THE OLD TRAINER: Clean-up training teaches young dogs to ignore compulsive habits

Dear Old Trainer: Sam, my 4-year-old Afghan, drives me nuts. He minds like an angel for days, then suddenly does something out of the blue that drives me crazy. What can I do?

Dean, San Francisco

A: You are not alone. All young dogs, especially males, behave for weeks, then do something that leaves you shaking your head. Mine do it too.

Every time it happens, I say the same thing Austrian uber-diplomat Prince Metternich said to an aide upon hearing that Talleyrand, his archrival in devious diplomacy, had died – “Now I wonder why he did that.”

You solve the problem by what I call clean-up training, a series of simple exercises designed to teach a dog to ignore sudden impulses and obey the rules.

The first involves the way you feed Sam each day. Order him to sit, place his bowl a few feet away, and tell him to stay. If you have to, restrain him with your hand while you repeat the command.

After a few seconds, motion him toward the food and say OK. Don’t allow him to eat until you give permission. Vary from day to day. Allow him to eat immediately some days, order him to stay on others.

Use the same “stay” command before allowing him in or out of the car or the house. Open the door, but order him to stay until you give the command. Do it every time he goes in or out. Vary the wait time the same as you do with the food.

Love on him each time he does it right. The more he obeys your commands, the more disciplined he becomes. The love you give him is the important part of the training.

Dear Old Trainer: Your advice about treating skin sores with hydrocortisone cream worked great, but Sierra, my 4-year-old husky-Labrador mix, still gets red spots about every two weeks during the summer. Anything else I can do to help her?

Bea, Sacramento

A: First, be aware that a major cause of skin problems in the summer is toxic chemicals in liquid flea products. Switch Sierra to the pill form.

Give her a summer haircut. Get rid of the long hair and thick undercoat. This keeps her cooler, makes it easier to give her a bath, and makes it easy to inspect her daily for fleas, ticks and skin irritation, and treat them as soon as they appear.

Next, prepare a solution of equal parts water and apple cider vinegar and bathe all the spots where she has ever had any type of skin irritation. Do it every day until the irritation vanishes, then every fourth day until cool weather arrives.

Continue to rub hydrocortisone cream on any red spots that appear.

Switch to a better grade of food. Cheap food has little nutrition and is full of allergens.

Bathe Sierra every week. Use an oatmeal-based shampoo if you want, but all you really need to do is call her over to the hose and have her stand while you massage the water through her fur and make sure her skin is clean.