Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Five Love Languages: Canine Edition!

Back in 1992, Gary Chapman wrote this fun book about the five love languages in people. This book allowed human couples to better understand what they wanted from their relationships. I enjoyed the book and if you haven't done the love languages test for yourself recently, it's a fun one to do!  In any event, my daughter and I were talking about this book when we realized that dogs, much like humans, also seem to have five love languages.  My daughter went so far as to suggest that maybe one of the reasons some dog owners have a difficult time engaging their dog is that they are trying to push their love language onto a dog for whom that love language isn't as important.  Her example?  People whose love language is physical touch who try to hug, kiss, and lay all over their dogs.  While there are indeed some dogs who enjoy very close physical contact with their owners, there are just as many for whom this kind of close contact is anxiety-provoking.  What if those dogs whose owners are hanging all over them are themselves a words of affirmation kind of dog?  Meaning, dogs who prefer verbal reinforcement to the hugs and kisses?  Fascinating, right?

If you aren't familiar with the five love languages, here they are.  What I've added for you to think about is what the canine version of this love language might be.

1. Words of affirmation:  Telling your dog they did a great job, adding in verbal markers like an enthusiastic "Yes!" when they complete a task, or even just saying something like, "who's a good dog?" This love language is all about praise, encouragement, and compliments.

2.  Acts of service:  For a dog, acts of service might be taking them for a walk, grooming them if they enjoy being brushed, or taking them for a ride in the car.  These are acts that make your dog feel well-cared for. 

3.  Receiving gifts:  Quite obviously, this could be buying your dog a new toy, but it could also be you digging that bone out from under the couch that they thought they'd lost forever!

4.  Quality time:  Giving your dog your undivided attention.  This one is hard for some dog owners I see who are on their phones or listening to ear buds while they are walking or caring for their dogs.  Dogs know when they have your focus and you're actively engaged with them.

5.  Physical touch:  While all dogs enjoy some touch from their favored humans, they usually have their favorite spots to be scratched or rubbed.  And then, of course, there are dogs who enjoy being hugged and kissed.  There are even dogs who enjoy physical touch from strangers; these dogs make great pet assisted therapists.

Obviously, you can't ask your dog to take the online quiz to determine their most prominent love language.  And, yes, most dogs like being given a snack and taken for a walk (receiving gifts and acts of service, respectively), but there are dogs who don't enjoy walks as much or aren't super food motivated.  Those dogs might be more motivated by words of affirmation or physical touch.  So, to determine your own dog's love language, take a good look at their behavior in response to you supplying love those five different ways outlined about. Which one really seems to describe your dog?

Desi is absolutely a physical touch dog. He loves being petted, hugged, kissed and doted on, both by family and by strangers.  He loves attention more than anything else.  Ozzie, on the other hand, isn't motivated by touch and will actively seek to avoid it if he thinks someone is going to try to hug or kiss him.  He does, however, know when he has my undivided attention and seeks that out and he definitely is an acts of service kind of dog too. 

I think my daughter is right.  Having a better understanding of what motivates your dog and makes them feel loved is one way to improve your relationship with them.  Rather than making them fit into the box for what you thought dog ownership would be like, let your dog show you what works for them.  That way, everybody wins!

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Westley's love language is definitely physical touch.  As you can clearly see.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Charades: The Canine Version!

It's been hot here in northern California, with many days in the upper 90's to low 100's where we live.  We do have air conditioning and Ozzie can frequently be found hogging one of the A/C vents in the house to stay cool.  I bought a really quiet, tower fan to have in my office to keep me cooler and circulate the air.  Ozzie loves this fan as much as I do!  How do I know that?  Here's what happened.

I was sitting at my desk with the fan near me, but not turned on.  Ozzie came into the room, walked over, tail loosely wagging with a goofy grin on his face.  He proceeded to nudge my arm gently, so I obliged with a few pets and lovies.  When I moved my hand away, he very pointedly looked at me, then looked at the fan, then looked at me again.  I said, "Do you want me to turn the fan on?"  He literally huffed and looked at the fan again.  I turned the fan on and he immediately plopped down between my chair and the fan, so it would blow cool air on us both.  Pretty smart dog, right?  I like to think that I'm a pretty observant human as well ;)  

So, why am I sharing this anecdote with you?  Because this is basically an example of dog charades; Ozzie was using his body, his voice, pointed glances, and contextual cues to get me to turn away from my computer and turn on the fan.  While I initially thought he wanted attention, I think that was secondary to his desire to have the fan turned on!  I'm not sure what he would have done if I'd ignored his nudge, but my guess is that he would have gone to lay down elsewhere in a huff, waiting for me to look up from my computer so he could try again. 

