Q. We have a great new pet, a 12-week-old female standard poodle. She loves to walk and run — just not on the road and blacktop. Once we leave the backyard she gets very skittish. I can clearly see she is afraid of cars but even on a quiet street she basically refuses to move and just sits. I don’t want to be too pushy with her at this point because she is only a puppy. Or should I be? -- David Abdirkin, Northport
A. Being pushy rarely works in these situations. She clearly does not feel comfortable out of the yard, and if you do push her then she will feel that her fears are justified. It is always important to remember that animals never accept our assurances about how safe a situation is; they need to figure it out for themselves. If she wants to determine for herself that the situation is safe then just hold the leash and lean against a tree. She will get tired of sitting down as she smells all the different odors around her and sees the new sights and sounds, and in no time at all she will figure out for herself that being out of the yard is a great place to be.
Q. I got a male guinea pig for Christmas named Hercules and I want to know if I can teach him to come when I call him like my dog does. He is 12 weeks old now and seems to be very smart, but when I say his name he does not seem to pay attention to it. -- Sarah Duffy, Smithtown
A. Guinea pigs are actually a lot smarter than we give them credit for, but since they have so many enemies in the world it takes a while for them to relax and let their guard down. He does not see very well, so if you are far away from him and standing up while you call his name then it is hard for him to respond to you like a dog would. It is better to sit on the floor with him about two feet away with a piece of lettuce tied to a string. Say his name in a clear and loud voice so that it sounds different from the way you usually talk, then toss the lettuce to him and as he reaches for it just slowly tug it toward you so that he has to follow it, all the while saying his name. When he can do this from only two feet away then move him four feet away and thus further and further until he is following the lettuce to you from across the room. Then try it while you are sitting down on the floor just calling his name and holding the lettuce in your hand. Most likely he will get the idea right away and soon every time he hears the word “Hercules” he will stop and look up as he has learned that this means his lettuce is forthcoming and good times are at hand.
Q. I purchased a puppy at the end of November. She was then 10 weeks old. I have been trying to housebreak her ever since. If I time it right, all is good. However, it seems at least once a day she will either poop or pee in the house. She is a Chinese crested powderpuff and now weighs 5 pounds, 8 ounces. I must take her outside at least 15 to 20 times a day. I stay outside with her in a fenced area on my property to watch what she does. When she goes I give her a treat hoping that will work. What happened today makes me question if she will ever get trained. She was playing in the kitchen with her toys — the gates were up to keep her in the kitchen area — when I suddenly noticed she seemed to be getting ready to poop in her bed. I yelled at her and picked her up, put her in her crate while I put my coat on and took her out. It was only later I discovered that she had actually peed in her bed. She could have easily peed on the kitchen floor but she chose her bed. I thought dogs never would use their bed. Most of the time she keeps her crate clean. About two times a week she will poop in the crate. What is wrong with her? Will she ever get it? -- M. Connell, Wantagh
A. She is young and lost control, and that is the only explanation. The whole reason that we are able to teach dogs to eliminate where we want is because dogs like to do it in the same area and surface substrate, no matter if it is outdoors in a corner of your yard or indoors on a wee wee pad. The whole key is to be proactive and watch the dog as much as possible so that it does not have the opportunity to eliminate where you do not want it to. If the dog never gets the opportunity to do this then it will never think it an option.
Scolding the dog when it does make a mistake does not do any good. Dogs just do not have enough folds in their brains to comprehend that pooping or peeing can be a bad thing if by some chance they are forced by circumstance to do it in an area that they do not normally use. Of course there are some dogs that figure out where to go faster then others do and some dogs such as larger ones with bigger bladders have more self control. Some dogs also have better spatial awareness skills and thus have a better grasp of where the preferred elimination area is at all times. But it is hard for a small dog that is in your living room to figure out that it has to go from there into the kitchen and then through the back door to get to the area to eliminate. But just about all dogs do figure it out in time if you start at a young enough age, are very, very, very, very (that is four very’s) consistent, and do your best to look at the situation from the puppy’s point of view.