April 9, 2013

Dog Feelings: Do You Know Your Dog?

Filed under: Dog Behavior,dogs,Feelings — Tags: , , — Dr. Amber Reed @ 7:57 pm

dog facial expressions

If you’ve ever wondered what your canine friend was thinking and feeling, you could always turn to Cher for the answer. The crooner, who always claimed that the truth wasn’t in his eyes, could have been closer to reality the first time around. Although, we’d stay away from your dog’s kiss, that probably won’t reveal too much about his mood.

Well, okay, fine – you can give your pooch a kiss anyway. Because as a study published in the Behavioural Processes journal reported, us humans are pretty darn close to our pets. So close in fact, that we can even predict how they feel.

The study, led by Dr. Tina Bloom, involved asking participants to guess the emotions of a dog based off photos that they were shown. The dog in the photos was Mal, a Belgian Shepherd police dog. Mal was captured expressing happiness, sadness, surprise, disgust, fear and anger.

And while it might seem hard to recreate Mal’s emotions for photographs, researchers were actually very clever about it. To make Mal happy, they praised him. To make him sad, they reprimanded him. They surprised him with a jack-in-the-box, gave him medicine he didn’t like to disgust him, and showed him nail trimmers to make him feel fear. Finally, to get him to feel anger, one brave researcher dressed up and acted like a criminal.

The risk was worth it though. The photographs of Mal’s expressions were shown to 50 volunteers and what researchers discovered was incredible. According to the study results, humans can accurately determine a dog’s mood based solely off the dog’s facial expression.

This suggests, Dr. Bloom believes, that we are far closer to our furry friends in terms of emotional communication than we had originally thought. She also believes that the results showed that interpreting the emotion of dogs is an innate skill, rather than a learned one.

This belief comes from the fact that the study showed that inexperienced volunteers (those that had limited experience with dogs) could sometimes predict Mal’s expressions more accurately than experienced volunteers.

The research also showed that humans were better at identifying happiness and anger, rather than surprise and disgust. Eight-eight percent of volunteers could identify happiness and 70 percent could identify anger, but only 20 percent recognized surprise, and 13 percent placed disgust.

Meanwhile, sadness was recognized around 37 percent of the time, while fear was identified 45 percent of the time.

Future studies by Dr. Bloom and her team hope to reveal whether our natural empathy with dogs could potentially be something we share with other animals.

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August 16, 2012

What Toys to Buy a New Puppy

Filed under: Behavior,Dog Behavior,dog biting,dog toys — Dr. Amber Reed @ 10:00 am

Let’s face it: puppies are adorable. They have little paws, soft fur, and a ton of energy. They will need plenty of toys to keep them busy and out of trouble.

Before you bring home your new puppy, make sure you have a few fun things for your puppy to play with. Here’s what to look for.

First, what he shouldn’t play with.

Puppy toys should not have attachments or points that can break off. If he swallows them he can get very sick, costing you a lot of money! Similarly he should not be playing with string, twist ties, or plastic baggies.

He cannot have your kids’ old toys that are made of rubber or sponge. Think about what toys you give your puppy and whether there is a potential for him to chew off small pieces and swallow them.

Consider a great chew toy.

There are all kinds of chew toys you can purchase for your new puppy. You may choose a harder one – such as a beef bone or a softer one – such as a soft rubber toy – depending on his size. Harder toys are best for older dogs. Younger dogs do enjoy a softer chew toy, but do not give them to older pups. Older, stronger dogs can chew off pieces and swallow them.

Or maybe a stuffed toy?

Puppies love soft, plush stuffed toys. They can easily sink their immature teeth into them and they love to throw them around and even cuddle them.

You may find yourself replacing a stuffed toy often. Throw them out as soon as they start to lose stuffing.

Balls. The old standard.

A ball is an inexpensive and easy way to keep your puppy active. Throw a tennis ball around and play a round of fetch with him. Assuming he knows fetch by then. A tennis ball is the perfect size as it poses no choking risk and is soft enough so he won’t damage any teeth.