One more fun anecdote:  Desi is a very chill dog.  He doesn't demand attention, but he is always happy to receive it.  There is one exception to Desi's easy-going disposition and that is meal time.  If it's 8 a.m. or 5 p.m. and Desi hasn't been fed yet?  He'll let you know.  If I'm folding laundry at the back of the house, Desi will find me and solicit lovies.  As soon as I pet him, however, he starts to bounce around and stare at the door out of the room.  If I try to walk anywhere else other than toward the kitchen, he literally herds me in that direction! And if I ask Desi if it's dinnertime when he finds me, he'll wag his tail and bark, trotting off toward the kitchen, looking back to make sure I'm following him.  You see, dogs play charades with us ALL THE TIME!

Ever had your dog walk up to you and bow outside of the realm of play?  More charades.  This is your dog saying, "Hey there human.  I'm interested in engaging your attention."  I like to think that it's similar to one person walking up to another and getting their attention with a touch to the shoulder or forearm.  It's not demanding, but it does indicate an interest in engaging.

I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating.  Dogs are really good at reading our body language and facial expressions, much better than we are at reading theirs. Humans always seem to assume that they are the superior communicators, but I beg to differ.  Take away our words and we're back to playing a challenging game of charades as well, trying to make our needs and desires known.  Dogs have mastered charades and they are in it to win it.  There is one thing, however, that can really throw a wrench in the works and that is when dogs live with people who don't take the time to observe them and learn their language. Owners who ignore the bark or whine in the middle of the night, for example, might be missing out on the fact that a car pulled up out in front of your house, there's a skunk in the yard, or the carbon monoxide detector isn't working, but their noses are.  Dogs can only tell you what you are willing and able to hear/see.  

Now, I realize observing dogs is a big part of my job.  I encourage all of you, however, to spend just a bit more time on it as well.  First of all, it's very enjoyable.  Second, your dog will appreciate your efforts, much like that person playing charades with you would jump up and down and touch their nose with their finger when you guessed their clue correctly. You may be surprised to discover all the things your dogs have been trying to tell you that you were too busy or distracted to notice.  Really is surprising that they don't get more frustrated with us overall.  Please share some of your stories with me as I truly enjoy them.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Not the best photo, but you can see Ozzie has successfully told me to turn on 
the fan so we can both stay cool in the office.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Birds and the Bees!

With so many young dogs being kept intact for longer periods of time (it is advised for most dog breeds to delay spaying or neutering until at least a year of age, if not longer), dog owners are understandably concerned about avoiding unwanted pregnancies for their young female dogs, and behaviors like marking and mounting by their young male dogs.  It's not uncommon, however, to have a puppy owner panic unnecessarily during puppy class when a female puppy is mounted by a male puppy during play.  Mounting is (obviously) normal dog behavior and something that occurs during play, particularly among puppies.  Thus, it seems like it's a good time to go over the birds and the bees, from a dog's point of view.

Sexual maturity in dogs is breed and size dependent; for most puppies, it will occur between 6-9 months of age, though it may be slightly earlier for a small breed dog and a bit later if you own a large breed puppy like a Great Dane or Saint Bernard. Thus, the average female dog will have their first estrous cycle (i.e. go into heat) somewhere between 6-9 months. There are four stages to the estrous cycle in dogs and they can only get pregnant during one of those stages. These stages are characterized by different behaviors that you will want to watch for:

Proestrus: This stage lasts about 9 days, but can go as long as 27 days. Male dogs are attracted to female dogs in proestrus but the females will spur their advances. Dog owners will often notice that their female dog's vulva is swollen and they will begin to notice a red discharge which can last 7-10 days, beginning as sort of a thin, watery, pale red consistency, to a thicker, darker red in color. Female dogs will lick themselves more and they tend to urinate more as well.  This increased frequency of urination serves a purpose; the urine is filled with wonderful, pheromonal and hormonal smells designed to attract potential suitors!

