Discovering the Amazing Vision of Sighthounds


Sighthounds are fascinating dogs with a history of being selectively bred for hunting by sight and speed, which is in contrast with scenthounds who were selectively bred to hunt by scent and endurance. Also known as gazehounds, sighthounds are talented dogs who come equipped with special features that distinguish them from other dogs, making them quite unique masterpieces of nature. One of their most remarkable features are their eyes, which unlike other dogs, have some distinct traits which allowed them to excel in what they were bred for.

greyhounds coursingA Look Back in History

Sighthounds are dogs who are believed to descend from ancient specimens originating in Africa, or possibly Arabia. Their habitats for the most part consisted of wide-open lands in the desert. Their main job was to hunt down and chase prey animals such as deer or hare running across the desert. Upon spotting prey with their keen sense of sight, these dogs had to sprint into action often reaching speeds of just over 40 miles per hour.

The practice of hare coursing (sighthounds chasing hare) for hunting or sporting purposes was popular in Europe and restricted to landowners and the aristocrats, considering that back then, owning sighthounds was prohibited to any members of lower social classes. Because sighthounds have a history of mostly working at a distance from humans with very little guidance, most sighthounds are considered “independent thinkers.”

A Matter of  Visual Streaksighthound vision

Spotting prey animals across wide open lands required special vision. The eyes of sighthounds are known for having a “visual streak”. What exactly is a visual streak? It’s a horizontally aligned area in the retina lined up with ganglion cells. Not too long ago, there was belief that all dogs had their ganglion cells distributed in such a way, but a study conducted by Paul McGreevey,Alison Harman and Grassi T. D, revealed that only dogs with long noses have a visual streak. Turns out, dogs with short noses such as pugs, Pekignese and Boston terrier instead have their ganglion cells densely packed in one spot called the “area centralis.” The visual streak is therefore a characteristic of dogs with long muzzles who needed to rely on their peripheral vision to hunt.

“The coursing breeds—Greyhounds, Salukis, and other hounds developed to scan vast expanses of desert—are the prototypical visual-streak breeds. Not for nothing are they called sighthounds.”~Bud Boccone

greyhound eyesightField of Vision

The field of vision varies between animals and depends to a great extent on eye placement. Generally, among prey animals (think cows, zebras and horses) the eyes are set wide apart so to allow them the widest field of vision possible (especially when they are grazing) so that they can watch for danger in all directions.  This lateral eye placement also allows them to watch in two directions at once. Predators, on the other hand (think cats, primates and owls) have eyes that are placed closer in front of the face which instead allows them more depth perception, something that comes handy when they need to track and pounce on their prey.

“Eyes in the front, the animal hunts. Eyes on the side, the animal hides.”

Interestingly, when it comes to sighthounds, they are an exception to the rule. Their narrow heads allow their eyes to be quite lateral which gives them quite an impressive field of vision. A greyhound is know for having a field of vision of up to 270 degrees, which is quite impressive compared to us humans who have a mere 180 degree field of vision. The greyhound even beats other dogs, considering that the average dog has a field of vision around 250 degrees. Therefore despite being carnivores, it can be said that sighthounds have a herbivore field of view. Most likely, this feature was crafted in such a way so to allow them to scan the horizon at a distance in search of the slightest movement of prey.

“The theory that the hunting animal (dog) has a more anterior ocular placement than the hunted (i,e rabbit) does not seem appropriate when looking at the greyhound, which is reportedly a “sighthound ” with marked lateral placement of its eyes. ” ~ David W. Hobson


  • A Strong Correlation Exists between the Distribution of Retinal Ganglion Cells and Nose Length in the Dog, by McGreevy P. · Grassi T.D. · Harman A.M, Brain Behav Evol 2004;63:13–22
  • American Kennel Club, A New Look at Canine Vision, by Bud Boccone, retrieved from the web on March 31st, 2016.
  • Museum of Osteology, How to “Read” a Skull: Eye Placement and Size, retrieved from the web on March 31st, 2016.
  • Dermal and Ocular Toxicology: Fundamentals and Methods, by Hobson, CRC Press; 1 edition (September 6, 1991)
  • Greenhounds, What is a sighthound? retrieved from the web on March 31st, 2016.

Dog Word of the Day: Self-Handicapping


In human psychology, self-handicapping is a term used to depict those situations where people make excuses for their poor performances so to justify their potential failure, and therefore, protect their self esteem, but in the dog world, the term self-handicapping has a quite different meaning. In dogs, self-handicapping is mostly seen in social situations, and its most relevant application is seen during play. If you ever frequented a dog park or watched dogs of different sizes play, you may have perhaps seen this endearing phenomenon take place many times.

dog self handicapping 3Dog Playing Versus Fighting

Dog play often incorporates elements that are drawn from other “serious” behavior contexts. There may be elements seen in hunting (stalking, pouncing, chasing), elements seen in fighting (growling, snapping, biting) and sometimes even  elements seen in courtship and mating (mounting). As in children play, puppy play often entails enactments of things dogs will be doing in their adult lives (there are also patterns that are unique to play though). What differentiates play from real fighting though? How can dogs communicate playful intentions, without getting in trouble with other dogs?

For starters, well-socialized dogs use meta-communication signals (meta-signals) which are meant to tell the other dogs that they are playing and that anything that follows is not to be taken seriously.  A common example of a meta-signal is the quintessential play-bow, which in a sort of way is the equivalent of a child saying “let’s pretend!” This signal informs the other dog that anything that follows is just play and it’s not to be taken seriously. Other than using meta-signals, dogs who have learned to play appropriately know that in order to keep play safe and from getting out of hand, they must fine-tune their tactics and inhibit/restrain themselves so to prevent conflict which may arise when there is too much loss of control.