Try a rope.

Ropes are great for playing tug-of-war with your puppy. Don’t pull to hard or you can hurt his jaw or neck. Ropes won’t damage sensitive puppy teeth, but they’re strong enough not to break off and cause a choking hazard.

Teething toys are sometimes necessary.

Soon enough your puppy will start teething. It’s uncomfortable for dogs and humans alike, so outfit him with some toys like these to keep him soothed.

  • The puppy Kong. Almost any dog owner can attest to how great the Kong is. The Puppy Kong is made of special rubber that makes it durable and satisfying to chew.
  • The Pet Stages Puppy Cool Teether is frozen to soothe irritated gums. Since it is a plush toy, it is popular for chewing.
  • Nylabone Detnal Dinosaur Flexible Chew. This toy comes in a flavoured dinosaur shape. The chewing action massages gums gently.
  • A frozen dishrag. Dip a clean dish cloth into water and twist it into a long thin shape. Freeze it and give it to your puppy when he needs to chew. It will work to numb is pain and it is very cost-effective.
  • An ice cube. Throw an ice cube into his food bowl and soothe his sore gums.

Keeping your puppy busy with plenty of playtime and toys is the best way to discourage him from chewing dangerous and expensive things like cords, shoes, and furniture. Proper toys that are physically and mentally stimulating save both you and your puppy from a lot of “bad dog” experiences!

December 13, 2010

Why is My Puppy Aggressive?

Filed under: Dog Behavior — Dr. Amber Reed @ 3:00 pm

canine stress Getting a new puppy is an exciting experience.  A puppy is playful, cute, and lovable and can bring the whole family together.  Nevertheless, sometimes our puppies don’t exactly live up to expectation.  While the majority of puppy owners will have a problem free experience, some of us have to learn how to deal with problems like aggression.  Your puppy may growl at family members, bite or snap, or bark excessively, and obviously these signs of aggression are unacceptable.  If you have a puppy that is acting aggressively what should you do?

aggressive puppyFirst, you need to identify the reason for the aggression.  Aggressive behavior in puppies may be defensive, territorial, or the result of anxiety.  In addition, puppies may behave aggressively because they want to dominate.  Identifying which kind of aggression your puppy is demonstrating will help to deal with the problem.  For example, if your puppy becomes aggressive when family members come in contact with his food or toys, this is a sign of territorial aggression.  Alternatively, puppies who growl at older dogs may be trying to assert their dominance.  Ultimately, dealing with aggression involves a training program that is built around the fundamental causes of the aggression.

Generally speaking, there are two types of training that can help reduce your puppy’s aggression.  Socialization training and obedience training have different goals but similar results.  With socialization training, you want to teach your puppy to get along well with other dogs and people.  You want your puppy to remain relaxed when there are new people or animals introduced.  Socialization training is especially effective for reducing anxiety and preventing territorial aggression.  With obedience training, you are achieving multiple goals.  First you are teaching your puppy his position in the household and that it is unacceptable to show aggression toward family members. In addition, obedience training helps to reduce defensive aggression because puppies learn the natural organization of the household.

Puppy owners can find a wealth of information online about puppy training, but should also consider a professional puppy trainer if their own efforts have failed.  Essentially, puppies need to learn appropriate behavior and with consistent training that focuses on reinforcement is the most effective method.

October 20, 2010

Why Do Dogs Eat Grass?

Filed under: Dog Behavior — Dr. Amber Reed @ 8:49 am

canine vitamins Dogs are remarkably flexible in their eating habits.  As omnivores, they have evolved to eat both meat and vegetables mostly because they are descendant from scavengers.  Still, from dog to dog there is a lot of variability in eating behavior and while one dog may make grass eating a daily routine, others may never touch the stuff.  While grass eating is a relatively normal and apparently harmless activity, many dog owners wonder: Why do dogs eat grass?

