Tag Archives: dog behavior

Lab lying down

The mystery behind this dog’s sudden behavior change

What would you think if your senior dog suddenly started lying across your bedroom door every night — something he has literally never done before? Here’s what I told a reader whose dog is doing exactly that.

Q: My dog never goes anywhere but the living room and kitchen. He’s a senior and has arthritis in the hips, so he doesn’t move much, but lately, every morning he is lying in my bedroom doorway. It unnerves me because I know dogs sometimes know when someone has health problems. He didn’t used to do that. Any ideas?

A: You are right that dogs (and cats) seem to have a sixth sense about human illnesses. Among other things, they can sniff out cancer, alert people to oncoming epileptic seizures, and tell when a person’s blood sugar is too low or too high. Those amazing diagnostic skills are likely related to their sensitivity to changes in odor as well as to their 24/7 observations of us. Dogs and cats have keen senses of smell, which may enable them to notice subtle changes in body odor or breath that may be caused by disease.

And pets notice everything about us. Even if we have an underlying disease that isn’t causing obvious symptoms, it may have made enough of a change in us that our pets pick up on it.

In your case, though, I’m guessing that your aging dog simply has a greater need for your companionship. As animals get older and undergo physical changes that may make them feel less steady, they may take comfort from our presence. Your dog may have a desire to be closer to you at night so he moves to the doorway where he likely has a better shot at hearing and smelling you as you sleep.

Any time your dog has a behavior change, it’s a good idea to take him to the veterinarian for a checkup. If he has pain or the beginnings of dementia, your veterinarian can prescribe medication to help.

Read more, including about physical rehabilitation for injured cats, in this week’s Pet Connection!

When your puppy eats your sofa

A reader has a not-uncommon problem: A sofa-eating puppy. I asked my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker, to help her out with some tips.

Q: My 4-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy ate my sofa. Literally! What can I do? I can’t afford to buy much more new furniture.

A: Congratulations — you have a normal puppy! That’s the good news. The bad news is that without plenty of training and supervision, things can get worse before they get better. Puppies are hard-wired to explore their environment, and since their paws don’t have opposable thumbs, they use the next best thing: their sharp teeth.

But you don’t have to lose any more furniture. Chewing and scratching provide pets with exercise and mental stimulation, but they don’t have to be destructive — at least not to anything other than their approved toys. Puppy kindergarten followed by advanced training, as well as plenty of interactive exercise and playtime, can help you teach your pup how to channel his chewing — and his energy, in general — into more productive and acceptable activities. Here are some tips.

  • Put his brain to work with puzzle toys that make him think. Some favorites are the Snuffle Mat and the Nina Ottosson Twister. Believe it or not, a good mental workout can leave him too tired to even think about eating your furniture.
  • Provide interesting and long-lasting chew toys. I like the Kong not only for durability but also for its “stuffability.” Load it up with peanut butter, baby carrots, kibble and other tasty treats, freeze it, and then let him go to work trying to get all the goodies out.
  • When you see your puppy chewing on something he shouldn’t, get his attention so he turns away from it, and then give him an acceptable chew toy. Praise him when you see him chewing on his toys; it’s important for him to learn what’s OK for him to chew as well as what he shouldn’t. – Mikkel Becker

Read more, including about the new canine family tree, in this week’s Pet Connection!

7 things you don’t want your dog to do when he meets strangers

Your dog’s perfect, right? Perfect for you, that is. But there are probably a few things your dog does that you’d really rather hide from people who visit your house.

Here are 7 things I sure don’t want our pack to do when company shows up:

1. Jump up. This can be annoying, even to a pet lover, but dangerous to someone who is young, elderly or unstable on their feet. Besides, paws belong on the ground, not on someone’s clothes.

2. Lift his leg. People don’t look like trees, signs, or fire hydrants, but they are vertical surfaces and they can have the smell of other pets on them.

In almost 60-years as a pet lover and 35-years as a practicing veterinarian I’ve seen a dog cock his leg and pull the trigger about a dozen times. Yes, it can make a viral YouTube video, but is disgusting for the recipient. If your dog starts sniffing and showing the same signs it does when it checks his pee-mail, call him away before he leaves a message of his own.

3. Go straight for the crotch. Doggie manners are distinctly different from human manners, and for canines, sniffing the nether-regions is acceptable for greeting As such, dogs often zoom in for the mid-section like they’re caught in an invisible tractor beam. Solution? Ask your dog to do a sit before greeting a friend or stranger who isn’t ready to go to third base on the first hello.

4. Show aggression. We love dogs whose ears are up, tails are wagging, and feet are doing a happy dance as they approach. We fear dogs who come near with hair erect and ears flat. Worse yet if they have teeth bared, are growling or lunging.

Even dogs who appear timid or anxious can fear-bite. It’s very important, if you have a dog who can be aggressive or fear-bite, to keep them away from strangers, warn others not to directly approach, or even use a muzzle to prevent a bite. If you’re the one who’s being approached by a dog whose body language or intent you question, stand still, avoid eye contact, and don’t reach toward the dog. For all aggression, professional help starting with your veterinarian working with a positive reinforcement trainer is warranted.

5. Shy away. Trepidation during greeting may mean your dog hides you, is hesitant to approach, or ducks when reached for. Fearful behavior can progress into aggression. That’s why a dog’s confidence level during greetings needs to be addressed. Instruct visitors to ignore the dog and to not attempt to pet until the dog makes the first contact and seeks petting. Deliver your dog treats or other rewards during greetings to build their positive association with new people.

6. Yap. A yappy or boisterous dog can up the stress of greetings. Barking can stem from numerous causes, including excitement and attention-seeking. Find the root cause for your dog’s barking, seeking professional help if needed, to change the baseline emotion during greeting and direct their behavior to more appropriate responses, like asking for a “watch me” or asking for quiet on cue.

7. Teeth for two. Puppies learn to explore the world and interact using their teeth. Sometimes the puppy never learns to discontinue the use of their teeth during interactions with people, and the mouthy behavior continues into adulthood, especially when excited.

Train an alternative behavior during greetings, such as rewarding the dog while she remains in a down. Or, for a dog who seems comforted when holding something in their mouth, give a toy or ball for her to hold when she meets someone at the door or out on walks.

What does your dog do when meeting people that you’d really rather he didn’t?