Three Reasons Dogs Hate the Mailman

 

OK, dogs may not really hate the mailman, but let’s face it: barking at the mailman seems to be a dog’s favorite hobby. As soon as the truck arrives, otherwise friendly Rover turns into a barking beast and starts lunging at the window or gate as if dealing with his worst enemy, what gives? The above cliche’ is so widespread that postal service employees have started attending seminars on safety around dogs and sometimes carry products to keep dogs away. Until dogs can talk, we may miss out the exact reasons as to why they react in such a way, but we can make some educated assumptions. So here are some reasons why dogs may “hate” the mailman. So Rover, what’s the matter with the mailman?

He’s Coming Into My Territory!rott

No offense, it’s not only the mailman. Dogs may react in similar ways towards the UPS and Fedex workers, the pizza delivery guys and the plumber, electrician and the poor fellow who comes into your home to fix your cable TV. It’s not a matter of who, but a matter of what these people do. What do they do? From a dog’s perspective they are intruders who are trespassing property. They are loud, uninvited and don’t stop by to say hello. Many dogs have a natural inclination for passively alert barking and some may engage in a more active approach that’s meant to protect territory. There is likely also an element of fear at play when it comes to territoriality, but shhhhh… dogs don’t want you to know about this!

Why they do this: The behavior may be reminiscent of the old days when the dog’s ancestors lived in packs and they had an innate tendency to be alert and protect their resources through urine marking and more active displays tended towards intruders who weren’t part of their social groups and ignored their scent marks invading their “no-passing zones.” When dogs were domesticated and used in villages, their watch dog tendencies were further appreciated. Dogs were selectively bred for their ability to bark when they spotted dangers such as predator animals or enemies. Still as today, many dogs are still appreciated for their alarm barks, even though nowadays a more active role may be frowned upon due to its potential for liability.

dog mailHe Keeps Coming Back! 

What makes dogs really upset about postal workers is that despite all their barking directed towards these delivery guys, they keep coming back and gain no validation as other guests entering the home. These postal workers therefore risk gaining the status as eternal intruders and they fail to hang around long enough for your dog to get accustomed to them, but let’s take a closer look at the dynamics through Rover’s perspective.

Why they do this: The dog sees the mailman so he starts barking, and every time he barks, the mailman leaves (because that’s part of what mailmen do, deliver the mail and then leave to continue their jobs). From Rover’s perspective, his barking is what is making the mailman leave and therefore it’s highly reinforcing. You can almost hear him thinking out loud “Hey, intruder, get off my turf, you hear me?” So when the mailman leaves, the dog feels some relief, “Phewwww, finally got rid of that intruder!” So every time the mailman comes over to delive mail, Rover will stick to his barking behavior, and if the mailman doesn’t leave right away, he may even add some lunging, growling or snarling into the mix.

To put ourselves in our dog’s shoes, let’s imagine the following scenario. Every morning, a cat comes into your yard. You like cats, but many stray cats are fixated on urine marking your favorite flowers and wall, leading to a terrible odor. So one day you start making a hissing sound to send the cat away. The cat flees promptly upon hearing the sound, so most likely, since it worked, you’ll keep hissing the next time you see the cat approaching your property, but what happens that day a bolder cat approaches and he cares less about your hissing noise? Most likely, you’ll experiment with something else so you may start stomping your feet loudly along with the hissing. Tada! Now, next time you’ll likely hiss and stomp to get rid of the next feline intruder.

dog funnyPractice Makes Perfect!

When dogs are allowed to rehearse behaviors over and over, they are destined to become habitual.  This means they’ll be barking at the mailman every single time.

Why they do this: Dogs are habitual creatures that tend to repeat behaviors that work. Day after day, the barking becomes almost reflexive and it takes just the noise of the truck to elicit barking, without thinking twice.

Not only, there are also chances that the behavior may become even a tad bit addicting. On top of  the barking becoming highly reinforcing, it’s possible that associated emotions of fear or anger cause the release of chemicals in the dog’s brain. This whole experience can become physiologically addictive. James O’Heare, in the bookThe Canine Aggression Workbook” explains how this chemical bath can become quite addictive, which explains why certain behaviors tend to repeat over and over.