Today’s dogs are not exactly like their scavenger ancestors.  After hundreds or even thousands of years of domestication, many species of dog have seen their eating habits change drastically.  In the earlier stages of their evolution, dogs would eat just about anything and would normally consume their prey completely.  dogs eating grassThis included eating the plant-contents in the stomach of herbivorous animals.  However, dogs today probably eat grass as an alternative food source.  For domesticated dogs, grass is typically the most readily available plant food source, but dogs have also been known to eat wild fruit, berries, and other vegetables.

Indeed, one of the main reasons dogs eat grass is because they have nutritional needs.  Perhaps out of hunger, or some nutritional deficit in their diet, dogs will eat grass.  Your dog may be craving some essential nutrients that are not being delivered in his commercial dog food.  Grass fills that need.  In addition, dogs seem to eat grass when they are gassy or suffering stomach upset.  Grass will in fact stimulate vomiting when dogs swallow it without chewing and this may be a natural remedy to common dog stomach woes.  Presently however, there seems to be a lot of debate about why dogs eat grass.  While nutrition and health seem to be the most likely reasons, dogs may eat grass also because they enjoy its texture or smell.

October 4, 2010

What Abnormal Dog Panting Means to Your Dog’s Health

Filed under: Dog Behavior — Dr. Amber Reed @ 12:35 pm

canine stressIn the vast majority of situations, panting is a normal respiratory response for dogs.  When their body temperature rises, dogs rely on panting rather than sweating to cool down.  In addition, panting in dogs is normally seen when your dog is under stress or anxiety, or as a response to intense physical activity.  However, if there is no apparent reason for your dog’s panting, there may be a more serious health problem afoot.  As such, it is important to recognize the difference between normal and abnormal panting.

Panting is defined as breathing with rapid, short gasps usually after physical exertion or in extreme temperatures.  When dogs pant, they breathe through an open mouth and usually their tongue is hanging out.  Panting helps a dog to cool down and regulate breathing and is normally associated with

  • Heat – to cool down
  • Physical exertion – to normalize breathing
  • Nervousness, anxiety, or excitement – as a response to stressful stimuli

why is my dog pantingNevertheless, while panting is a very normal dog behavior, abnormal panting has been associated with a variety of health problems.  Most notably, abnormal panting may be the sign of a respiratory or cardiovascular problem.  Dogs suffering from respiratory disorders often pant more than usual or for no apparent reason.  In addition, panting in dogs with respiratory or cardiovascular illness is also combined with other symptoms like labored breathing, lethargy, changes in appetite, or lack of motivation.

The following are common respiratory and cardiovascular conditions where abnormal panting is a symptom.

  • Collapsing trachea
  • Obstruction of the respiratory tract
  • Lung disease
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Heartworm
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy

Unfortunately, these conditions are all very serious if left untreated.  While there is very rarely any reason to have concern about your dog’s panting, if you suspect abnormal panting in addition to other symptoms, visit your veterinarian immediately so your dog can start the correct course of treatment.

August 10, 2010

Why Does My Dog Eat Feces?

Filed under: Dog Behavior — Dr. Amber Reed @ 9:07 am

dog habits eating fecesWe’ve all seen some dogs eat feces and wondered what that’s all about.  This condition, also known as coprophagia, occurs when a dog eats its own feces or the feces of another dog or animal.  While the reasons for coprophagia in dogs are generally unclear, the condition has been associated with various medical problems.  For example, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, overfeeding, and malabsorption are all possible causes of fecal consumption in dogs.  Moreover, many researchers have also suggested that coprophagia in dogs is associated with a variety of behavioral problems and may be the result of attention seeking.

There has actually been little research into why dogs eat feces.  Coprophagia has been associated with higher levels of anxiety and stress or it may be the result of evolved scavenger behaviors.  Some researchers even suggest that dogs that have been punished for defecating in the past are more likely to engage in eating feces.  Even hunger may explain why your dog is eating feces.

