It’s springtime! Temperatures are warming, rain is plentiful, flowers are blooming, and the grass is lush and green. The pleasant weather drives many people and their pets outdoors for recreation after a long, cold winter. You might notice your dog or cat occasionally grazing on tender new blades of grass when they are outside. Some may vomit the grass, while others seem unaffected. Why do they eat grass? Although this is a common behavior for our pets, especially dogs, we actually don’t know why they eat grass. However, there are several theories.
They eat grass when they have an upset stomach to cause vomiting.
This is probably the most common belief among pet owners as to why their pets eat grass. Dogs and cats cannot digest grass, so it has no nutritional value for them. Eating grass supposedly causes irritation to the stomach, which leads to vomiting. The question is, are these pets already nauseous before eating the grass, or does the grass make them nauseous? There is not much research in veterinary literature that addresses this issue, but the few studies and surveys that have been done suggest that most pets do not vomit after eating grass. Many normal dogs and cats eat grass every day and rarely vomit. However, pets that do have some gastrointestinal disease or inflammation may be more likely to vomit after eating grass than normal pets. Have these animals “learned” that grass is an effective way to relieve stomach upset? It’s possible, but we simply don’t know.
If your dog or cat seems to eat grass and plant material excessively, it may be time for a checkup with your veterinarian, especially if this is a new, sudden behavior. If vomiting is frequent, or if there are other signs of gastrointestinal disease such as weight loss or diarrhea, then a physical exam and diagnostic testing by your vet are in order.
They eat grass because they have a dietary deficiency.
Some people wonder if their pets eat grass due to some nutrient deficiency, but there is no evidence to support this. Dogs and cats are fed a variety of types of diets, and no correlation has been found between ingestion of grass and type of diet fed. However, a pet that is excessively hungry due to a metabolic disorder may try to eat grass, dirt, or other items. If your pet’s appetite seems abnormally high, it needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian. Also, if you do happen to feed your pets a diet that is not commercially prepared (such as home cooked or raw), consult with your veterinarian regarding the proper balance of nutrients in such a diet.
They eat grass because they are stressed or anxious.
When dogs and cats experience environmental stress, they will sometimes do what is called a displacement behavior. Some external stressor, for example a scary noise or a conflict with a housemate, leads them to do an unrelated activity, such as grooming or tail chasing. This out-of-context behavior can help them cope with the stressful situation. Some animals will also develop chronic compulsive disorders due to stress, and abnormal eating behavior can fall into this category. Eating grass is not a common displacement behavior, but it is a possibility. Consider the context in which your dog or cat eats grass, and consult with your veterinarian if you are concerned that your pet has anxiety.
They eat grass because they like it!
In normal dogs and cats, the most likely explanation for eating grass is that they enjoy it. Grass may be appealing to pets as they explore and scavenge in their environment. Occasional ingestion of grass is not harmful and isn’t cause for concern. However, do not let your pet eat grass that was recently chemically treated or fertilized, as the chemicals can cause stomach upset. Also, while untreated grass is safe, many other plants are not and can be toxic to dogs and cats. It is best to prevent them from ingesting other plants in general.
Further research is needed to determine why our pets eat grass. Whether it serves some evolutionary purpose, or if they simply enjoy it, we don’t know for sure. Just remember that if you suspect a health problem, consult your veterinarian for the most trusted advice.
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Visiting Community Veterinary Clinic doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. Taking certain steps before your appointment is a great way to take the best care of your pet. Follow these simple steps to help your pets get the most out of their visit.
Pack a bag:
Bring something from home, like a toy or blanket, on your trip here. Familiar scents and items can help your pet deal with the strange sights and sounds they encounter away from home. These familiar items are especially useful if your pet will be staying at the hospital overnight.
Get used to the carrier:
In the days leading up to the appointment, help your pet acclimate to their carrier. Use treats and meal times to encourage your pet to enter the carrier on their own. Leaving the carrier out with the door open can encourage our pets to explore and familiarize themselves with the carrier. On the day of the appointment, try to encourage your pet to enter the carrier on their own.
Practice at home:
Practice with your pet at home to mimic stimuli they will experience during their visit. Things like: touch and examine their feet and claws, lift their ears, and comb their fur. Use treats and toys to make this a rewarding experience for your pet. This kind of practice will help reduce the anxiety your pet feels when these same actions are performed during their visit.
Don’t overdo it:
Resist the urge to take your pet to other appointments or outings on the same day as a visit to the vet. Excessive time in the vehicle, or overloading new sights and sounds can be very stressful. Allowing our pets to rest and relax after a visit helps leave a positive impression in the pet’s mind for the next visit.
A trip to the doctor is a necessary part of helping our pets be as healthy as they can be. Obviously, nobody knows your pet as well as you do, if there is something we can do to help your pets enjoy their visit, please let us know!
