A reader’s standard poodle, the breed shown here, seems to have problems with short-term memory, a condition that might have a genetic basis or be related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Dear Dr. Fox:

I have a 4-year-old dog, and she has always had problems with short-term memory.

When friends come over, she greets them, but if they get out of her line of sight and then appear a few minutes later, she barks and acts startled. It is as though her brain is wondering, “How did this nice human friend get in the house without moving through the front door?”

She does not do this with me or with her canine buddies. She is a standard poodle and otherwise is quite smart. I have had other dogs of the same breed who have not had this issue.

Is there a training method to improve her short-term memory and recognition skills?

L.N., Seattle

DF: A short-term memory deficit probably has a genetic basis and might be related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), seen in humans and various breeds of dogs.

An underlying anxiety could be at the core of the problem, which you might address by giving her a tryptophan or L-theanine supplement, which have been shown to help reduce anxiety, aggression and depression, and to lower blood cortisol levels. Extract of green tea is one source. Petzlife’s@-Eaze calming gel would be worth trying. Natural food sources of tryptophan (which is a precursor for serotonin to help calm your dog) include turkey, eggs, pineapple, brown rice, flax and chia seeds. Another neurochemical, dopamine, low levels of which are associated with ADHD, is supplied by foods such as organic oats, dairy products, blueberries and spirulina, any of which you can add to your dog’s food.

One calming essential oil is lavender. You can put a few drops on a bandanna around your dog’s neck before company arrives. One pharmaceutical solution is a prescription of Prozac to help elevate serotonin; a short course of treatment under veterinary supervision might help your dog reach a better point of equanimity.

Because of the poor quality of ingredients in many manufactured dog foods, and various additives that might cause oxidative stress and the release of free radicals, which affect brain, behavior and immune function, I would strongly advise you to feed your dog an organically certified diet. Or try my home-prepared recipe, which is rich in serotonin and dopamine, as well as antioxidants that deal with the free radical problem. Find it at drfoxvet.net.

Dear Dr. Fox:

When it comes to litter boxes, I don’t understand the “rule” of one per cat, plus an extra.

I have two litter boxes for my two cats, but both use the same one — even if it’s already been used. My previous apartment had no room for more than one box, and even in the house where I had two boxes on each floor, they both used the same one most of the time.

I use newspaper instead of buying litter. I started with shredded and now use whole sheets, which they enjoy shredding themselves. It’s very absorbent and cuts the stool odor after a short while.

I.I., Hendersonville, N.C.

DF: I do not know from which cat expert you received this advice about cat litter boxes, but my experts are my own cats. They will share a litter box amicably and without any complications — such as going outside the box — provided the box is cleaned out three to four times a day.

I feel for those poor cats whose boxes are not kept clean, forcing them to poke around in their own waste to dig a pit to evacuate and then to cover. Just as bad is having to enter a covered box that has not been kept clean, filled with the fumes of acrid urine and feces. This does contribute to cats developing cystitis from holding their urine, as well as causing them to urinate elsewhere in the home, and to constipation and aversion of using the litter box.

For details, see my article “Cat Litter Box” on this complex and essential aspect of caring for cats, posted on my website.

Dear Dr. Fox:

My wife and I recently rescued a 2-year-old Chihuahua mix with a puppy mill history. She needs potty training. We reward and praise her on our walks when she does her stuff. We take her out many times on the same schedule; however, once inside, she has accidents, without any indications of wanting or needing to go outside.

Are there any hints or insights you can provide? She sleeps on the floor in a small fenced enclosure in our bedroom. We get her out immediately when she wakes up in the morning — if we don’t, she will have an accident. It would be good if she would sleep an hour or so later, as well.

A.P., Winston-Salem, N.C.

DF: Your Chihuahua’s incontinence might be physical or behavioral. First, have her urine tested for cystitis, a common affliction in young dogs that can lead to house soiling.

Second, the behavioral consideration: She might have been confined in a small cage, so she got into the habit of urinating inside the enclosure. If she sleeps well in a long and narrow pen or dog crate, and does not cry all night to get out, crate training might help.

Because most dogs will not evacuate where they sleep, have her sleeping pad or pillow set at one end of the enclosure and a puppy pee pad securely laid down at the opposite end. Put some of her urine on the first pad you put down so she will get the scent and, hopefully, understand that this is where she must urinate while confined.

She should not need any food or water overnight in the enclosure, but she might enjoy a chew toy or two. Later, when she is trained, you can leave the crate or enclosure open during the day so she can use it as her den if she wishes — and her toilet, too!

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Send letters to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

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