Adjusting Play Styles
self handicapping

When dogs play together, there are chances that one dog is much bigger, stronger, healthier, more confident or faster than the other, and if no restraint occurs, this bigger, faster and stronger dog may eventually end up not playing fairly, or worse, frightening or hurting his play mate. Fortunately, on top of inhibiting themselves as they do normally with dogs who are similar to them, dogs have also shown the capability of adjusting their play styles when they sense that a playmate is disadvantaged in some way. This adjustment in play style  that occurs when a play partner is perceived weaker, younger, or less motivated, is known as “self-handicapping.” Following are some examples of dogs engaging in self-handicapping behaviors:

“Self-handicapping occurs when individuals place themselves in disadvantaged positions or situations that could make them more vulnerable to attack by ‘opponents.” Camille Ward et al. 

puppy motherExamples of Dog Self-Handicapping Behaviors

  • A dog with superior abilities plays the role of being the weaker party. You may see this when a large dog “turns the tables” and allows a smaller dog to chase him as seen often in role-reversals. In such an instance, self-handicapping may occur simultaneously with role reversal.
  • A dog with superior abilities puts himself in disadvantageous positions or situations. An adult dog may keep his head lower  or stay in a vulnerable belly-up position when he plays with a puppy.
  • A dog with superior abilities adjusts his playing style to facilitate the play partner. The stronger dog may tug more gently with a dog that’s half his size.
  • A dog plays with a cat by lying down on the floor and engaging in very light paw touches and gentle mouthing behaviors.
  • Dogs may also engage in self-handicapping when they play play with us!  You may see it in particular when they play with children (but don’r rely on your dog’s judgement, always, always, always supervise all dog/children interactions to be safe!)

Keeping the Game Alivepuppy play

What’s the function of self-handicapping?Why would a dog give his playmate a competitive advantage? Most likely because it shows playful intent and keeps the game going. When a stronger, faster or bigger dog decides to put himself at a disadvantage, he’s likely doing so to keep his opponent “in the game.” It’s similar to a father who kicks the ball lightly and allows his child to win every now and then.

In dogs we might never know if there are any similar “altruistic” emotions going on, but it’s function appears to be to keep the interaction going and keep play session alive. The ability to self-handicap in dogs has likely a learned component. Like a small child pointing out to an older child “you play too rough!” a small dog might yelp or retreat to warn the bigger dog to play nice. Reminiscent of his past as a puppy when in the litter his siblings might have acted the same way, along with reminders from other past play sessions with dogs, the larger dog likely gets the message and make adjustments so to “play nicer.”

“From a functional perspective, self-handicapping and role-reversing, similar to using specific play invitation signals or altering behavioural sequences, might serve to signal an individual’s intention to continue to play.”~ Marc Bekoff

The Bottom Linedog play

Self-handicapping is sure an endearing behavior to watch, but not all dogs know how to apply it. Self-handicapping is a voluntary behavior that requires the dog’s ability to judge his playmate’s abilities and then make the necessary adjustments to maintain the play session worthy of continuing for both parties. This requires a great level of self-control in the midst of play which can become difficult to gauge when arousal levels get high. It’s a learning process that may take time as dogs mature and learn to control themselves better. Dog owners though can help by teaching their dogs better emotional control through structured games such as Ian Dunbar’s Jazz up and Settle Down game and by stepping in when their play with other dogs gets too rough.

“Self handicapping requires a lot of emotional control, and the irony about play is that part of its fun is that we can throw aside some of our inhibitions and lose a little bit of control. I suspect this is where a lot of dogs get into trouble. ~Patricia McConnell

Did you know? A study has shown that during play among litter mates, male puppies self-handicapped when playing with females more frequently than females self-handicapped with males.  For example, the pups would lick the female pup’s muzzles giving them a chance to bite them or they suddenly would flop to the ground ” like a boxer down for the count.”

“We know that in feral dog populations, female mate choice plays a role in male mating success, perhaps males use self-handicapping with females in order to learn more about them and to form close relationships with them — relationships that might later help males to secure future mating opportunities,”said Ward, in the study.


  • Revisiting Play Elements and Self-Handicapping in Play: A Comparative Ethogram of Five Old World Monkey Species, by Milada Petru et al, Journal of Comparative Psychology, Vol. 123, No. 3, 250 –263
  • Partner preferences and asymmetries in social play among domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris littermates, Camille Ward, Erika B. BauerBarbara B. Smuts, Animal Behaviour Volume 76, Issue 4, October 2008, Pages 1187–1199
  • Social Play Behaviour Cooperation, Fairness, Trust, and the Evolution of Morality, by Marc Bekoff, retrieved from the web on March 30th, 2016
  • The Other End of the Leash,  Play and Self-Handicapping, by Patricia McConnell, retrieved from the Web on March 30th, 2016.
  • NBS News, When Puppies Play, It’s Ladies First, By Jennifer Viegas, retrieved from the Web on March 30th, 2016.

The Mystery of the Dog’s Sneezing Fits


dog sneezing foxtailThe fact that dogs are shorter than us and carry their heads low, as they go on their sniffing adventures, makes them prone to sometimes inhaling foreign particles that may irritate their airways. Thankfully, when irritating particles are inhaled, the dog’s body does a pretty decent job in trying to get rid of them through forceful sneezing fits. Those involuntary and powerful expulsions of air coming from the lungs in many cases are successful in dislodging mucus which has trapped the foreign particles from inside the nose. However, things can be tricky sometimes.

There is a certain type of grass, that, because of the design of its spikelets, will make it particularly difficult for the dog to expel despite a dog’s repeated snorting and violent sneezing. Can you name what type of grass this is?

A: Spear grass

B: Tall Fescue grass

C: Perennial ryegrass

D: Kikuyugrass

The correct answer is:


The correct answer is: A,  spear grass, better known as foxtail grass.


What are Foxtails?foxtail danger to dog

Every late spring and early summer, vacant lots, hiking trails and fields fill up with herbaceous plants that produce foxtails. Also known as spear grass, a foxtail is produced by many types of plants, the most common species being AlopecurusHordeum, Stipa (black oat grass) and Setaria. The original purpose of foxtails are not to be harmful; their spikelets are simply meant to attach to the fur of animals passing by so their seeds can be dispersed and implanted into the soil. In wild animals sharing the same habitat with the foxtail, the fur is generally short enough so that eventually the foxtail dislodges and successfully disperses its seeds. Problems start when the foxtail burrows itself in places it shouldn’t. Once burrowed, the foxtail’s barbs cause it to migrate in one direction (always forward, never backwards) where it creates a multitude of problems.

“They are sharp enough to enter tissue and have barbs that cause them to migrate in one direction if they enter the body.”~Dr. Zwingenberge, veterinary radiologist at the University of California-Davis.

Foxtail extracted from dog's nose
Foxtail extracted from dog’s nose

In dogs, the foxtail may lodge in the most inconspicuous places. They may lodge into the dog’s nose, into the mouth, inside the ear canals, under the eye lid, and even under the skin such as the skin between the toes or the armpit and rear ends areas. The foxtail’s tendency to migrate once under the skin, wrecks havoc in the dog’s body triggering inflammation, infection and pain. In some cases even death.