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Unlike traditional cartoon images, real dogs don’t recline on a therapist’s couch and describe their dreams, so we can only assume that they have dreams. Though we won’t ever get a first-hand account of their nighttime reveries, scientific evidence indicates that our canine friends do, indeed, dream.
What are Dreams?
Dreams occur during sleep, so understanding the sleep process helps define what dreams are. Sleep is a natural state of being in which consciousness and voluntary muscular activity are reduced in both people and animals. Sleep is very important for growth and allows downtime to recharge body systems. While sleeping, the brain also processes information and experiences that occurred during waking hours. Dreaming is part of this sleep cycle. When we dream, we aren’t fully conscious, so while our dreams can be quite vivid and seem very real, we don’t actually smell, taste, or feel anything.
During sleep, the brains of humans and dogs function in a similar manner and exhibit brain wave patterns that show a difference between the two basic stages of the sleep cycle. When you or your dog first fall asleep, you experience SWS, slow wave sleep, when brain waves are slow and undulating. During this stage of the sleep cycle, mental processes are quiet, but muscle tone is still active so the body is not totally relaxed. Your dog will appear to be resting calmly but can easily be awakened during SWS.
Later, a deeper stage of sleep occurs, marked by rapid eye movements – so this stage is called REM sleep – during which brain waves are faster and irregular. Unlike SWS, muscles are more relaxed during REM, but the mind is more active and the eyes dart rapidly beneath the eyelids. During this stage of heightened mental activity, your dog may whine, breathe rapidly, and move his legs.
“Both humans and dogs experience
both stages of the sleep cycle.”
Both humans and dogs experience both stages of the sleep cycle. We know that humans dream, and since the sleeping brains of dogs and people go through similar stages of electrical activity, it is safe to assume that dogs dream, too. Scientific research conducted in 2001 at MIT demonstrated comparable brain wave patterns in humans and dogs which validated this assumption. The conclusion is that dreams are part of the normal sleep cycle, and dogs do indeed have them!
What Do We Know About Dog Dreams?
Even though dogs don’t awaken and describe their dreams, human scientists have managed to gather a lot of information about doggie dreams and sleep patterns through clinical observations. Here’s what sleep-watching scientists found out.
As a dog falls asleep, his breathing becomes deeper and more regular. After about 20 minutes of slumber while in REM sleep, dreams usually begin for the average dog. While dreaming, the dog’s breathing may become shallow and irregular, and muscles may twitch. His eyes move behind the closed lids and dart about as if the dog is looking at something. It is believed that during this REM sleep, dogs are visualizing dream images much like their owners do in this phase of sleep. In fact, if you wake a person during the REM sleep phase, they frequently report that they were dreaming.
“Like his owner, a dog may relive daytime
experiences and “sleep run” as he
chases a cat or fetches a ball.”
During REM, the sleeping brain functions much like it does when awake, so dogs and people dream about things that occurred during their waking hours. Information gathered during the day is processed at night and may be relived in dreams. Luckily, dreams include a safety feature: the pons. The pons is part of the brain that stops us from physically acting out our dreams. Even though you may feel like you ran a marathon or jumped out of an airplane, you are safely tucked in bed. Like his owner, a dog may relive daytime experiences and “sleep run” as he chases a cat or fetches a ball.
How Often Do Dogs Dream?
Some dogs dream more than others, and the frequency and length of dreams vary according to age and size of the dog. For example, the young, innocent minds of puppies experience more dreams than adult dogs. Pups acquire huge amounts of new information daily and have much to process at night.
Likewise, smaller dogs seem to have more dreams that their bigger friends. Research by psychologist Stanley Coren illustrated that the length and frequency of dreams may be related to the animal’s size. A toy poodle may dream every 10 minutes, while a Labrador Retriever may only dream once every 60-90 minutes. However, the poodle’s dreams may last only a minute while the Labrador’s dreams may be 5-10 minutes long. Dream length and frequency are also related to the amount of sleep required. A large dog that has an active day outside may sleep more soundly and experience longer phases of REM sleep, giving him more time dream.
Do Dogs Have Nightmares?
Some owners are awakened from their own dreams when their dogs whine or thrash about. It may be alarming to see your dog running in place while sleeping or hear him whimper, but don’t be frightened. Although it’s annoying to have your sleep interrupted, there is no need to worry about your dog’s nighttime antics – most dreams are not nightmares. Dreaming is a normal, healthy occurrence and is part of a regular 24 hour cycle of wakefulness and sleep.
“Dreaming is a normal, healthy occurrence
and is part of a regular 24 hour cycle
of wakefulness and sleep.”
