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Q. This is the first summer that we own both a dog and a boat. Our dog, a 2-year-old Shih Tzu, has never been near the water before, so we don't know if she can swim. She loves being bathed and will run through the sprinkler, so she obviously isn't afraid of water. Do all dogs know how to swim?

A. Before you take your dog out on your boat, find a safe beach area that permits dogs and take her for a "test swim." There are life preservers made for dogs; I recommend she have one. Allow her to get into the water on her own. It may take you wading out into the water first to entice her in. Most dogs are happier if they can wade in slowly. Some dogs, mainly the labs and retriever breeds, seem to be born swimmers, but limited early exposure to water or bad experiences can make even these breeds fearful of the water. There are several breeds that have a more difficult time paddling in the water and yours is one of them. Shih Tzus are not known for their swimming ability. Their short legs, lengthy hair coat and pug noses make any vigorous exercise a challenge.

D. Jeff Pollard, DVM

Time for crate-training

Q. We are having a difficult time getting our female dog (Dachshund-Maltese) to urinate outside or on paper. She seems to go wherever she is at the time. We have tried many things, such as deterrent powders including mothballs. We have scolded her and spanked her, but to no avail. Her previous owners kept her outside all the time. Can you suggest any way we can train her to eliminate appropriately?

A. You don't say how old your dog is, so I am answering this under the assumption she is young and her lack of house-training is behavior-related. That is, it sounds like she's never been taught to go where and when it is appropriate.

Crate-training is very helpful. As dogs are denning animals, they will avoid soiling where they sleep -- most times. It will take some work on your part. You will need to take your dog outside, on leash, regularly and go to the same location each time. Avoid playing with her until she's done her duty. Realize that positive reinforcement is important so praise her profusely and offer a treat afterward. Whenever she is in the house and not under direct supervision, she should be in her crate.

D. Jeff Pollard, DVM

A home-alone cat

Q. What is your opinion on leaving a healthy cat alone for a weekend? We've never left her alone for longer than a few hours. When we have had to be away longer, we have put her in a boarding kennel, which she hates.

A. Some cats almost always seem less stressed by staying home when owners have to be gone, compared to being placed in a kennel. Although most cats can fare quite well when left alone for a day or two, even in the safest environments, some cats seem to get themselves into trouble. Unexpected things can happen when a cat is left alone. Water dishes spill. Cats get stuck in places they don't belong. Doors magically shut, preventing access to food, water or the litter box. Although acute health problems are relatively rare, they do occur. Male cats can develop a life-threatening urethral obstruction. Heart disease can have an "acute" onset. A bored cat may chew on an electrical cord or get tangled up in curtain cords. Arranging for someone to visit your home at least once a day to check on your cat may be the best arrangement.

D. Jeff Pollard, DVM
Prepared as a public service by the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society. Send questions to Pets, P.O. Box 403, East Aurora, N.Y. 14052-0403. Sorry, personal replies cannot be provided.

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