For instance, a foxtail that ends up swallowed by the dog may lodge in the dog’s pharyngeal area causing gagging, coughing and swelling in the neck. A foxtail that’s inhaled by the dog, may cause sneezing and respiratory distress, if it reaches the brain, it can cause seizures and if it reaches the lungs it can cause pneumonia. When the foxtail reaches the ear, the dog may be repeatedly scratching, shaking and tilting the head. A foxtail lodged in the eye requires immediate attention. It can cause pawing at the eye, squinting and redness.When the foxtail lodges under the skin, for instance in the webbing between the toes, the dog may be seen repeatedly licking an area and it may cause local swelling and limping.

“Any kind of plant awn could potentially be a problem, but the classic foxtail seems to be the worst.” ~Dr. Catherine Dyer

As seen, foxtails are a big problem for dogs! The best thing to do is to avoid areas where these grasses that produce them grow (especially when they are dry) and carefully groom the dog after an outing to make sure that none have attached somewhere. Make sure you check the ears, the nose, between the toes, the armpits, under the tail and rear end/genital areas! If you suspect your dog has a foxtail anywhere, consult with your vet at once. As the saying goes” an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”


  • DVM360, A Guide to finding foxtails, by Dr. Allison Zwingenberger, retrieved from the web on March 29th, 2016
  • The Whole Dog Journal, Beware of Foxtail Seeds This Summer, by C. C. Holland, retrieved from the web on March 29th, 2016

I am Your Dog’s Hip Joint


The main function of your dog’s hip joint is to attach the rear legs to the rest of the body and support the weight of your dog’s body whether he’s standing or moving around. In the world of dogs, hips play an important role in locomotion and when things don’t go as they should, bad hips can trigger crippling lameness and painful arthritis of the dog’ joints. Discovering the important role hips play in a dog’s life is not only a matter of satisfying one’s curiosity, but it is also educational, so that, as dog owners, we can learn how to prevent problems and recognize early signs of trouble so that we can report them to our veterinarians in a timely matter for assistance. So today, our dogs’ hip joints take the spot of honor, so let’s listen to their story.

dog hip anatomy
Normal hip joint

Introducing Your Dog’s Hip Joint

Hello, it’s your dog’s hip joint talking! Many tend to think of me as a single unit,  and for a certain sense I am, but if you look closely I am actually the “junction” of two important bones, the femur and the pelvis.  I am known to be a “ball-and-socket joint” and there’s a good reason why. The head of the femur bone (the acetabulum) is shaped like a ball and it fits snugly into the socket of the pelvis. This is a work of art of Mother Nature, as these bones are crafted to match each other perfectly.

I am also known for being a “synovial joint.” Because bone-to-bone contact can be problematic in the long run, I am protected in various ways to prevent friction. Firstly, the articular surfaces where the bones meet, are made of a layer of smooth, compact bone. On top of that, a smooth layer of  spongy cartilage (articular cartilage) covers the surfaces of the bones where they rub together offering the right amount of cushioning to avoid friction. For sake of comparison, this surface works like the Teflon coating that you would find on pans. Thirdly, in the space between the joint, you’ll find a multi-layered joint capsule which encloses synovial fluid. This type of fluid keeps me well lubricated to further prevent friction between the bones.

subluxated hip joint
Subluxated hip joint

When Things Go Wrong

When all goes well, I move smoothly and offer stability and a wide range of motion in your dog’s day-to-day activities. Things become problematic though when I am not structured as I should. Veterinary surgeon R.D. Montgomery explains that puppies are born with a good pair of hips but things then start going downhill during the developmental stage when there’s “a disparity between primary muscle mass and too rapid growth of the skeleton.” When things go south, I become unstable and eventually dislocate (subluxate) and the snug ball-and-socket fit is gone, leading to a condition known as “hip dysplasia.” You see, when there is a loose fit between the bones, there is lots of wear and tear because the ball (acetabulum) is not housed in the socket as it should causing the accelerated destruction of articular cartilage.

dog legs togetherWhile many large breed dogs are predisposed to develop chronic problems with me due to conformation, sometimes acute subluxations occur as a result of an accident. In these acute cases, I have good chance of recovering if I am taken care of immediately. In cases of chronic hip dysplasia though I may need to be managed medically or through surgery in severe cases. You see, when I experience a subluxation, I try to remedy to the situation as best as I could by trying to lay down more cartilage, but this takes a loooong time, and unfortunately, by then, the inflammation and pain associated with osteoarthritis may have likely already set in. The more inflammation, the more damage occurs.

Affected dogs will do the best they can to not move me as it’s painful, and this often entails moving stiffly when getting up, problems jumping or climbing stairs, a swiveling movement of the hips or bunny hopping, where the dog moves both back legs together instead of swinging them alternately. Some dogs may also keep their legs close together to recompensate for the weak hips as you can see in the picture on the left. When dogs compensate by using their bodies in other ways, this can lead to soft tissue problems. Also, because dogs may not move their back legs as they normally would and they may be reluctant to exercise, their muscles in the hip area may start wasting as seen in a picture in the next paragraphs below.

 Keep Me in Good Shape!

Hip dysplasia has been thought to be a heritable condition, meaning that it is passed down from a generation to another, but new research is showing that the environment can also play a role. If you want to up the chances of keeping me in good shape, you need to really be careful, especially when your puppy is growing. For example, neutering too young may put me at risk for problems. A study found that early neutering almost doubled the chances for hip dysplasia in Golden retrievers. Rapid weight gain due to excessive calories and free feeding, injuries or overexertion at a young age or inappropriate supplementation with vitamins and minerals are also predisposing factors. Jumping activities such as playing Frisbee with a puppy under the age of one year, may be risky business considering that my growth plates are still under construction. Consult with your vet for a proper exercise program for your pup.

“In puppies that exercise heavily the laxity is exacerbated and the joint is traumatized by the abnormal motion and impact of repeated subluxations and reductions. This trauma is further exacerbated by increased body weight, causing the joint to withstand even more force. “~ R.D. Montgomery, veterinary surgeon.

What About Older Dogs?

muscle wasting dog

In older dogs who are already affected by hip dysplasia, weight control is always a plus, less weight mean less strain on me as I don’t need to carry those extra pounds. Exercise is good because you want to keep those muscles strong as they help stabilize me. Stop exercising your dog, and you may see the effects of muscle wasting as seen in the dog in the picture. Moderation though is key.  Consult with your vet for guidelines on how much exercise and what kind is good for your dog. Most vets seem to agree that swimming and leash walks are good for me, while running and jumping are too high impact and cause me stress and the release of inflammatory mediators which worsen the degenerative process and trigger pain. On top of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,  many vets suggest glucosamine supplements to minimize the degenerative process. Ask your vet on what you can do help me.