Whatever the reason for coprophagia may be, it’s not surprising that dog owners wish the behavior would stop.  In fact, it can be very difficult to train your dog not to eat feces because he will likely do it when you are not present.  Still, a well organized training plan that reinforces positive behaviors and encourages dogs not to eat feces can be effective.  Some veterinarians also recommend adding a meat tenderizer to dog food because their feces will taste extremely bad.  Similarly, there are a number of food additives that cause the feces to smell excessively putrid to dogs making it very unlikely that they’ll eat the feces.  You can even add hot sauce or other additives to the feces that dogs don’t enjoy.  Finally, to prevent your dog from eating feces, be sure to clean up dropping around the yard to deny them access to eat it.

June 15, 2010

Best Toys for Your Dog

Filed under: Dog Behavior,dog biting,dog toys — Dr. Amber Reed @ 4:59 pm

Best dog toys. Best cat toys.While we all love our dogs, we don’t often give them the credit they deserve for being intelligent beings.  Eating and sleeping seem to be the main concerns of our beloved pets, and yet many dog experts argue that dogs show a range of intelligent behaviors.  For example, dogs can understand gestures, facial expressions, and even words (how else would they understand a “sit” command?).  As such, when choosing toys and treats for your dog, you need to consider the mental and physical health of your dog.  Toys can be fun and challenging and can even reduce inappropriate behaviors like chewing, digging, and excessive barking.

Smart dog toys are designed to keep your dog entertained while you are away and usually involve some kind of puzzle or task.  Take the Cagey Cube as an example.  The developers of this toy feel that the Cagey Cube can help to develop coordination skills and intelligence as your dog tries to get squeaky toys out of the cube.  Likewise, some dog toys are great for providing owners and dogs an opportunity to play together.  Owners can demonstrate how to play with a particular toy that may deliver a treat or some other reward.  These kinds of toys improve bonding and possibly even intelligence.

So, the next time you visit the pet store think carefully about what kind of toys are best for your dog.  A chew toy or plush toys provide limited entertainment and virtually no stimulation.  On the other hand, there are more and more dog toys available on the market that are designed to make your dog think.  Many veterinarians believe that such toys not only improve your dog’s quality of life but can also alleviate stress and anxiety when your dogs are alone.

May 25, 2010

How to Stop Your Dog from Chewing

Filed under: Dog Behavior,dog biting — Dr. Amber Reed @ 12:29 am

how to stop a dog from chewingChewing is a natural behavior for dogs that can help them to relax while also promoting good dental health.  As such, it is important to always have good chew toys around the house for your dog.  Still, chewing can also be a serious nuisance for the dog owner because dogs will sometimes chew on anything but chew toys.  In cases where dogs engage in destructive chewing, it is necessary to try some behavioral intervention.

First of all, it’s important to understand that excessive or destructive chewing is not healthy for your dog and may even be a symptom of an anxiety disorder.  In such cases, curbing the chewing is achieved through helping your dog learn stress management techniques.  Most dog owners will want to teach their dogs to comfort themselves when they are alone.  When dogs become too attached to their owners, their anxiety can lead to chewing.  Spend ample quality time with your dog but also ensure that your dog has time alone, even when you are home and be sure to teach your dog that attention is not always available on demand.

Obviously, you’ll also want to introduce your dog to chew toys so that they have the opportunity to chew when necessary.  Puppies will be especially prone to chewing when they are teething but chewing is not a behavior that is limited to young dogs.  Many dog owners can eliminate destructive chewing by combining chew toys with anti-chew sprays.  canine tooth careWhen you notice your dog has a preference for chewing a particular household item, apply the anti-chew spray.  The next time your dog approaches the item give him a firm instruction like “Stop” and then replace the item with a chew toy.  Play with your dog and the chew toy to reinforce his preference for the chew toy.  With consistent praise and behavioral intervention, your dog should stop chewing.