Estrus:  This is the stage when female dogs will show active interest in male suitors, typically lasting 9 days, but can go as long as 24 days. This is when your female dog is fertile!  You will notice less discharge at this stage. This is the stage during which your female dog can get pregnant!

Diestrus:  This is the stage where your female dog is back to ignoring the advances of male dogs around her and lasts for about 2 months. 

Anestrus: This stage lasts about 4 months and is basically the time period between diestrus and the start of your dog's next heat cycle/proestrus. Your dog's vulva should no longer be swollen and there shouldn't be any discharge.  If your dog is pregnant, however, pregnancy lasts about 9 weeks.

I've had puppy owners tell me that they've read that female pups cannot get pregnant during their first heat cycle, that pregnancy won't occur unless the dogs "tie,"  and that brother/sister matings are unlikely to occur AND that they won't result in pregnancy if they do happen.  All of these statements are false; female dogs can indeed get pregnant during their first cycle, dogs don't have to remain tied together for the female to get pregnant, and siblings will mate and reproduce if allowed to do so.

Let's talk about male dogs for a minute.  Male dogs are capable of reproducing year-round. They are sexually mature sometime after 5 months of age, though they are most fertile after a year of age. Adolescent male dogs have the highest testosterone levels which is likely why young male dogs are targeted for aggression at the dog park and other places where unfamiliar dogs gather. Marking their territories (potentially both inside and outside your house!) will start occurring, as will roaming if you don't keep your intact male dog adequately supervised.  If you notice your young male dog doing a lot of sniffing, licking of urine, and marking around a particular house in your neighborhood, it is likely there is an intact female dog nearby in estrus and he's claiming that turf!

So, let's circle back to puppy class.  If you are attending a puppy class and all of the puppies are under 5 months of age, that mounting behavior you see happening during class isn't about sex/reproduction, but about play.  If you are attending an older puppies/adolescent dogs class (that is, a class where dogs are over 6 months of age), AND the dogs are off leash, THEN you will want to watch the behavior of the interacting dogs more closely.  You will see male dogs sticking their noses into the vulvas of the female dogs in the class (basically checking to see where they are in the estrus cycle) and you will definitely see female dogs politely sitting down to avoid this and/or whipping around and snapping at the offensive male dog.  You should not, however, attend classes if you notice that your female dogs has started going into heat as evidenced by that enlarged vulva, licking behavior, etc.   And it goes without saying that female dogs in heat should not be taken to the dog park; even walking a female dog in heat out in public can create pandemonium.  Best to walk female dogs in heat at off peak times and off peak places, or limit their exercise to your home and yard to keep them safe from an unwanted pregnancy.  

I recently had a client tell me that this was all so much easier when everyone spayed or neutered their puppies between 4-6 months of age.  While that may be true from a convenience point of view for us, their caretakers, the bottom line is that delaying spaying/neutering will result in healthier dogs, better protected from cancers and with appropriate brain and bone development.  Plus, hormones do (obviously) effect behavior and not all of those behavioral effects are bad!  Having hormones on board can be confidence building in young dogs, so keeping them intact longer can mean better protection from anxiety based issues that are related specifically to a lack of confidence.

I bet you weren't expecting a birds and the bees conversation today, but there it is.  I hope that for those of you concerned about mounting in puppy class, this eased your worries.  And I hope you have a better understanding of why we wait to alter our dogs now as well.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me.

Here's Penny, the blenheim (brown and white) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel trying to enjoy a quick sniff while having her estrus status assessed by Neo (the black and tan) Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. He's an adolescent male, so this isn't unusual behavior. Penny is spayed, however, so her patience with this behavior is admirable.  (Photo credit: Julie Skeen)

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Surf's Up!

