Housetraining Habits

By Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Are you a new or potential puppy owner? If so, housetraining is probably on your mind. We've gathered some of our favorite tips for ensuring a rewarding experience -- for you and your pup.

1. Learn "caninese." Body language is the first clue that your puppy needs to go out. He might not be crossing his legs, but pawing at you, standing at the top of the stairs or in front of the door and barking are all signs that he needs your attention -- fast! Some dogs go with the classic sniffing and circling behavior. The instant you see this, scoop him up and take him out.

2. Use a crate. It's not punishment, and it's not cruel unless you leave him in it all the time. A crate is your puppy's safe spot and sleeping area, so he'll instinctively want to keep it clean. And when he's safely confined in it, you don't have to worry that he'll have an accident in the house. Staying in a crate helps a puppy learn to control his bladder and bowels. Without it, he may get into the habit of relieving himself whenever and wherever he likes.

3. Choose the right crate. It should be large enough for your pup to stand up and turn around inside it but not so large that he can potty at one end and sleep at the other. Purchase a puppy-size crate and graduate to a larger one later, or buy a crate with a divider. A removable panel allows you to section off the crate as needed and adjust the amount of space the pup has as he grows. You can also block off the back of the crate with a box or some other item that the puppy can't get over or around. Just be sure it's safe and not edible. Bricks or cement blocks are out; instead, try vertically inserting a large, cushion-style dog bed. An empty cardboard box could also work if your pup isn't a chewer.

4. Stick to a schedule. Puppies need to potty frequently. Set a timer to take your puppy out every two to four hours.

5. Certain events trigger a pup's need to urinate or defecate. Take him out as soon as he wakes up in the morning or from a nap and immediately after eating or drinking. Excitement and stress can lead to potty accidents. Prevent them by taking your pup out to potty every few minutes if he is playing vigorously indoors. Finally, take him out just before bedtime. By 3 to 4 months of age, most pups can sleep through the night, but younger puppies may need to go out once or twice during the night.

6. Two's company. Go out with your puppy to make sure he potties. If you're not with him, you can't reward him with praise and a treat so he knows that you want him to potty outdoors. Play is another good reward when your pup potties outdoors. Let him play for a few minutes after he performs. If you take him back inside immediately, he'll be reluctant to relieve himself right away.

7. Feed regular meals. Free-feeding (leaving food out all the time) makes it more difficult to know when your puppy needs to pee or poop.

8. Limit freedom. Letting a puppy have free run of the home is a recipe for potty accidents. Instead, keep him attached to you with a leash unless he's in a puppy-proofed bathroom, kitchen or laundry room. You should always know where he is and what he's doing.


Itchy rodent? Mites

might be the cause

Q: I have two guinea pigs, and one seems to be really itchy all the time. What could be causing it? I don't think it's the bedding since the other one seems fine. -- via email

A: I've found that any time a guinea pig, or cavy -- from the scientific name Cavia porcellus -- is itchy, he's probably suffering from an infestation of mites -- Trixacarus caviae, most likely, also known as guinea pig sarcoptic mites. This could well be the case, even if his buddy doesn't show any signs.

These mites can cause intense itching in a guinea pig. Sometimes it can be so bad that the guinea pig's convulsive scratching can resemble seizures. Other signs of skin disease in guinea pigs include hair loss and flaky skin.

Another possibility is lice. An infestation of lice isn't all that common in guinea pigs, but it's not unheard of. According to Stephen White, DVM, a veterinary dermatologist at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, large numbers of lice may suggest that your pet is also infested with some other type of skin parasite or is suffering from an underlying systemic disease such as hypovitaminosis C (vitamin C deficiency).

To find evidence of a parasitic invasion, your veterinarian may need to perform several skin scrapings. He or she can then prescribe an appropriate medication, such as selamectin (Revolution). It's important not to give oral forms of ivermectin to guinea pigs because they can have trouble absorbing it in the gastrointestinal tract.

If mites or lice aren't infesting your pet, look to environmental causes. Try changing his bedding. For instance, certain types of wood shavings may cause itching or irritation. Finally, make sure you aren't using any harsh chemicals to clean his cage. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Snakebites need

quick attention

-- Snakes are out in full force this time of year. According to veterinarians at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, pets are most likely to encounter snakes between late April and October. If you take your dog hiking, keep him on his leash and on the trail. Better yet, take him through a snake-avoidance course to help him learn to avoid the scaly critters. A bite from a rattlesnake calls for immediate veterinary attention and administration of antivenin. Before you head out, check with your veterinarian or a local veterinary emergency hospital to find out whether antivenin injections are available.

-- Calling Dr. Bombay. Not the character from the 1960s sitcom "Bewitched," but the cat breed nicknamed "the patent-leather kid with the new-penny eyes." The muscular, medium-size cat was created in the 1950s by crossing Burmese cats with domestic shorthairs or American shorthairs. Choose him if you've always liked the idea of having a black panther lounging on your sofa -- without the size and wild nature of the real thing. The Bombay has an easygoing personality and will quickly have you under his spell. He enjoys walking on a leash, playing fetch and sitting in your lap.

-- Participating in a clinical study can offer hope to owners of pets with cancer or other diseases and may help to find new treatments. Some clinical studies investigate new drugs or techniques, while others seek samples or information in search of better care methods. Some studies also need health data or samples from healthy animals. The American Veterinary Medical Association now has a database that allows veterinarians and owners to search for relevant studies that might benefit a dog, cat or other animal with a particular disease. Ask your veterinarian for more information on the AVMA Animal Health Studies Database. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

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