The Importance of Testing Medog hip xray

Those folks interested in breeding large dogs, better test me before breeding their dogs. It’s important that breeders keep this in mind and arrange things accordingly. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals provides owners with scores that will tell them how good or bad I look based on x-rays.  However, don’t just assume that everything is fine if your breeding pair have both impeccable scores. Sometimes, in a blue moon, a puppy will still pop up with bad hips no matter how good those parent’s hips are!

“Sometimes the mother and father of the affected puppy are negative for the disease. If this is the case, the parents may have hidden genes for the disease.”~Dr. Daniel A. Degner, Board-certified Veterinary Surgeon.

In dogs not meant for breeding, testing me is also important. Your vet can have an idea of in what general state I am when he flexes and extends your dog’s back leg and watches for signs of pain. Your vet may perform the Barlow maneuver, Ortolani test, or in your pups, the Barden test, to check me out, but these tests are often better done when the dog is sedated and I am relaxed ( a dog’s tense muscles may stabilize me temporarily). Upon conducting these tests, the vet will pay attention to any grinding or crunching feelings when he moves me around. Again, an x-ray of me can give the vet a better “picture” of how I look like so he can make the best decisions for your dog.


As seen, I am very a very important joint! I hope this article has helped you understand me a bit better! If your dog ever suffers from any trauma or injury, take him to the vet as soon as possible. Early intervention in acute luxations can really help a whole lot and reduce future problems. For chronic problems, keep in mind that proper diet, exercise, supplements and pain relief, may help slow down the advancement of degenerative arthritis. Hopefully, a day will come when the disease can be better controlled, in the meanwhile, keep an eye on your dog and watch for signs of trouble.

Yours truly,

Your Dog’s Hip JointDog Pawprint

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog has hip problems, consult with your vet for advice and recommendations.


Torres; de la Riva, G; Hart, BL; Farver, TB; Oberbauer, AM; Messam, LLM; Willits, N; et al. (2013). “Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers”. PLoS ONE 8 (2): e55937.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055937

DVM360, Canine hip dysplasia (Proceedings) by R.D. Montgomery, retrieved from the web on March 28th, 2016.

Vet Surgery Central Total Hip Replacement, by Daniel A. Degner, retrieved from the web on March 28th, 2016.

Photo Credits:

  • Types of misalignments of femur head to socket in hip dysplasia. Original uploader was Londenp at nl.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, edited for details
  • A Labrador Retriever standing with hind legs close together to compensate for hip dysplasia by Malinaccier, public domain
  • Atrophy of thigh muscle after a two-year evolution of hip dysplasia L. MahinOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Discovering Why Dogs Bunny Hop when Running


It’s not a common sight, but when you see a dog bunny hopping you may be wondering what may cause such an unusual gait. Just for clarification, a dog who is bunny hopping is picking up his back legs at the same time, a movement that reminds us of how rabbits hop. It’s often seen in young dogs, but sometimes can be seen in older ones too. Because there are some medical conditions that may cause a dog to run this way, it’s always a good idea to stop by the vet for an assessment just to play it safe before assuming it’s just a cute quirk that will possibly go away as the puppy matures.

Hopping Through Grass

Sometimes, you may stumble on videos of dogs happily hopping through a tall field of grass almost as if they were the canine personification of a kangaroo. In this case, the dogs look like they may be pouncing, a hunting strategy used by predators to hunt down some small critter, perhaps a rodent. The pouncing may help the dog flush the critter out from its hiding spot so it can be caught. Some dogs will also instinctively do the bouncing/hopping behavior when a ball ends up being tossed in tall grass. It’s sure a fun behavior to watch! See the video below for a fun video of a dog hopping and pouncing through tall grass.

dog bunny hoppingA Case of Puppy Zoomies

In some cases, hopping like a bunny is simply a sign of a puppy who is playing and acting excited. Many dog owners report that their puppies bunny hop when they are happy and have a bout of zoomies. These puppies are simply having lots of fun and will run like rabbits arching their backs and tucking their rear legs under as they speed as fast as lightening. Even when getting x-rays done, many owners of puppies and young dogs claim that their vets found to nothing medically wrong with their dogs’ joints.

“I wouldn’t say that bunny hopping would make me concerned,” says veterinarian Dr. Marie on her Ask a Vet Question website. However, if there are signs of pain such as limping or whining when walking or jumping then the situation may be more concerning, she remarks.

“Bunny hopping is a descriptive term that is often at least part of a normal gait in many dogs, often young ones.” Dr. Peter Bennett

A Temporary Glitch

dog bunny hops when running

There is a reason why young dogs are often the ones seen bunny hopping: they are in the a transitional period of their development. As the dog is rapidly growing and adapting to his body, the developmental process can be awkward, explains veterinarian Eric Barchas. 

The good news is the puppy goofiness and lack of coordination stage is often short-lived and the young dog may outgrow the bunny hopping as he matures. Generally, bunny hopping is only seen occasionally when the puppy plays, but if it seems to be persistent or  if the puppy appears stiff, it’s always a good idea to check with a vet. Determining if the pup is just going through normal development or the bunny hopping may be an early sign of something else can be tricky. “This can be a difficult call in the large and giant breed pups because they are usually so gangly and awkward at this stage anyway” says Dr. Melj, a graduate of the University of MN College of Vet Med.

A Hip Dysplasia Problem

An orthopedic problem that could cause a bunny hop gait in dogs when running or climbing stairs, is hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a condition that is most commonly seen in larger dog breeds and occurs when the dog has a loose-fitting hip joint that leads to abnormal wear and tear, eventually causing arthritis with its associated (and much dreaded) inflammation and pain. The condition arises from the abnormal development of the puppy’s hip joint. Genetics are often the main factor to blame, but environmental factors may also play a role. Dogs who are affected by forms of moderate to severe hip dysplasia may show signs as early as 4 months of age.

“Clinical signs of hip dysplasia can be seen as early as 4 months of age, however, many dogs are 8 to 12 months of age. Bunny hopping, stiffness on rising after a rest, lameness on a limb, and atrophy of the muscles of the hind limbs are typical clinical signs.” ~Dr. Daniel A. Degner, Board-certified Veterinary Surgeon.

