Dear Matthew: Would a single dog as a family pet have as nice a life as a dog would if it were in a home with one or more dogs in it?

- Linda in Del Rio, TexasDear Linda: To give a short answer to your short question, your dog will be perfectly happy living in a home with just people.

Now, if you're worried that your dog is going to be lonely while it's at home alone while your family is away, there's no need for concern. As long as your pet is walked regularly and well housebroken, it won't cause much trouble. Remember, you may be lonely without your dog, but your dog will never be lonely without you - people get lonely, not animals.

Dear Matthew: Our veterinarian told us we should play with our cat to help her lose weight. We've already put her on a special diet, but he explained that she also needs some exercise to keep her healthy.

Our family has no problem with playing with Kitty, but whenever we start having her chase some thread or play with other toys, she seems to quickly get out of breath. Is this a bad sign? Are we doing something wrong?

- Jack in Harrisburg, Pa.

Dear Jack: You wouldn't tell an overweight man to start getting exercise by running in a marathon the next day, would you? As with a human exercise program, you need to slowly ease your cat into a routine. If Kitty starts to show signs of exhaustion, stop playing with her and let her rest.

Dear Matthew: I have a wonderful dog, basset/lab mix, age 3. We trained him early not to get into the garbage, and he was very good about obeying.

About a year and a half ago, I got a kitten. They immediately became fast friends and play delightfully together.

However, I don't know if there is a connection, but it seems that after the kitten came into our home, my dog started to get into the garbage again but only when we are away from home.

Nothing I have tried has made a difference. Please help! If you have any suggestions as to what I can do, I would appreciate hearing from you.

- Kathryn in Salt Lake City

Dear Kathryn: Your kitten's arrival probably upset the routine for your dog. It's fairly common if there's a significant environmental change that some old training may be forgotten.

Fortunately, it's usually easy to get the dog back on the path of goodness if it's only recently strayed. Although a year and a half is a long time to let a problem go without resolution, you should still be able to fix things.

The first suggestion I have is to make your garbage can harder to break into. If it doesn't have a lid, get one. If it has a lid, perhaps you should put a heavy object on it to weigh it down.

Also, consider buying some dog-repellent spray, such as Bitter Apple. You can find these products in your local pet store, and if you put some on your garbage can, it should discourage your dog's in-quis-itiveness.