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May 8, 2010

Dogs and Cars

Filed under: clean cars,Dog Behavior — Dr. Amber Reed @ 9:13 pm

From time to time, you will need to take your dog in the car.  Whether this is going to be a regular routine or an occasional necessity, there are some extra steps you should consider whenever you’re going to take your dog out in the car.  For some dogs, car travel can be uncomfortable and your behavior as a pet owner can greatly impact your dog’s willingness to travel in a car.  First and foremost, remember to never leave your dog unattended in your vehicle.  In some circumstances you may not have a choice, in which case you need to leave at least 2 windows down so that fresh air will pass through the car.  Also, if you need to leave your dog in the car for more than a few minutes, be sure to leave him with a source of drinking water.protection-summer-sun

Other than not leaving your dog alone in the car, there are some other tips that can make car travel less challenging.

- Take regular rest stops so your dog can relieve himself.
- On long trips, avoid motion sickness by feeding your dog a few small meals during the trip.  Similarly, for short trips try to avoid feeding your dog a big meal before you get into the car.
- If your dog has a lot of anxiety about car rides, try introducing him to the idea more gradually by taking warm-up rides.
- Don’t let your dog stick his head out the window.  You should leave the window down slightly so he can get fresh air, but putting his head out the window can be very dangerous.
- Never let your dog ride in the back of an uncovered pickup truck.  He might jump out.
- Likewise, leashing your dog in a vehicle may be dangerous because the leash can be a strangle hazard in an accident.  Try a car harness instead.
- Finally, make sure you have sufficient food and water for your trip as well as some other emergency items like a blanket and medications.

May 6, 2010

Why does My Dog Eat Rocks?

Filed under: Dog Behavior — Dr. Amber Reed @ 12:12 am

dog eating habits Sometimes it seems like dogs will eat just about anything.  They’ll certainly chew on your favorite shoes and you’ve probably even caught them eating feces or other equally unappetizing items.  And now, you’ve caught your dog eating rocks and you’re wondering what that’s all about.  In fact, dogs often eat inorganic substances with absolutely no nutritional value.  Pica is a condition where animals, even humans, eat or desire to eat strange substances.  Sometimes, pica will not pose a threat to your dog’s health but depending on the substance there could be serious health risks.

Eating rocks is one of the most common forms of pica observed in dogs.  Unfortunately, eating rocks can be dangerous for your dog.  Chewing on rocks most obviously can damage the teeth and the tissues in the mouth of your dog.  More seriously, eating rocks can result in blockages of the intestines and subsequently vomiting, diarrhea, and if the rock is large enough it can even cause choking and suffocation.

canine teeth care There are various medical and behavioral reasons why your dog may be eating rocks.  First and foremost, you may not be giving your dog enough attention.  When you react to your dog when he eats rocks you actually reinforce the behavior.  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t try to prevent rock eating.  In addition to the behavioral causes, medical disorders of the digestive system, nutritional deficiencies, and even diabetes may lead to rock eating.  Because of these possible medical causes, it is important to visit your veterinarian to figure out why your dog is eating rocks and treat the underlying condition if necessary.

Efforts to cure pica are associated with the underlying cause.  Behavioral pica should be treated with behavior modification techniques that focus on positive reinforcement.  Meanwhile, treating the medical causes of pica should also end the rock eating.  For example, if your dog suffers from poor nutrition, once you have compensated for nutritional deficiencies the rock eating should cease.  Be sure to visit your veterinarian to ensure that your dog is healthy and to learn the methods that you can use to prevent your dog from eating rocks.

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Disclaimer: CritterCures is an educational resource, and all information herein is strictly for educational purposes. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure diseases, nor is it meant to replace the (prescribed) treatment or recommendations of your veterinarian or healthcare provider. Always inform your veterinarian or healthcare provider of any products that your pet are taking, including herbal remedies and supplements.