A Possible Patella Problem

While large dogs are more prone to get hip dysplasia, small dogs are more prone to a medical condition known as luxating patella. In this case, what happens is that the knee cap (patella) pops out of its groove. Affected dogs may be seen bunny hopping or running on three legs, sometimes shifting the back legs, explains veterinarian Dr. Gary.  Also known as luxated knee cap, floating kneecap or trick knee, this condition is graded into 4 degrees of severity ranging from a stifle joint that appears almost normal to a disabling degree where the patella is dislocated all of the time and requires surgical correction.

“An owner typically notices a little skip or ‘bunny hop’ in their dog’s step. The dog may even run on three legs, holding one hind leg up, and then miraculously be back on four legs as if nothing has happened. “ Adobe Veterinary Center

Other Possible Causes

What can cause a bunny hop in a dog who has had x-rays and no signs of hip problems were found? Something to consider is that x-rays can be subjective, points out veterinarian Dr. Andy, a UC Davis graduate. A veterinarian specializing in radiology can sometimes find things on x-rays that a general practitioner may miss. Other possible causes for bunny hopping other than hip dysplasia or floating knees may include growing pains, a tear of a dog’s cruciate ligament (more limping though than bunny hopping in this case), or a soft tissue injury. In some cases, vets may prescribe a trial of non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to determine if there may be some form of inflammatory process going on.  Other possible causes for bunny hopping in dogs also may include disorders of the nervous system. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, bunny hopping may be a sign of spinal dysraphism causing neurological symptoms by 4 to 6 weeks of age or protozoal polyradiculoneuritis causing bunny hopping by 3 to 8 weeks of age. As seen, bunny hopping can have many causes, and a stop by the vet is warranted for a diagnosis or to simply rule them out.


Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog or puppy is bunny hopping, please see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.

The Hunting Technique of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever


The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is the smallest member among the retrieving breeds and people often mistaken this dog for a small golden retriever. Unlike other retrievers though, this breed has a unique hunting style that makes it stand out from the crowd. As the name implies, this breed specializes in hunting down ducks, but what makes this dog quite remarkable is the way these dogs interact with them. The job of most retrievers is to simply retrieve downed birds and return them to the owner, hopefully delivering them with a soft mouth. The duck tolling retriever instead adds a special twist to duck hunting, bringing the art of duck hunting to a whole new level.

nova scotia retrieverThe Duck Decoy Dog

The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever engages in what hunters refer to as “tolling.” No, this has nothing to do with those pricey highway or bridge fees!

The term instead refers to a hunting practice that relies on luring waterfowl with the use of decoys. After all, in order to hunt ducks, one must first find a way to attract them, otherwise countless hours would be spent hiding behind a bush!

Decoys can come in many shapes and forms, the most popular perhaps being lifelike ducks meant to catch the attention of passing ducks. The people of Nova Scotia though depended on very special decoys, small, fox-like  dogs who made the art of “tolling” a way of life.

dog tipDid you know?  The  definition of the term tolling derives from the Middle English word “tollen” which means””to draw” or “entice.”

Curiosity Killed the Duckfox hunting

How can a dog attract ducks? It doesn’t really make sense that a dog would attract ducks considering that they are prey. It appears that the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever must have borrowed a special hunting technique from the astute fox.

Red foxes are known for prancing around the shoreline when ducks are at a distance. Being curious animals or perhaps, seeking out a way to harass their natural enemy, the ducks  start swimming close to the shore.

Too bad that they get so close they end up turning into dinner when another fox hiding in the grass  swiftly pounces on them with cutting edge precision.

Bruce Fogle, on page 84, in the book ‘The Dog’s Mind” also mentions about wolves possibly engaging in a similar behavior when hunting down rabbits. He talks about naturalists who mention wolves using frivolous play antics to intrigue rabbits to move towards them, thus, reducing their escape distance. Michael Fox, in the book “Dog Body, Dog Mind: Exploring Canine Consciousness and Total Well-Being,” says ethologists refer to the curious behavior as “fascination behavior.”

nova scotia tollingTaking a Toll

In a similar fashion, the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever attracts ducks. There’s belief that hunters took advantage of the duck’s behavioral quirk to use dogs that resembled foxes to do the “shoreline dance.”

These dogs will prance along the shoreline with their flashy white markings, light feet, and upward tail-tip, appearing and then suddenly disappearing from the shore, until they grab the attention of a group of ducks who are rafting or flying at a distance.

The hunters, hiding in a concealed spot, may further encourage the dog to prance around by tossing him a ball or a stick along the shore.

Intrigued by the dog’s bizarre behaviors, the ducks will move closer, perhaps not as close to put themselves at risk from being grabbed by the dog, but at a close enough distance to be within the hunter’s shooting range. Once shot, the retriever will then gleefully complete his work by retrieving the fallen birds.

dog tipFun fact: Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers are nicknamed the “pied pipers of the marsh.”


  • The Complete Dog Book: 20th Edition, by American Kennel Club,  Ballantine Books; 20 edition (December 18, 2007)
  • Dog Body, Dog Mind: Exploring Canine Consciousness and Total Well-Being, by Michael Fox,  Lyons Press; 1 edition (July 1, 2007)
  • The Dog’s Mind: Understanding Your Dog’s Behavior (Howell reference books) by Bruce Fogle, Howell Book House; 1 edition (October 14, 1992)
  • American Kennel Club, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, retrieved from the webo n March 26, 2016

Photo credits:

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever was bred to “toll”, or lure, ducks into shooting range by causing a disturbance near the shore. After the duck is shot, the dog brings it to the hunter, by kallerna; Edited by jjron, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Mystery Behind Teeth Chattering in Dogs


Have you ever seen a dog who sniffs a spot and then starts chattering his teeth? This curious behavior has many wondering about it. The noise produced when the dog chatters his teeth is similar to when somebody is cold, with the teeth rapidly clicking against each other repeatedly for a few seconds.

Teeth chattering in dogs shouldn’t be confused with snapping, which occurs when the dog opens  his mouth to deliberately “air bite” when he’s feeling threatened, protective or irritated. Snapping is a dog’s way of telling a person or another dog that he has teeth and that he’ll have no problem putting them to use if the situation warrants it.

In this article we’ll be taking a look at the reasons behind dog teeth chattering after sniffing and other various causes for those teeth clicking episodes.

dog teeth chattering Wine Tasting for Dogs

Have you ever attended a wine tasting event? If not, it’s interesting watching the behaviors and reactions seen in famous wine connoisseurs as they’re analyzing the best wines.