With that said, it’s important to note that dogs and humans need uninterrupted sleep for health of mind and body. Provide your dog a quiet, comfortable area to rest. And don’t disturb his slumber! Approximately 60% of dog bites in children occur when the child wakes a sleeping dog, so teach youngsters to let their doggies nap. Let’s keep the old adage in mind… “It’s best to let sleeping dogs lie”….and dream….
In the society of dogs, the class system has historically been divided into pure breeds
and mixed breeds. The “blue bloods”, or dogs of pedigree, were considered upper crust while dogs of undocumented heritage (mixed breed, mutts, and mongrels) were consideredcommon. However, the canine class system, much like human hierarchy, has been altered overtime. Having a noble pure-bred birthright no longer always makes for a more desirable, prestigious, or expensive pet.
What is a Mixed Breed?
A mixed breed dog, as the name implies, has more than one breed in its bloodline. Most mixed breed dogs have unidentified parentage. In other words, there is no valid documentation of who their ancestors were, or how many different breeds contribute to their genetic make-up. A mutt is a mixture of many genetic traits and may have any combination of his ancestors’ characteristics. The potential for variety in appearance, conformation, and temperament is endless. A pure breed, especially one that is registered, has a definitive lineage derived from purposeful breeding to produce dogs with more consistent traits. Breed standards governing physical characteristics maintain the integrity of a breed that is registered with a recognized kennel club.
What is a Designer Breed?
Designer breeds combine the best of both worlds. Registered, pure dog breeds are “mixed” on purpose to create designer breeds. Intentional mixing of breeds optimizes the best characteristics of each parent. Sometimes the dog may have more than two pure breeds in his bloodline, but unlike a mutt, his lineage can be identified.
“The offspring produced by mixing
two bloodlines within a species…
should be more accurately referred to as
Designer breeds are loosely referred to as hybrids, but this is not accurate terminology. True hybrids are created when breeding occurs between different species. The offspring produced by mixing two bloodlines within a species, i.e. canine, should be more accurately referred to as crossbreeds. In short, a mixed breed dog or mutt is one of undocumented parentage, while a crossbreed or designer dog has identifiable parents of two validated breeds.
‘It takes three generations of documented
breeding to be considered a ‘breed’ “
For a designer breed to become recognized as a “new” breed, an established kennel club has to review the documented ancestry of the breed all the way back to the original parents. When the kennel club is satisfied with the breed’s history and pedigree, they may designate the new breed and register it as such. This registration elevates the status of the designer breed.
How Are Designer Breeds “Designed”?
Simply breeding a Standard Poodle to a Golden Retriever producing a first generation of mixed pups does not qualify the litter as a recognized new breed. Creating a new breed requires careful, purposeful breeding. It took a while to create the new breed of dog called “Golden Doodle”.
Here’s a little review of genetics using the Golden Doodle as an example. The first generation of mixed pups is called an F1cross and is a 50-50 mix of Standard Poodle and Golden Retriever. When two crossbreds are bred, this is termed an F2 cross. When two F2 dogs are bred, their offspring are termed F3 cross. F3 crosses are called “multi-generational” crosses. It takes three generations of documented breeding to be considered a “breed” (in this case, Golden Doodle) rather than a “crossbreed” of Standard Poodle and Golden Retriever. In other words, the registered name, Golden Doodle, must be earned over time.
Pros and Cons of Designer Breeds
There are advantages and disadvantages to designer breeds:
Pros: Careful breeding may produce pups that have the best qualities of both parents. Standard Poodles don’t shed much—a desirable trait.. Golden Retrievers have a calm disposition and physical endurance—other desirable traits. Put the two together and you have a very desirable pup.
Genetics are often enhanced by crossbreeding, as the pups may exhibit greater heartiness or hybrid vigor. Inbreeding tends to amplify weaker traits, while crossbreeding may help avoid certain undesirable recessive traits by adding strength to the gene pool. In other words, recessive genes may not be expressed as often when mixing breeds. For example, the offspring of a Standard Poodle and a Labrador Retriever, a Labradoodle, may not have the degree of hip dysplasia noted in many pure Labrador bloodlines.
Gene pools can be fickle, and although the results of designer breeding may not be as predictable as desired, they are still more predictable than the characteristics of mixed breeding without intent.
Cons: The combination of breeds may not produce results as consistent as those obtained when mating pure breeds. Many potential pet owners seek dogs that don’t shed profusely. When mixing a Standard Poodle with a Golden Retriever, if a pup’s coat predominately reflects the heritage of a Golden Retriever, the daily vacuum may be needed after all. And recessive traits, although diluted, are still possible with cross breeds especially in F2 or F3 generations. So, Labradoodle pups may still have poor hips.
