My Pet World: What to do if your dog leaves the bad kinds of gifts

Question: Baxter, my 6-year-old Miniature Schnauzer, defecates or urinates wherever my new husband is around. The last straw was when Baxter left both "gifts" on our bed at 3 a.m. Before this, Baxter only had rare accidents when I was away too long.

I've tried diapers, rewards, punishment and extra walks, all to no avail. Now, we keep Baxter in the dog run during the day and the garage at night. We're both miserable with this arrangement. Any advice? — S.S., Cyberspace

Answer: Rule out a potential physical issue first with your veterinarian, says Susan McCullough, author of "Housetraining for Dummies" (Wiley Publishing, New York, NY, 2009; $16.99).

You never describe the relationship your husband has had with Baxter from the start, but clearly it isn't so hot. McCullough says that many years ago, she had a similar problem with an ex-boyfriend.

"I took over full responsibility for the dog, and did what the dog enjoyed. We really did have fun," she recalls. "When (my boyfriend and I) broke up, the dog clearly preferred to be with me."

McCullough, of Washington, D.C., adds, "Have your husband play with Baxter and take over feeding him whenever he can. All the treats should come from his hands. And the three of you should take leash walks together."

New research confirms McCullough's plan. If you want to bond with your dog, take a leash walk. It turns out all those exciting smells and all the fun on the walk is apparently associated with whoever's at the other end of the leash.

If your dog seems stressed, ask your vet about a Dog-Appeasing Pheromone Collar or Anxitane, a nutritional supplement that helps to calm anxious dogs.

At the same time, take Baxter out to relieve himself as if he were a puppy. He can certainly "hold it" longer than a pup, but the more times outside, the better. Take him out on-leash, and when Baxter does his business, offer a reward.

If these solutions don't help, contact a veterinary behaviorist (http://www.dacvb.org) or dog behavior consultant (http://www.iaabc.org).

Q: Our nearly 9-year-old mixed breed dog (we think a Shetland sheepdog/terrier-mix) suffered two seizures in 24 hours a couple of weeks ago. Our vet said all the blood work was fine. Should we be worried about more seizures? — D.L.W., St. Paul, Minn.

A: "When seizures occur in aging dogs, there could likely be an underlying cause, such as kidney or liver disease, or even a problem in the brain," says Chicago-based veterinary neurologist Dr. Michael Podell. "It's great that the blood work showed nothing, but a small tumor, likely benign, is possible.

"If there is a tumor, waiting for another seizure could be time that the tumor will grow, making it inoperable or less manageable. I suggest seeing a veterinary neurologist, and an MRI would be the likely next step."

Of course, the seizures could be due to idiopathic epilepsy, in which seizures begin to occur without any known explanation. Such seizures are treated with medication if and when they become frequent. However, as Podell suggests, the onset of seizures of unknown origin is typically (though not always) in younger dogs than yours.

Since an MRI requires some financial investment, perhaps the best course is to contact your vet and decide together whether or not to wait for perhaps one more onset of seizures, or whether it's wiser, as Podell recommends, to be proactive.

Q: Sometimes I wonder if my cat is crazy. If one of our kids is taking a bath, he'll jump right in. He's even jumped into the sink while I'm doing dishes. Charlie fetches, and not only his toys but also random objects, which he brings to one of the kids, my husband, or myself. What's going on? — N.T., Bangor, Maine

A: Clearly, your cat hasn't read the handbook on "Being a Cat." The truth is, some cats just like water (a percentage are thought to be genetically predisposed). No doubt Charlie, who's clearly bonded to his family, also enjoys all the attention he receives when he creates a commotion by jumping into the tub or sink.

As for the fetching, some cats will enhance their skills when they're reinforced with attention.

I think you should celebrate your crazy cat! He deserves his own YouTube video page.

Q: What was the formula you wrote about one time to reduce a dog's stinky odor? I can't find the column. I have two smelly cocker spaniels. Help! — J.J.R. Boulder City, Nev.

A: I can't find the formula, either (though I do have a 'recipe' for removing skunk odor, which involves Dawn dishwashing soap and tomato juice). Actually, it's not normal for dogs to randomly stink. I wonder if your pets might have an infection. Please see your vet.

STEVE DALE welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.

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