Tasting wine is truly an art and those wine experts are blessed with the most refined, trained palates out there. They’ll typically start off by pouring the wine in a glass and taking a careful look at the sample.

Afterward, they’ll take a brief whiff followed by a deeper inhalation to take in the aroma. They’ll pause for a bit and then finally they’ll take a sip and swish the wine around to fully enjoy the aromatic flavors.

It has been said that over 75 percent of our sense of taste derives from our sense of smell, which explains why when we have a cold we cannot taste food as we normally do.

Back to dogs, when dogs are sniffing an interesting spot, they are carefully analyzing it. Blessed with up to 300 million scent receptors (us humans have a mere 5 million ) a dog’s ability to smell must surely dazzle the best wine connoisseurs on earth!

The teeth chattering noises in dogs when sniffing are therefore a means for them to carefully analyze and ‘taste” the odors.


OK, this is not good use!
OK, this is not really good use!

Using the Vomeronasal Organ 

Dogs are blessed with a vomeronasal organ, a special organ that allows dogs to “taste” smells.

The vomeronasal organ is a pouch-like structure that’s located between the dog’s vomer and nasal bones with a special duct located at the top of the dog’s roof of the mouth. This duct is called the “incisive papilla.”

If you want to see some pictures of where this duct is located then click here and here.

The vomeronasal organ’s main function is to convey chemical messages known as pheromones which are purposely left behind by other dogs for reproductive or other social purposes.

To receive these chemical messages, since they’re non-volatile, it’s necessary that they travel to the dog’s vomeronsal organ so that they’re relayed to important parts of the dog’s brain responsible for coordinating mating and other basic emotions.

When dogs are seen chattering their teeth and perhaps even foaming at the mouth, they are basically gathering these large scent molecules towards their incisiva papilla with the help of their tongue (tonguing) so that they reach the vomeronasal organ and then finally the dog’s brain.

“When tonguing, the dog’s tongue is pushed rapidly against the roof of the mouth with the teeth sometimes chattering and expressing profuse foam sometimes collecting on the upper lip. Tonguing is frequently observed after a dog licks a urine spot or “tastes the air” following the exchange of mutual threat displays between two rival males” ” ~Steven Lindsay

As Seen in Intact Male Dogsdog reading

We know that “pee mail” tells dogs a whole lot about other dogs. Male dogs, especially intact male dogs, are the “sniffers par excellence” and not surprisingly they are the ones who are more often seen engaging in tooth chattering behavior.

This is likely because they may be sniffing female dog urine and analyzing it to determine if the female dog in question is in season. They may also teeth chatter when they are directly sniffing a female dog’s rear area.

Female dogs don’t go out telling males, “Hey I am ready!” Instead, they deliver their pheromone-rich business cards discreetly through chemical messages found in their urine.

If the female dog in question turns out being in heat, teeth chattering may also take place in male dogs to manifest their excitement about the pleasant “discovery.”

Interestingly, neutered males and female dogs may also engage in teeth chattering behaviors when they are analyzing scent and the scent doesn’t necessarily need to be urine to trigger this behavior.

“Dogs read about the world through their noses, and they write their messages, at least to other dogs, in their urine.” Stanley Coren

dog teeth chatteringOther Things to Chatter About

While many dogs chatter their teeth when they are smelling a urine spot, dogs may chatter at other times for other reasons.

A common cause for teeth chattering is when a dog is anticipating something. The teeth chattering may therefore take place when the dog is watching the owner prepare a meal or when the owner grabs the leash.

It’s a behavior that’s perhaps quite similar to seeing a wiggly little kid who can’t sit still.

Some dogs are known to teeth chatter when they are anticipating a training session or during play. Sometimes two dogs may be seen playing together lying down next to each other raising their muzzles up and clacking their jaws. A lazy play session for tired dogs.

As in people, dogs may also chatter their teeth when they are cold or anxious about something such as an approaching dog or a stranger.


A Medical Problem

Finally, teeth chattering in dogs may be a sign of a dental problem or a neurological problem such as tremors or focal seizures affecting mostly the mouth.

In distemper, a potentially life threatening disease, dogs may develop seizures characterized by  jaw chattering motions as if the dog was chewing gum. Fortunately, this disease is not very common considering that most dogs are vaccinated against it.

If your dog is chattering his teeth and you can’t figure out why, it’s therefore best to play it safe and have your dog see the vet to rule out any medical causes for the behavior.

Dog Teeth Chattering Before Eating


Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Adaptation and Learning, By Steven R. Lindsay, Iowa State University Press; Volume One edition (January 31, 2000)

How Livestock Guardian Dogs Protect Sheep


Where there are sheep, there are likely hungry predators looking for a fast meal, but livestock guardian dogs have successfully helped protect sheep from wolves for many centuries. Sheep are animals that don’t have a very good reputation for being capable of defending themselves. Even if sheep aren’t killed, they are very delicate animals who can die from sheer panic or from injuries sustained during a confrontation. Wolves aren’t the only animals that predate on sheep though, hyenas, coyotes, bears and feral hogs are other animals who would happily feast on sheep given the opportunity. It is thanks to livestock guardian dogs that today many farmers can allow sheep to share the same habitat with their predators without the need to use inhumane methods such as trapping, shooting or poisoning.

livestock dog3 Ways Livestock Guardian Dogs Protect Sheep

Is the predisposition to guard livestock a product of nature or nurture in livestock guardian dogs? Most likely it’s a combination of both. Years of selective breeding from farmers has helped produce dogs with an innate predisposition to do the job they were bred for. The best livestock guardian dogs who excelled in their work were bred so they could pass down valuable traits to their future generations. Dogs who performed poorly, or even harmed livestock, on the other hand, were pulled out of the breeding pool.

Livestock guardian dogs are raised among sheep from a young age so they have an opportunity to bond, or at least, get to know sheep better.  These puppies may require a certain level of guidance and training at first so to learn not to chase or nip livestock and stay with the flock and not to wander away. This early bonding process and training paves the path to a dog who willingly chooses to remain with the sheep and protect them. Following are three ways livestock guardians protect sheep.

  1. Their Mere Presence

great pyrennees

Sometimes, mere presence is enough to deter attacks. Just like the presence of a uniformed security officer patrolling a parking lot deters thieves, the mere presence of livestock guardian dogs can be enough to deter predators from harming the sheep. Instead of wearing a uniform though livestock guardian dogs boast an intimidating presence courtesy of their sheer sizes. On top of that, blessed with keen senses, these dogs demonstrate a high level of alertness. Eben when they seem to be sleeping, they’re attentive to their surroundings!