Meet Some of the More Commonly Recognized Designer
Cockapoo: cross of Poodle (usually not Standard) and Cocker Spaniel. This breed has been around a long time and is considered to be one of the original designer breeds.
Malti-poo: cross of Maltese and Poodle (again, smaller variety of Poodle).
Peke-a-poo: another successful breeding of small Poodle and Pekingese produces pups with longer noses and fewer respiratory problems.
Labradoodle: cross of Standard Poodle and Labrador produces a smart, athletic, larger dog.
Goldendoodle: this Golden Retriever and Poodle combination results in friendly, loyal pets.
Goldador: leave out the Poodle and mix Golden Retriever with Labrador for an athletic, loyal companion that sheds.
Maltese-Shih Tzu: one of the few designer dogs that doesn’t have poodle parents or a cutesy name.
Puggle: Beagle and Pug parents produce cute, fun pups of reasonable size that don’t have as many respiratory issues as pure bred Pugs.
Schnoodle: this cross between Miniature Poodle and Miniature Schnauzer is energetic but loves to snuggle.
Yorkipoo: Miniature Poodle bred with Yorkshire Terrier creates a small dog with a big personality.
As you can see, there are many possible combinations of crossbred dogs. So, don’t be intimidated by canine blue bloods. Mixed breeds and crossbreeds can produce wonderful dogs with sought-after traits that make great family pets!
Just like humans, dogs derive health benefits from regular exercise. An important aspect of facilitating, enhancing, lengthening, and strengthening our relationships with our canine companions is to keep them strong and fit through physical activity.
Obesity is on the rise among dogs, and its negative consequences are frightening—an increased risk of developing diabetes, an increased risk for cancer, and a high probability for joint injury and subsequent osteoarthritis (OA).
What’s the best way for me to exercise my dog?
The best exercise for our dogs depends on the answers to several key questions, listed below. Before initiating any regular physical fitness plan for your dog, it is always best to consult your veterinarian. He or she can help guide your choice of activities as well as create a conditioning program personalized for your dog.
“Consult your veterinarian before initiating any regular physical fitness plan for your dog.”
Your veterinarian will likely ask you the following types of questions to help you determine the best way to exercise your dog.
What are your dog’s age, body condition, and state of health?
Your veterinarian can not only help you answer these questions but also determine what is appropriate exercise for your dog based on the answers. Some general rules and advice:
- Puppies with growing bones can suffer skeletal trauma from the repetitive concussion of long runs. They do better with short spurts of play during which they set the pace. Walks on a leash are usually fine for them, but be mindful of the timing so as not to overdo it.
- Short-snouted (brachycephalic) dogs like Chinese pugs need a different cardiovascular conditioning program than golden retrievers, for instance.
- Overweight and obese dogs are more prone to joint injuries that can lead to or worsen OA. The sudden starts and stops of chasing a ball may be a poor choice for them.
- Likewise, overweight and obese dogs have a hard time cooling off, so their activity plan should be modified from that for a young, normal-weight dog.
- Finally, you want to be sure that your dog’s heart and lungs are healthy and ready for increased activity.
What activities does your dog enjoy?
Some dogs were born to retrieve. For them, a game of fetch could go on forever, and they would be happy. Other dogs are not the least bit interested in bringing back the toys we insist on repeatedly throwing away.
Some dogs love to swim, but not all dogs are comfortable in the water. Never presume your dog likes water or knows how to swim. You don’t want to create water phobia, so introduce swimming gradually. If your dog doesn’t take to water, don’t worry. There are plenty of other excellent fitness activities.
“Basic obedience training sets the stage for successful walks and the inevitable interactions with other people and their dogs.”
Walking remains a cornerstone of canine fitness. It is easy, does not require much equipment, can be done nearly everywhere, and is good for people, too. There are many ways to make walking easier, better, and safer for both dog and human.
- Basic obedience training sets the stage for successful walks and the inevitable interactions with other people and their dogs.
- Whether you choose a regular collar, a woven nylon-strap harness, a vest-like fabric harness, or a head halter will depend on a combination of personal preference and what is most comfortable and effective for you and your dog. Harnesses are typically best for walking small dogs, very young puppies, and dogs with a short muzzle or an easily compressed trachea (windpipe).
What activities do you enjoy?
We do best and most consistently what we enjoy. So when you are developing an exercise plan for your dog, think carefully about what you like to do.
You need to create a canine exercise program that you will want to sustain, whether it is walking, jogging, hiking, or overseeing fetch or swimming. If it is fun for us and fun for our dog, we will find fewer excuses to stay on the couch.
If the exercise program is fun for us and fun for our dog, we will find fewer excuses to stay on the couch.
How long can your dog comfortably exercise at one time?
This is definitely a question that is best answered with the help of your veterinarian. He or she is well-equipped to evaluate your dog’s starting fitness level.