I love the beach.  When I lived in San Diego, I went to the beach almost every day, rain or shine, year round.  My border collie mix, Shadow, loved the beach as well, trotting along next to me with her nose in the air, sniffing out all the wonderful coastal aromas.  I never had to worry about her going in the water as she hated to get wet; rain was fine, but waves were something to be avoided.  She was also great about not eating sand and not rolling in any stinky seaweed that washed up on the shoreline.  Not every dog, however, has that kind of enviable beach etiquette. I've seen dogs charging mouth first into the surf to retrieve balls, digging in the sand with their mouths wide open, and rolling in seaweed. Ingesting too much seawater can be dangerous and even life threatening, as can the ingestion of large quantities of sand.  And those piles of seaweed?  Sometimes they mask hidden dangers like jellyfish which can sting or dead fish that can make them sick.  Yep, the beach can be a scary place, but with some planning in advance, it can be a safe and enriching excursion for you and your dog.

First off, a life vest.  Even if your dog loves to swim and is a good swimmer, a life vest is a must.  Tides can change quickly, currents can get rough, and a dog can easily be pulled out to sea.  They may panic and start swimming in circles, tiring themselves out before you can safely retrieve them.  Plus, those currents can be dangerous for you as well.  If your dog is pulled out while wearing a life vest, they'll be easier for you or the lifeguards to find and help back to shore safely.  

If your dog is digging and ingesting sand, or continually ingesting sand off of a ball they are retrieving, it's time to redirect them to another activity.  Ingesting sand can lead to a condition called sand impaction, basically sand blocking the intestine.  This condition is characterized by vomiting, dehydration, and abdominal pain.  If your dog can't be redirected from sand-eating activities, it might be worthwhile to train them to wear a basket muzzle at the beach so that they can frolic and explore, but they can't ingest anything toxic.  At a minimum, wash off the ball between retrieves so it's not coated in sand.

While you may feel that you are providing your dog with clean water to keep them hydrated and cool at the beach, they may still be ingesting sea water if they are out there in the waves chasing a frisbee or ball. 

Acute water intoxication is somewhat rare but most commonly seen in dogs that love to play in water, whether that be fresh water or salt water. It can actually occur anytime an animal ingests a large quantity of water quickly. High risk dogs are those that engage in water play, including those who like to bite at sprinklers or play with the garden hose. Dogs who love to retrieve toys in water, or compete with other dogs to get those water toys are also at risk of ingesting large quantities of water as their mouths are open when retrieving.

The symptoms of water intoxication are loss of coordination, lethargy, bloating, vomiting, glazed eyes, excessive salivation, difficulty breathing, seizures, and coma.

Once a dog begins showing symptoms of water intoxication, it is critical to get them veterinary care immediately if they are to recover. When a dog ingests too much water, this results in a condition called "hyponatremia," which is excessively low sodium levels in the blood. Too much water causes unbalanced electrolytes and dilutes the sodium storage in the fluid around the cells. Cells fill with water which causes swelling that affects the nervous system since sodium helps maintain blood pressure and is important to nerve and muscle function. It is also the case that dogs who play in salt water for extended periods of time may ingest too much salt water leading to hypernatremia.

If you have a water-loving dog, or one who will retrieve a toy tossed in the water over and over, you need to monitor their water activity and insist on breaks.  Even if they just love playing in the sprinklers or biting a garden hose, watch them for taking on too much water. Even a dog who quickly empties a water bowl following brisk play or exercise is a risk for water intoxication.  Wait to refill that bowl until the dog has cooled down and the water they drank has been properly absorbed.

Prevention is obviously the best course of action with this issue. If your water loving dog does however, show any of the above symptoms, get them to the vet quickly.  Remember, too, that while this isn't a breed-specific problem, size of the dog matters; smaller dogs and leaner dogs may exhibit problems faster than their larger canine friends. 

While it is fun to let your dog run off leash at the beach, resist doing so if they have poor recall and won't leave it and/or drop it on command.  Better to keep them on a long line and under your control than to have them racing off, eating things they shouldn't, charging at other dogs and beach visitors, etc. Even if dogs are allowed off leash on the beach you are visiting, don't let your dog's behavior negatively impact the experience of others that are there enjoying the coastline as well.

As always, if you have questions about your pet's behavior, you know where to find me. 

Ozzie keeping a watchful eye on my daughter as she heads into the water.