Livestock guardian dogs tend to patrol their nearby areas to detect any unusual activities. With experience, most livestock guardians learn that predators are more likely to be around in the evening and early morning, so they’ll be patrolling more during these times. Many predators will  take notice and bypass the area when they notice the presence of guarding dog.

2) Scent Marking Behavior

Many livestock guardian dogs will start scent marking with urine and/or feces as they mature. In particular, they may focus on marking nearby the perimeters of a pasture. According to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, other canids, even though belonging to a different species, are capable of recognizing the boundaries set from the guardian’s marked areas and will seek other places rather than invade the claimed territory.

“Predators (including coyotes, foxes and wolves) understand these odors just as clearly as we understand what giant billboards or stop signs tell us” explains Yvonne Zweede-Tucker,  a longtime goat rancher and author of the book “The Meat Goat Handbook: Raising Goats for Food, Profit, and Fun.”

3) Barking and Posturingkangal dog

Many people may think that the main way livestock guardian dogs defend sheep is by attacking wolves, but good livestock guardian dogs instead defend sheep mainly by barking. Upon noticing a predator, livestock guardians will repeatedly bark in an intimidating tone, assume a threatening posture and eventually lunge towards the predator to encourage it to leave. Most predators will retreat at this point. Sticking with the flock rather than chasing or fighting the predator is a good choice. Should the livestock guardians chase the predator, doing so would leave the flock vulnerable to attacks from other predators. Not to mention that by chasing the predators they would put themselves in a potentially life- threatening situation. As a last resort, livestock guardians may be forced to choose confrontation in some cases. This is likely to occur when a predator is not responsive to their barking and posturing behavior.

“Asking a Pry not to bark, is like asking a fish not to swim. Pyrs are bred to bark to keep potential animal and human intruders away. It is their way of letting everyone know they are on duty.”~ Great Pyrenees Rescue

list of livestock guardian dogs

Did you know? In Italy, Spain or Turkey, farmers let their livestock guardian dogs wear a special collar known as a “wolf collar.” These collars have elongated spikes that are meant to protect the dogs from wolves trying to bite their necks.


  • Defenders of Wildlife, Livestock and Wolves A Guide to Nonlethal Tools and Methods to Reduce Conflicts, retrieved from the Web on March 24, 2016.
  • United States Department of Agriculture, Livestock Guarding Dogs Protecting Sheep from Predators, Agriculture Information Bulletin Number 588
  •  Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating, Livestock Guardian Dogs, retrieved from the Web on March 24, 2016
  • The Meat Goat Handbook: Raising Goats for Food, Profit, and Fun, by Yvonne Zweede-Tucker,  Voyageur Press; First edition (January 15, 2012)

Photo Credits:

Kangal dog with spikey collar, Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

Dog Word of the Day: Carnassial Tooth


Today’s Dog Word of the Day is “carnassial tooth.” Puppies have 28 teeth, and just like human babies, they are prone to losing baby teeth and replacing them with permanent adult teeth. Adult dogs are equipped with 42 teeth comprising 12 incisors, 4 canines, 16 premolars and 10 molars. More precisely, there should be 6 incisors, 2 canines, 8 pre-molars and 4 molars in the upper jaw, and 6 incisors, 2 canines, 8 pre-molars and 6 molars in the lower jaw. Understanding dog teeth is helpful so we can better comprehend their important roles and recognize early signs of trouble. Today, we will be focusing in particular on a dog’s carnassial teeth.

a dog's carnassial toothWhat Sharp Teeth You Have!

Just by taking a look at the term “carnassial” we can get a grip on the important role these teeth may have played and continue to play in a dog’s life. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the term carnassial  derives from the French word “carnassier’ which means carnivorous. The term carnassial teeth therefore refers to teeth specifically designed for shearing flesh. Which dog teeth are considered carnassial teeth? If we look at a dog’s mouth, the carnassial teeth comprise the fourth upper premolar and the first lower molar. These teeth are particular for the fact that they have self-sharpening edges that are designed in such a way as to pass by each other in a shearing manner. This is why these teeth are sometimes also referred to as “shearing teeth.”

“The maxillary fourth premolar is the upper carnassial tooth (meat cutter) which, along with the mandibular first molar (the lower carnassial) acts as a pair of scissors to cut meat from prey.”~ Hale Veterinary Dental Clinic  

Shearing of Fleshcarnassial tooth

For a good reason, the dog’s carnassial teeth are the largest of all. The carnassial teeth in dogs are purposely crafted so dogs could shear through flesh, tendon and muscle, and crack bones. Carnassial teeth allow a scissor-like motion occurring when the inside of the fourth upper premolar aligns with the outer surface of the first lower molar. The action is very similar to how shearing blades work. When you see your dog gnawing on a bone and moving it to the sides of his mouth as he tilts his head, he’s using his carnassial teeth to cut off meat or crush through bone.

Fun fact: Acording to Pet Education, a dog’s carnassial tooth has three roots, while the rest of a dog’s teeth have only one or two.

Keep an “Eye” for Trouble

As other teeth, the carnassial teeth in dogs may be sources of problems especially in older dogs. When dogs develop problems with this tooth though, there may show symptoms that may not be readily recognized as a tooth problem by dog owners. Dogs with an infected upper carnassial tooth may develop an abscess or a draining pustule right under the eye that dog owners often fail to recognize as a tooth problem. Dog owners often confuse it for an eye infection or a bite from some insect.

“What has happened is that an infection has spread from an infected fourth upper premolar tooth.” explains veterinarian Ronald Hines on his website. The dog’s carnassial tooth likely has a crack or fracture which may cause bacteria to enter and migrate from the long roots of this tooth to the dog’s facial area causing the swelling and infection. Even though antibiotics may help temporarily treat the infection, the problem is likely to recur until the problem tooth is treated either through removal or root canal treatment.

Did you know? There are veterinarians specializing in dentistry too! If you ever need specialized dental care for your dog, look for a veterinarian who is certified by the American Veterinary Dental College.

Preventing Cracked Carnassials

What may cause a carnassial tooth to fracture in the first place? When dogs chew hard objects they exert enormous biting forces with their carnassial teeth. If a dog chews something that’s hard or harder than the tooth, the tooth may get fractured, explains Daniel T. Carmichael, a board-certified veterinarian specializing in veterinary dentistry. Objects that may cause a fracture of a carnassial tooth include bones, hard plastic toys, cow hooves, rocks, and cage bars. However, chewing on hard objects isn’t the only way dogs may fracture a tooth. Trauma to the carnassial teeth may also occur from a car accident, a kick from a horse, a hit from a baseball bat or  when catching a flying object. While accidents may not always be prevented, it’s important protecting those carnassial teeth by not allowing dogs to chew on hard objects!