It is important to evaluate your dog for any underlying metabolic or musculoskeletal issues that could have an impact on physical activity. For instance, the presence of pain anywhere in the body will influence both the comfort and safety of a canine physical fitness plan. Deficient thyroid function (hypothyroidism) undermines energy and stamina. Undiagnosed underlying heart disease can prove dangerous.
Once I have some activities in mind, how do I create a workout plan?
Just like physical fitness programs for humans, steady, progressive conditioning is the best approach for dogs. Your veterinarian can play an important role in helping you choose appropriate targets for your canine fitness plan, including how long to exercise at one time and how to adapt specific activities to best fit your dog’s individual needs.
“Just like physical fitness programs for humans, steady, progressive conditioning is the best approach for dogs.”
When conditioning a dog to increase fitness, consistency is a key to success. It is far better to take a 20-minute walk every day than a 2-hour walk on Sunday. A slow, steady build of time and intensity helps avoid injury and is more comfortable for the dog. For dogs that require additional challenges, you can advance to more intense activities like field trialing, flyball or agility competition.
Whatever the ultimate fitness and exercise goals for your dog, allow common sense basics to guide you. Get your veterinarian involved to provide medical input, and then get going! Your dog will thank you.
I have read many things on the Internet suggesting that I should feed my dog raw food. I know my dog’s wild cousins hunt their food, so they eat their food raw. Is it OK for me to feed my dog raw food? Is that better than feeding prepared dry or canned food?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stand united in their position (based on very robust data) that feeding raw food to dogs is potentially dangerous to both the dog and to you. The most recent study, conducted from 2011 through 2012, screened commercially available raw dog foods for bacteria that can cause illness. The raw dog food products were made from ground meat or sausage and frozen in tube-like packages. Nearly 25% of the raw food samples tested positive for harmful bacteria, includingSalmonella ssp. and Listeria monocytogenes. These bacteria can pose a health risk for the dogs who eat the raw food, as well as for the dog owners who handle the food while preparing it.
What kind of illness does Salmonella cause?
The CDC estimates that 1.2 million or more cases of food-borne salmonellosis occur in humans in the US annually. Approximately 400 people die each year from the disease. There is some uncertainty as to the total number of cases because milder cases may not be diagnosed.
Symptoms of salmonellosis in humans generally start 12 to 72 hours after exposure and include:
- Diarrhea (often bloody)
- Stomach pain
Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals (patients on chemotherapy, with HIV, etc.) are at greater risk for more severe symptoms. Dogs can actually carry Salmonella in their intestines without showing signs of illness, thus serving as a reservoir for ongoing exposure to the humans in the household. In dogs, the symptoms of salmonellosis include:
- Diarrhea (often bloody)
- Inappetance (not eating, or not eating enough)
What about illness from Listeria food contamination?
Listeriosis is a less well known food-borne illness than salmonellosis. Listeria monocytogenes is actually a leading cause of hospitalization and death from food contamination. While it is rarer than salmonellosis, over 90% of people with listeriosis end up in the hospital. In the US annually, the CDC estimates about 1,600 cases with about 260 deaths. In the European Union, the numbers are similar. One of the problems withListeria is that the bacterium is quite hardy, surviving in salty, acidic, and cold environments.
Listeriosis particularly targets newborns, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems. The L. monocytogenes bacterium can invade many tissues including the brain, the tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord, the gastrointestinal tract, and the bloodstream. Symptoms depend on which tissues are affected. The time between exposure and illness is about 3 weeks, making it difficult to pinpoint the precise exposure event. Pregnant women may only experience non-specific flu-like symptoms, but their babies may be born prematurely or even stillborn. Newborns fare the worst with listeriosis as up to one-third will die despite aggressive treatment.
Dogs can carry L monocytogenes without showing any signs, making them a potentially dangerous reservoir.
Is there any way to protect myself and my family should I occasionally choose to offer raw food to my dog?
The best protection against salmonellosis and listeriosis is to avoid the bugs altogether by not feeding raw food to your dog. Be aware that by feeding raw dog food you can infect yourself and the other people in the household. That said, here are some ways in which you can protect yourself if you handle raw dog food:
- Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water after handling raw dog food.
- Clean and disinfect all surfaces and objects that come into contact with the raw food. For details about disinfection please see cdc.gov/flu/school/cleaning.htm.
- Keep raw food frozen until you are ready to use it, and then thaw it in the refrigerator or microwave (not in the sink or on the counter).
- Keep raw food separate from other food.
- Cover and refrigerate what your dog does not eat, or discard the leftovers safely.
- Do not kiss your dog on the face or allow him to lick your face, particularly right after he has eaten raw food.
- Wash your hands after petting or being licked by your dog.
