indoors is not ok.

Others learn that grass is ok and is similar to that magic carpet which is usually warm and dry. Unfortunately, sometimes there is rain falling on the grass. If your dog is getting it wrong, you are probably teaching the wrong lesson. Praising a puppy for using a "wee-wee pad" in the kitchen can be learned as "it is good to use the "wee-wee pad" or "it is good to go in the kitchen". Yes, you can litter train dogs, toilet train or outdoor train cats, and perhaps even potty train children. It's all in the knowing how!

Dr. Alan Rubenstein practices veterinary medicine on Staten Island, NY. If you have any comments, or suggestions for future columns, please email him at / Issue 4 - September 9529
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