When it comes to fear or aggression, it can generalize quite quickly like a forest fire. Your dog may bark at the mailman, and then his behavior may generalize towards other postal workers, then next, is the pizza guy and then comes the electrician. Also, the barking behavior may also happen earlier and earlier as the dog chains one event with another. So while the barking originally started when the mailman would park his truck in front of your home to place the mail in the mail box, after a few days it could evolve to barking at the mere sound of the truck approaching. So it’s not surprising if soon, not only will dogs bark at the mailman but also to all the anticipatory cues that suggest his arrival. So just like a small spark can trigger a fire, the barking behavior can evolve and get out of hand, and the more time lapses, the more the behavior can become difficult to extinguish, so here are a few tips on nipping the behavior in the bud.

dog mailssHelping Your Dog Accept the Mailman

If friendly Rover has just started turning into Cujo the moment you get mail, here are some tips for you:

  • Start early. With this type of training you can’t start early enough. If you have a puppy, make sure you socialize him to all types of people (children, babies, teenagers, the elderly, people wearing hats, people wearing uniforms, people carrying stuff, etc) Let people visit your home, make it fun and rewarding and teach your puppy it’s perfectly fine to have people over. As soon as your pup sees people approaching your home, ask him to sit and give him a cookie. Do this frequently enough, and your pup will come to realize that great things happen when people approach your property. To teach your pup to love the mailman, introduce him from a young age. If your pup is hanging around the yard, place a cookie in your mailbox and ask your mailman to deliver it to him every morning. After some time, you may notice tail wags and possibly barks of happy anticipation!
  • Prevent Rehearsal. If you missed the train and failed to teach your dog to love the mailman, you may have more homework to do. A good place to start is preventing rehearsal of barking behavior before it becomes too ingrained. This is done through management. So stop allowing your dog to rush out and bark his head off at each delivery. Keep him indoors and cover your windows with window film, if your dog rushes to the window to bark. Keep your dog in a room that’s far enough from street sounds.
  • Create Positive Associations. Secluding your dog to a room from which he can’t see the mailman, may do nothing to curb the behavior, but it’s a starting point as you plan on working to change the behavior. The goal is to change your dog’s emotions about the mailman changing him from foe to friend so that he feels like welcoming him instead of sending him away. First, you will need to find a distance from which your dog doesn’t react much, next you will need to gradually and systematically expose him while feeding high value treats at the sights and sounds of the approaching mailman. Once he is gone, make all the goodies stop. Good things happen only when the mailman is around, get it? So now instead of being worried about these intruders taking away resources and invading property, now these postal workers are welcomed  and become actual sources of resources!

Did you know? Patricia McConnell in her book “The Cautious Canine” suggests having the pizza delivery guy come to your home and deliver a slice of pizza just for your dog to create positive associations.

warning cautionWarning: always make safety your top priority! Behavior modification can come with risks for you (re-directed bites) and others. Never let your dog free to greet the mailman no matter how much he has progressed. Doing so can potentially hurt your mail man. If you have given your dog treats every time he sees the mail man and you wish to progress and have your mailman hand feed them, it’s best to have your mail man toss them safely through the fence rather than having him risk being bit from direct exposure! If your dog is aggressive in any way, please consult with a veterinary behaviorist, a certified applied animal behaviorist or a force-free trainer well-versed in dog behavior modification.

 

References:

  • The Canine Aggression Workbook” by James O’ Heare, Dogpsych Publishing; 0003- edition (December 1, 2007)
  • The Cautious Canine-How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears 2nd Editionk, by Patricia B. McConnell
    McConnell Publishing, Ltd.; 2nd edition (June 1, 1998)

Photo Credits:

  • Flickr Creative Commons, Taro shiba and his USPS pose, by Taro the Shib Inu, edited by adding title and formatting, CC BY 4.0
  • Flickr Creative Commons, Oh Yeah! by torbakhopper,”woof” he doesn’t even see the mail man in the background (CC BY 4.0)
     

Discovering The Function of a Dog’s Carpal Pads

 

Hey, what’s that foot pad doing all alone on the dog’s front legs, right above the wrist? One may wonder at this point whether it’s a vestigial structure, in other words, an anatomical feature that no longer seems to have a purpose in the dog’s life. Last time we checked, it just sat there and Rover didn’t seem to put it to good use. However, just because we haven’t seen our dogs putting that foot pad to use, doesn’t mean that it’s useless and not worthy of existing! So today, we’ll be discovering the fascinating function of a dog’s carpal pads.

paw padsA Lesson in Anatomy

To better understand the function of the dog’s carpal pads, let’s first learn more about paw pads. Upon lifting your dog’s front paw (avoid doing this if your dog doesn’t like having his paws handled) you will notice several paw pads.

The largest of all is the central heart-shaped metacarpal pad surrounded by the several smaller digital pads associated with each toe. These paw pads are made of thick layers of fat and connective tissue and comprises five (yes, you heard it right five!) layers of skin so your dog can walk comfortably over several terrains. A little bit higher, on the inside of the leg is the dewclaw, another digit with its associated nail.