Feeding a raw diet to your dog is a questionably sound idea from a nutritional perspective as well due to the difficulty in balancing the ration among macro- and micro-nutrients. Adding to that the fact that nearly a quarter of the commercially available raw dog food diets that were tested by the US FDA were contaminated by Salmonella or Listeria (or both), it is reasonable to conclude that a commercially prepared, conventional, complete and life-stage balanced dog food is a better choice. We can help you to choose the nutrient profile that best fits your dog.
Stress is a commonly used word that describes feelings of strain or pressure. The causes of stress are exceedingly varied. Perhaps you are stressed out by your job, you become nervous when meeting new people, or you get anxious when your daily routine is disrupted.
To reduce stress levels, you may seek comfort in several ways. Maybe you find solace in the company of a trusted friend. Perhaps you calm down when occupied by routine chores like cleaning the house. Or maybe you blow off some steam with physical exercise.
“Our furry friends can become stressed, too”
Our furry friends can become stressed, too. Since we can understand how stress makesus feel, we certainly want to help alleviate our pet’s stress as well. However, our dogs don’t voice their feelings, slam down the phone or throw a tantrum, so how can we tell they are stressed? The signs of canine anxiety are often subtle. In fact, some stress-related behaviors mimic normal canine antics, so here are a few clues that may indicate that your dog’s stress level is elevated.
Top Ten Indicators of Stress in Dogs
- Pacing or shaking. You’ve seen your dog shake after a bath or a roll in the grass. That whole body shake can be amusing and is quite normal…unless it’s a result of a stressful situation. For example, dogs are commonly stressed out when visiting the veterinarian, much like their owners are when going to a human medical doctor. Many dogs “shake it off” when they descend from the exam table and touch down on terra firma. Dogs, like people, also pace when agitated. Some dogs walk a repeated path around the exam room while waiting for the doctor.
- Whining or barking. Vocalization is normal canine self-expression, but may be intensified under duress. Dogs that are afraid or tense may whine or bark to get your attention, or to self-soothe.
- Yawning, drooling and licking. Dogs yawn when they are tired or bored, but did you know that they also yawn when stressed? A stressful yawn is more prolonged and intense than a sleepy yawn. Dogs may also drool and lick excessively when nervous.
- Changes in eyes and ears. Stressed dogs, like stressed people, may have dilated pupils and blink rapidly. They may open their eyes really wide and show more sclera (white) than usual, giving them a startled appearance. Ears that are usually relaxed or alert are pinned back against the head.
- Changes in body posture. Dogs normally bear even weight on all four legs. If a healthy dog with no orthopedic problems shifts his weight to his rear legs or cowers, he may be exhibiting stress. When scared, dogs may also tuck their tails or become quite rigid.
- Shedding. Show dogs that become nervous in the show ring often “blow their coat”. Dogs also shed a lot when in the veterinary clinic. Although less noticeable in outside settings, such as visiting a new dog park, shedding increases when a dog is anxious.
- Panting. Dogs pant when hot, excited or stressed. So, if your dog is panting even though she hasn’t jogged 10 miles in the heat of summer, she may be frazzled.
- Changes in bodily functions. Like people, nervous dogs can feel a sudden urge to go to the bathroom. When your dog urinates shortly after meeting a new canine friend, he may be marking territory and reacting to the strain simultaneously. Refusal of food and loss of bowel function are also stress indicators.
- Avoidance or displacement behavior. When faced with an unwelcome situation, dogs may “escape” by focusing on something else. They may sniff the ground, lick their genitals, or simply turn away. Ignoring someone may not be polite, but it’s surely better than being aggressive. If your dog avoids interaction with other dogs or people, don’t force the issue. Respect his choice.
- Hiding or Escape behavior. An extension of avoidance, some tense dogs literally move behind their owners to hide. They may even nudge their owners to prompt them to move along. As a means of escape, they may engage in diversion activities such as digging or circling, or may slink behind a tree or parked car.
How to Handle Stress
In order to differentiate stress signs from normal behavior, you must be familiar with your dog’s regular demeanor. Then you can tell if he’s licking his lips because he’s anxious or because he wants a treat!
When relaxed, he will have semi-erect or forward facing ears, a soft mouth, and round eyes. He will distribute his weight evenly on all four paws. Distinguishing normal behavior from stress signs will help you quickly and effectively diffuse an uncomfortable situation.
“If your dog is stressed,
first remove him from the stressor.”
If your dog is stressed, first remove him from the stressor. Find a quiet place for him to regroup. Resist the urge to overly comfort him. This will only confirm that his fears are justified and may make him less confident in the future. If you want to pamper him with petting or treats, make him earn them first by performing a routing activity, i.e. sitting. Responding to routine commands distracts the dog and provides a sense of normalcy. It’s amazing how comforting sit, down, and heel can be to a worried dog.
