Q: We are going to be getting a puppy in a few weeks. At what age should you begin to train him to obey commands?
A: Puppies are capable of beginning to understand commands the day they come home. Their mothers have already taught them many things. Don't make the mistake of thinking that 7- or 8-week-old pups are too young to learn. In fact, puppies this age are incredible sponges, capable of absorbing a ton of knowledge about their new environment, the "animals" they share it with, and what is expected of them. Conscientious and consistent training during the first couple months of your puppy's life will make the rest of the training process easier and pleasant for canine and human alike.
Here are some examples of simple commands that puppies can begin to assimilate through multiple repetitions in the first few weeks.
"Hurry up" or "get busy"
When your pup squats to do his business, repeat one of the above phrases (your choice). When he finishes, praise him profusely. After a few days, start the command just before he urinates or defecates and follow with praise when he does. In a few weeks you should be able to give this command when you want the puppy to go and they'll cooperate. This can come in handy later when traveling with your pet and in a hurry to get them to go in an unfamiliar place.
Hold a treat or one of your puppy's toys in your hand in front of the pup. Say "sit" and move the object over the puppy's head and toward his hindquarters. Many puppies will sit by accident as they try to follow the treat or toy with their eyes. If not, you can use your free hand to guide his butt into place. Praise him verbally and allow him access to the toy or treat. Most puppies will learn sit very quickly.
"Wait" and "OK"
When feeding your pup, restrain him from access to the food bowl by holding him around the chest for a few seconds while saying "wait." Release the puppy and say "OK." Gradually increase the length of the wait. Eventually these two words can be generalized to a wide variety of situations.
For more information regarding your pup's "first words" and other aspects of early dog training, refer to "Mother Knows Best" by Carol Lea Benjamin and "The Art of Raising a Puppy" by the Monks of New Skete.
Jan M. Freeman, DVM
A cat with acne
Q: My cat has numerous little bumps on his chin. They almost look like the blackheads I remember from my teenage years. Could my cat have acne, too?
A: As odd as it sounds, cats do get acne, and it sounds like your cat has it. The skin around a cat's chin is rich in sebaceous glands, which secrete an oily substance used for scent marking. These sebaceous glands have ducts that lead to the skin and when blocked will swell with oil and bacteria forming a blackhead (or, in medical lingo, a comedone).
The cause of acne is often never determined, but may be the result of insufficient grooming or in rare cases can even be associated with mite infestation or fungal infection. Some veterinarians feel that acne is more common in older cats and may be due to reduced grooming attributed to arthritis. The chin is a difficult region for a cat to groom as they cannot directly lick it. Our understanding of feline acne is evolving. Veterinary dermatologists think that some cats may have an inherited defect in keratinization (process by which skin is formed) and this defect along with other factors results in acne.
The question of whether to treat chin acne depends on the severity of the acne. Most cats with acne just have a few blackheads, and the need to treat is debatable. In some cats, the blackheads are large and painful (and are called "furuncles"). These cats may require that their chins be shaved and cleaned with benzoyl peroxide and the cat treated with antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and/or antifungal medications. In most cases, feline acne is usually nothing more than a cosmetic annoyance.
Timm Otterson, 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.