Then, hanging around the wrist area,  you’ll find the dog’s carpal pad. This pad is similar in structure to the other paw pads but it doesn’t have an associated nail, it’s only found on the dog’s front feet and it’s also known as “stopper pad.”

Do these little hints help you get an idea about what’s the original purpose of the dog’s carpal pads?

Did you know? According to the book “Peak Performance EBook: Coaching the Canine Athlete, by Canine Sports Productions, the skin on the dog’s foot pads is the thickest skin on your dog’s body.

  Anti-lock Braking Systemcarpal pad

So far, we know that a dog’s carpal pads hang around the dog’s wrist area, that they are made of very tough skin and that they are only present on the dog’s front legs. We also know that they are sometimes referred to as “stopper pads.” So what’s the purpose of these pads? If you are still scratching your head, no worries! Their functions aren’t as obvious as we barely can see them in action unless we can witness stop action movements when dogs run at full speed.

According to veterinarian Chris Zink, in the midst of when a dog canters, there’s a brief moment when the carpal pad makes contact with the ground as the other front leg and the rear legs get ready for the next stride. During this time, should the dog decide to make a quick turn or stop abruptly, the carpal pad, along with its associated dewclaw, provides extra traction, and should the dog decide to stop, it’ll work as a braking device, hence its name “stopper pad.”

carpal padsBumper and Balancing Act

If you also watch carefully as your dog lands after a jump, you may also notice how the carpal pad makes contact with the ground.

In this case, according to the book “Peak Performance EBook: Coaching the Canine Athlete” the carpal pad functions as a bumper or cushion as the leg hits the ground.

Last but not least, the dog’s carpal pad may also help dogs stay balanced and avoid falls when dogs are walking on steep, slippery slopes.

As seen, those carpal pads are functional and quite important too!

References:

  • With A Flick of the Wrist, by Chris Zink, DVM, PhD (as seen in Dogs In Canada – September 2003) retrieved from the web on May 20th, 2016.
  • Peak Performance EBook: Coaching the Canine Athlete, By Canine Sports Productions, Amazon Digital Services LLC
    Photo Credits:
  • Paw (dog) showing pads, by Amos T Fairchildown work (photo and GIMP modifications) CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Flickr, Creative Commons, Lil Shepherd, On the Turn, CC BY 2.0

 

Four Reasons Dogs Shake Their Fur

 

Many dog owners have witnessed their dogs shaking their fur at some time or another, but what makes these dogs shake their bodies in the first place? As with other doggy behaviors, the reasons why dogs may engage in a full body shake may vary based on context. We often see dogs shake their bodies when their coat is wet or when they get up after a nap, but sometimes these body shakes may seem to occur for no reason at all, but there may be possible explanations that are worthy of discovering.

 1) To Get Rid of Water

Doggy rinse cycle
Doggy rinse cycle

It’s one of those classic scenes you often see portrayed on newspaper comic strips or in movies or commercials. A dog is given a bath and right upon coming out of the tub he scrolls his fur vigorously with an accomplished look on his face. Those who know their dogs well often prepare in advance for it by taking precautionary measures to avoid the ubiquitous droplets flinging off the dog’s fur. Those who are caught unprepared instead get to enjoy a complimentary shower.

We know that dogs shake their bodies to get rid of the excess water on their coats, but what makes them scroll their fur in the first place? The famous doggy rinse cycle, stems from an innate instinct and dogs didn’t have to take a Dog Drying 101 class to master it. This behavior is adaptive, meaning that it’s productive and has therefore contributed to the animal’s individual’s survival or reproductive success. In the wild, when furry animals get wet in cold weather, there are high risks for hypothermia to set in should they not be able to dry themselves quickly. Thanks to the full body shake, animals can use a mechanism that is similar to shivering so they can effectively dry themselves within minutes, explain Andrew K. Dickerson, Zachary G. Mills and David L. Hu in a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.  This fast and energy efficient doggy rinse cycle therefore allows dogs to conserve energy as carrying a heavy coat and generating heat to allow it to evaporate can be quite consuming from an energetic standpoint. 

Did you know? Allowing a wet 60-pound dog to carry an extra pound of wet fur and allowing it to evaporate would take approximately 20 percent of his daily caloric intake!

Dog shaking when getting up
Dog shaking when getting up

2) To Get Rid of Debris

You’re familiar with the drill: your dog wakes up from a nap, stretches, then takes a step, slows down and then engages in a full head-to-tail body shake. Afterward, the dog goes back to his usual activities. Why do dogs scroll their fur after waking up?