“If your dog becomes consistently stressed,
see your veterinarian.”
If your dog becomes consistently stressed, see your veterinarian. After ensuring that your dog’s behavior does not have a medical basis, your dog’s doctor may refer you to a trainer or veterinary behaviorist to evaluate stress-related issues.
As with humans, exercise can be a great stress reducer. Physical activities like walking or playing fetch help both you and your dog release tension. It’s also good to provide your dog with a safe place in the home where he can escape anxious situations. Everybody enjoys a calm place to retreat.
And, finally, remember that stress isn’t always bad. Fear is a stress-related emotion that prompts us to avoid potentially dangerous situations. So, stress may actually be a protector. Regardless, stress is part of everyday life for us and our dogs, so we should learn how best to deal with it.
Do pets know they have done something wrong when they act “guilty”?
Chewed slippers. Scratched furniture. Shredded curtains. Here lies the evidence that your dog or cat is guilty of a domestic infraction. Is their doleful look an indication of said guilt? Do they realize they did something wrong? Or do they wonder why in the world you’re upset? Regardless of how solid the evidence is, it’s hard to convict a pet that doesn’t understand the charges.
Do pets understand right from wrong?
Do dogs and cats instinctively understand right and wrong? Does your dog know that eating the cake left on the coffee table is a no-no? Does your cat grasp the concept that peeing on the new carpet is not acceptable? Probably not! Innately, pets focus on the basic requirements for survival. They need to eat and eliminate in order to live. Scarfing down the cake and squatting on the rug fulfill these basic needs. So, what’s wrong with that??
“Innately, pets focus on the basic requirements for survival.”
Pets may not feel a sense of wrong doing because they don’t understand that what they did was wrong. Do you think your dog really understands that it’s wrong to eat cake left within his reach on the coffee table? Likely not. He sees an accessible treat and eats it. Do you think your cat really understands that urinating on the rug is wrong? Likely not. He sees a soft surface to squat on that absorbs his urine rather than splashing it back up on him. Knowing you committed a misdeed is necessary for true guilty feelings. If your pet doesn’t understand that his actions are wrong, how can he feel guilty?
“pets can learn right from wrong”
Nevertheless, pets can learn right from wrong. How do they do this? We teach them. We provide consistent, timely responses to their actions, establish a pattern, and they eventually associate their actions with predictable consequences. A timely response is key. If you catch your dog eating the cake or see your cat squatting on the carpet and quickly intervene, they will get the message. Uttering a firm, “NO!” as you steer them away from the cake or rug and place them in front of the food bowl or litter box is a good lesson.
“Pets don’t associate prior actions
with delayed reactions.”
But, reprimanding a dog or cat for an infraction committed 10 hours or even 10 minutes ago doesn’t teach them right from wrong. Pets don’t associate prior actions with delayed reactions. In other words, if you fuss about the torn up newspaper when you come home from work, you are wasting your energy. Your pet cannot make the association between your present response to something he did in the past.
So, do pets understand right from wrong? Yes, but only in the moment.
Are guilty looks significant?
Head down. Eyes averted. Shoulders hunched. Tail thumping the floor. Body retreating. Your pet looks guilty, maybe even apologetic, right? WRONG! Your pet’s body posture and attitude do not indicate his guilt or remorse, only his response to your body posture and attitude.
“Your pet’s body posture and attitude do not
indicate his guilt or remorse, only his response
to your body posture and attitude.”
When you discover your favorite slippers have been destroyed or your new sofa is scratched, you naturally respond with a scowl, a sigh, or maybe even a shriek. Your cat or dog immediately responds with a submissive posture that you interpret as guilt. But this submissive action doesn’t reflect guilt. It is an effort to appease or calm you. And it often works! You look at that sad face and cave. Your anger and frustration evaporate! Would you be so forgiving if your pet bounded up to you tail wagging with your favorite chocolate candy all over his face? Of all the nerve! How can this creature of destruction look so happy after ruining your sofa/slippers/dinner/etc!
So, are guilty looks significant? Of course! They just don’t signify guilt. They signify fear, concern, and anxiety of the pet in response to the agitated, angry look and sound of their owner.
One learned professor and author devised an experiment to determine a dog’s ability to feel guilty after doing something wrong. In the experiment, a treat was positioned in front of a dog. The owner instructed the canine not to eat the treat and left the room. Some dogs ate the treat while others refrained. When the owners returned, the researchers told some of them that their dog ate the treat when he actually did not. When these ill-informed owners scolded their dogs, the innocent dogs looked guilty nonetheless. The experiment concluded that the dogs looked guilty not because of what they did (after all they did nothing wrong), but rather as a reaction to what the owners did.