  •, Carnassial Tooth Abscess in Dogs, by  Dr. Ronald Hines retrieved from the web on March 23, 2016
  • Dvm360, Dental Corner: Dental fracture treatment options in dogs and cats, by Dr. Daniel T. Carmichael, retrieved from the web on March 23, 2016
  • Pet Education, Infections of the 4th Premolar (Carnassial Tooth) by Dr. Race Foster retrieved from the web on March 23, 2016

When A Dog’s Tail Gets Limp


It’s Tuesday Trivia and today we will be talking about limp tails in dogs. So you take your happy-go-lucky Labrador retriever to swim in a pond, your dog has loads of fun retrieving a ball, then you light up a fire and you both spend the night sleeping in a tent. It’s a bit chilly in the early morning once the fire is off, but nothing major. When you wake up, you notice your dog is no longer able to wag his tail as happily as he usually does. His tail is indeed kept low, limp and flaccid, something highly unusual for your dog. What happened to the dog’s tail? Why has the dog’s tail gone totally limp? Of course, only a vet can diagnose health problems in dogs, but there is a particular condition that’s likely to occur under these exact circumstances, can you name the condition?

A: Shy dog syndrome

B: An anal gland problem

C: Acute caudal myopathy

D: A fractured tail

The answer is:


If you answered, A, shy dog syndrome, the answer is incorrect. Sure, dogs who are shy tend to keep their tails between their legs, but in this scenario the tail is limp and flaccid and the Labrador is not able to wag the tail as he normally does. Also, the outgoing Labrador described above wasn’t showing any reason for exhibiting shy behavior.

If you answered B, anal gland problem, this is a possibility, however, according to Dr. Gary, a veterinarian graduate of Michigan State University, a dog with anal gland problems may keep the tail tucked as a pain/stress response, but when a dog is also unable to move the tail or the tail is hanging limp, it’s likely something else is going on.

If you answered D, a fractured tail, that’s also a possibility, but in the above circumstance there were no accidents to make you believe he could have fractured it. To fracture a tail, there’s often some form of traumatic injury taking place. Most commonly, this can occur when a dog is hit by a car, the tail is stepped on, the tail is caught between a closing door or the dog falls of a sofa or bed and the tail hits the floor wrong, explains veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker. 

If you answered C:  Acute caudal myopathy, congratulations, the answer is correct!

limp tailAcute Caudal Myopathy in Dogs

What is acute caudal myopathy? Also more formally known as dog swimmer’s tail, cold water tail, dead tail, rudder tail, frozen tail, sprain tail, broken tail, limber tail, limp tail or broken wag, acute caudal myopathy is a condition affecting the muscles of the dog’s tail. The term “acute” is used to depict the sudden onset of this condition, the term caudal, is the medical term for tail, while the term myopathy is simply a term used to depict a disease of the muscle. This condition often alarms dog owners who can’t figure out what is wrong with the dog’a tail and assume the dog’s tail must be broken.

What are the symptoms of limp tail? Typically, affected dogs present with a flaccid tail or they may hold several inches of the tail horizontally and the rest then drops down vertically. The tail will be painful near the base causing the dog to have trouble finding a comfortable position when sitting down, lying down and/or squatting to defecate. These dogs may also eliminate wagging from their behavior repertoire. If the pain is very intense, the dog may even become lethargic and lose its appetite. Dog owners sometimes notice visible swelling around the tail area and raised hair by the base of the tail.

Everything in Moderation

limber tail

How does a dog get a limp tail? Well, first of all a limp tail is a matter of loss of muscle tone. Generally, the acute onset takes place after the dog has overused its tail. When dogs swim, they tend to use their tail as a rudder, so if a dog isn’t used to this kind of movement, the muscles may become sore especially after a day of swimming in cold water, hence the name cold water tail, swimming tail or rudder tail.

It can also be seen in dogs who are exposed to wet, cold weather (eg romping in the snow) or in under-conditioned dogs who haven’t been exercised for some time and then are sent hunting or are engaged in other forms of exercise involving lots of tail action. Sometimes, limp tail may also occur when dogs are crated for a long period of time. Even though any dog with a tail can be affected, limp tail seems to most commonly affect  pointers, setters, beagles and retrievers.

“We usually see it in dogs who have had a recent bath, exposure to cold water or rain, or have had recent physical exertion or excitement.” ~ Dr. Laura Devlin, DVM, DABVP

dog cannot wag tailA Quick Recovery

How is limber tail diagnosed? As mentioned, swimmer’s tail typically occurs after a dog goes swimming, after being exercises a lot or after prolonged crating. Veterinarians typically diagnose limp tail based on the dog’s history and physical exam. During the physical exam, the vet  may look for any neurological signs, problems to the dog’s anal glands and any other conditions known for causing pain and swelling of the tail. The vet will palpate the tail, spine and pelvic area to pinpoint the problem area and may ask if the dog has sustained any tail injuries. Based on a study conducted by Janet E. Steiss, DVM, Ph.D. et al, affected dogs are found to have an increase in their levels of serum creatine phosphokinase, a muscle enzyme.

How is a limp tail treated? Fortunately, acute caudal myopathy is a temporary condition that gets better with rest and medication. Veterinarians may prescribe an anti-inflammatory drug to speed up recovery times. Generally, dogs suffering from limber tail spontaneously recover within a few days to a couple of weeks.  Soon, the dog is back to wagging his tail proudly as before.

“Complete recovery generally occurs within 2 weeks with some dogs recovering within a few days. About one third of dogs can experience a recurrence. ” ~Dr. Debra Primovic

Please note: If you dog has symptoms of limber tail but doesn’t have a history of swimming, being crated, exposed to cold weather or overexerting himself, see your vet immediately. There may be something serious going on such as nerve damage or loss of blood supply to the area.


  • Coccygeal muscle injury in English pointers (Limber tail). Steiss, J. et al. J Vet Intern Med1999;13:540-548
  • Pet Place, Limber Tail Syndrome, by Dr. Debra Primovic, retrieved from the web on March 22nd, 2016
  • Four Injuries that can take the wag out of your pet’s tail, by Dr. Marty Becker, retrieved from the web on March 22nd, 2016


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