Again, this behavior is reminiscent of a dog’s past, but this time dogs aren’t getting rid of excess water, rather their focus is to remove anything that could have clung to the dog’s fur while sleeping. Before dogs were allowed to sleep on sofas, couches or Kuranda beds, their sleeping areas encompassed grass, dirt and other natural surfaces. It is therefore instinctive for dogs to shake their bodies after lying down so they could remove any dirt, awns, dust and debris from their coats.

dog digging for attention3) To Remove Irritation

Deprived from opposable thumbs, dogs must find alternate ways to rid themselves from an annoying itch. Sure, they can use their legs and teeth to scratch certain spots, but for those few areas that are hard to reach, dogs must rely on other ways to get relief. A nice body shake will often suffix when dogs feel something odd on their coats and attempt to get rid of it. A dog’s coat has several hair follicles supplied with nerves that relay sensory information to the brain which in turn elicits the dog’s fur shaking behavior just when something doesn’t feel right.

This type of body scroll is often seen in dogs after being groomed, which can upset the owners who have worked hard on creating fancy hairdos.  Sometimes we must put ourselves in our dogs shoes and realize that back in time, there were no groomers, therefore subjecting dogs to stylish hairdos can make their fur feel weird which may trigger a body shake to get things back to normal. It’s therefore quite normal for dogs to scroll their fur after cleaning their ears or to get rid of that annoying bow on the head that has your dog wonder whether there’s some odd bug crawling on his skin. Other triggers for shaking the fur include the presence of pesky parasites, skin irritations and itchy ears. So should your dog be scrolling his body or his head repeatedly, consider that some sort of irritation such as an ear infection or bad teeth may be the culprit,  claims veterinarian Rick Huneke at Washington University School of Medicine.

dog4) To Shake Off Emotions

We often associate shaking the fur with removing water or some other irritant from the coat, but in some cases, it may be indicative of something going on at an emotional level. When shaking the fur occurs out of context, such as when the dog is not wet or waking up from a nap, it can a sign that the dog is shaking his fur as a sign of relief.

You may stumble on this type of fur shaking after the dog is suddenly pet from a stranger or after encountering another dog that perhaps was a bit grumpy. It’s almost as if the dog says  “phewww, glad that’s over!” and by scrolling the fur the dog is getting rid of stress and tension. So it doesn’t hurt to watch in what context the fur shaking behavior occurs as it could be telling us something about the dog’s interaction and how he may feel.

“When I am training dogs, I often look for them to give that quick shake at some point because training can be stressful for them.” ~ Cis Frankel

 

References:

  • Urban Dog: The Ultimate Street Smarts Training Manual, By Cis Frankel, Willow Creek Press (September 1, 2000)
  • MadSci Network, Why do some dogs sometimes shake their heads vigorously after waking up?, retrieved from the web on May 19th, 2016
  • The Royal Society Publishing, Wet mammals shake at tuned frequencies to dry, Andrew K. Dickerson, Zachary G. Mills, David L. Hu, .

Dog Word of the Day: Martingale Collar

 

What is a martingale collar? Also known as greyhound collar or half check collar, the martingale collar may at a first glance almost resembles a regular collar but at a closer look, it comes with an extra twist. This collar may not be as popular as other types of dog collars, but it has some advantages that makes it a preferable choice with certain types of dogs. Nowadays, more and more people are discovering martingale collars which is causing this collar to slowly gain more and more popularity.

martingalePurpose

Designed with sight hounds in mind, the martingale collar is particularly suitable for dogs with necks that are larger than their heads, hence its other names “greyhound collar” or “whippet collar.” Dogs with this type of conformation are more likely to back out of regular buckle collars, therefore the martingale collar was crafted with these dogs in mind.

A martingale collar therefore offers more control but when properly fitted without the choking effect of choke collars. For this reason, this collar is also referred to as ” the humane choke collar.”

As such, martingale collars are not meant to be used with the intention to jerk, choke or intimidate dogs; therefore martingales are not meant to be used as corrective tools.

“It has recently become fashionable again to fit collars which slip, tight up behind the dog’s ears. This disgusting practice seen by some as a ‘miracle’ which stops dogs from pulling, does so because when the lead tightens the collar causes extreme pain to the TMJ’s (hinges of the jaws) and the pressure points at the base of the skull.  It is most definitely against the UK APDT policy to use ANY collar to jerk, pull or choke a dog.” ~Association of Pet Dog Trainers UK.