“The experiment concluded that the dogs looked guilty
not because of what they did…
but rather as a reaction to what the owners did.”
Submissive dogs lower their heads, hunch down, and avert their eyes when trying to diffuse a situation or appease their owners. In multi-dog households, the guilty looking dog may actually be the innocent pooch. For example, if two dogs are home and Dog A chews the newspaper, Dog B may look guilty because he is the peacemaker of the pair.
“The conclusion is that dogs look guilty for reasons
unrelated to their actions and
closely related to our actions”
Another experiment further validated the appeasement theory. Owners left dogs alone with food on the table. When the owners returned they weren’t told whether or not their dog ate the food so they responded positively to their pups. Clinical observers assessed the dogs’ behavior and noted that the guilty and innocent dogs greeted their owners in the same manner. The owners looked happy, so the dogs did, too. The conclusion is that dogs look guilty for reasons unrelated to their actions and closely related to our actions.
Guilty or Not Guilty. Should we care?
Now don’t think the inability to feel guilt will result in an incorrigible pet. Our pets do understand that certain actions violate family rules and will result in certain reactions. Cause and effect is a great lesson! Pets don’t have to feel guilty to be well-behaved. But even if pets do feel guilty sometimes, let’s not assume that their guilty looks are always based on their behavior.
We have lots of feelings for our pets. Let’s leave out the guilt and focus on love and affection!
Dogs, like people, need mental and physical exercise. They crave playful interaction with their peers. Going to the dog park will allow them to see, hear, and smell new things as they exercise with other dogs. Active dogs, like active, people, are healthier. So, let’s take a trip to the park!
Here are a few simple rules of etiquette for you and your dog at the dog park:
- Scout the park. Make your first visit to the park without your dog. Look around, walk the perimeter, observe the park guests (human and canine).
- Avoid rush hour. As a new park visitor, your dog may fare better when the park isn’t crowded. Take your time to acquaint yourselves with the surroundings during a less busy time. It’s easier for both of you to focus without the distraction of lots of dogs and owners.
- Obey the rules. Your dog may be smart, but she can’t read. It’s your responsibility to read and obey all posted rules. Especially obey the “clean up after your dog” rule.
- Leave human children at home. It’s great to have your children play with your dog, but it’s best to do that without the interference of other dogs. Even though your child and dog may get along wonderfully, not all dogs are well-socialized with kids. And just because a dog loves children it doesn’t mean that he won’t barrel right over a toddler while in the throes of a game of chase.
- Limit toys and treats, but not water. Don’t pack the entire toy box or pantry for a park excursion. It’s OK to give your dog a treat, but brandishing lots of toys and treats may create conflict with other park patrons. Bring bottled water and a collapsible water bowl if your dog park does not have a dog-friendly water fountain.
- Observe park age restrictions. Some parks do not allow young puppies for many reasons. Pups under 4 months of age aren’t fully immunized and exposure to other dogs puts them at risk of infection. Small pups are more vulnerable to injury, even by well-intentioned larger dogs. And young pups aren’t adequately socialized and may not do well when bombarded by multiple new faces, human or canine. Socialize your pup gradually, vaccinate and de-worm him regularly, and let him grow a bit before venturing out to the park.
- Control your dog. Bring a leash along to restrain your dog as needed. Make sure your dog heeds basic verbal commands. He may get so excited to be around his friends that he temporarily forgets his manners. If you have multiple dogs, consider bringing only two at a time so that you can adequately control them both.
- Be aware of your dog’s physical condition. Don’t bring your dog to the park if he is sick. This isn’t good for your dog or his playmates. No one wants to share sniffles, coughs, or diarrhea. Also, it’s best to leave female dogs at home when they are in heat.
- Supervise your dog (and everyone else’s). Spending time with your dog in the company of others is a joy. Avoid reading a magazine or playing games on your smart phone. You may get so distracted that you miss something really fun or really dangerous. Feel free to interrupt inappropriate play when necessary.
- Be nice. Don’t correct someone else’s dog, but notify the owner if you observe misbehavior. If someone complains about your dog’s behavior, keep an open mind and try to remedy the situation. The park is no fun if you make enemies.
Going to the dog park can be an exciting outing for your dog and time for the two of you to bond. By following some simple, common sense rules, you can ensure you, your dog, and everyone else at the dog parks has great fun in a safe and courteous way.
LABRADOR RETRIEVER IS ONCE AGAIN AMERICA’S MOST POPULAR DOG
For the 25th consecutive year, the family-friendly Labrador Retriever is the most popular dog in America, according to 2015 AKC registration stats. Although Labs are currently the top dogs, French Bulldogs and a few other breeds are moving their way up the list. See the full list here:
Brought to you by the American Kennel Club