Design

The martingale collar is equipped with two distinctive loops: the larger loop, which is often made of fabric and is the actual collar that is slipped over the dog’s head and encircles the dog’s neck, and the smaller loop, known as the “control loop,” which can be made of chain or fabric, that has a ring that is used to attach the leash to it.

When the dog tries to back out of the collar, the tension on the leash causes the small loop to become taut, causing the large loop around the dog’s neck to tighten and prevent escape. When the dog is not actively pulling, the collar instead should sit comfortably loose on the dog’s neck.

martingalesPros of Martingale Collars

Following are some advantages of using martingale collars. If you are unsure which type of walking equipment is most suitable for your dog, consult with a reputable, trainer focusing on positive training methods.

  • Works well for dog breeds with a particular conformation, heads that are smaller than their neck, as seen in several sight hounds such as greyhounds, Italian greyhounds, borzoi, whippets and saluki or rough collies.
  • Works well for dogs with very smooth hair on their necks which causes regular collars to slip easily off.
  • Works well with  fearful dogs who have a history of slipping out of their collars.
  • The collar tightens when you need it the most (dog trying to back out and escape)
  • Works well for fluffy, heavy coated dogs as this collar does not break up the fur on the neck as much as with a standard flat collar.
  • Doesn’t choke as choke collars do.
  • The pressure is distributed around the entire neck rather than concentrating in one area (the trachea), which is preferable, but can still cause damage in dogs who pull overtime!
  • Some models offer now a quick release buckle.
  • Can be used along with a harness (leash attached to both) as an extra security measure for squirmy dogs.

borzoiCons of Martingale Collars

  • It is not meant to be worn all day
  • As with other collars, it can be dangerous if left on during dog play (even if supervised).
  • May not be readily available in some pet stores
  • Is not crafted to hold ID tags
  • Martingales with a chain may rust and stain a dog’s coat.
  • In order to be safe and effective this collar must be properly fitted.
  • It is not designed to stop dogs from pulling. A front-attachment harness along with training, can help stop pulling.

 

References:

  • Association of Pet Dog Trainers UK, APDT Policy on Half Check Collars, retrieved from the web on May 18th, 2016

Photo Credits:

  • Martingale collar with chain loop; martingale collars also come with a fabric flat tab or loop instead of a chain, and optional buckles on both styles. by Schizek, public domain
  • Fiona takes her modeling seriously, by Lindy, Flickr, Creative Commons
  • Sold! by Deb, Flickr, Creative Commons

A Mysterious Bump in the Dog’s Mouth

 

There’s a small bump on the roof of a dog’s mouth that is normal part of a dog’s anatomy, but for those who are not aware of it, such appearance can cause concern. It’s one of the main reasons dog owners schedule a panic appointment to see the vet, explains veterinarian Dr. Truli on his website VirtuaVet. Dog owners who notice this bump the very first time worry as they start thinking about mouth cancers which can often be very aggressive. While it’s good practice to have the vet always check any unusual lumps and bumps, this little bump in the roof of the dog’s mouth is in most cases perfectly normal. So today’s trivia question is:

What’s the exact name of this bump?

A Gum boil

B Epulis

C Incisive papilla

D Oral papilloma

The correct answer is: drum roll please….

drum

The correct answer is C, the incisive papilla.

ridges dog mouthAll Dogs Have It

Dog owners may casually stumble upon a dog’s incisive papilla one day when their dog is lying down belly up with his mouth open. From this angle, the incisive papilla, which is located at the top of the roof of the dog’s mouth, may become easily visible. To be exact, in a normal, healthy dog, the incisive papilla is located right behind the dog’s top two middle teeth.

The bump may feel hard to touch and some describe it as vaguely resembling a little diamond in shape. Because a picture is worth 100 words, seeing it is far better than describing it in words, so on the left you can see a picture of it along with the dog’s palateal rugae.

 

Related to Scentdog pheromones

What’s the purpose of this little bump on the roof of the dog’s mouth? Mother Nature hasn’t placed it there just because. The incisive papilla actually has something to do with a dog’s sense of smell. Within this small bump there is a small duct which connects the dog’s nose with his mouth. Basically, it turns out that the dog’s incisive papilla is able to communicate with the vomeronasal organ, a special organ meant for detecting pheromones, substances  left behind by certain animals for communicative purposes and that have an impact on the animal on the receiving end.

Horses, deer and goats, upon detecting pheromones, exhibit a distinct lip curl that is known as “flehem.” In a similar fashion, dogs have their own way to analyze pheromones. According to the book “Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat” by Gary M. Landsberg, Wayne L. Hunthausen and Lowell J. Ackerman, by panting and flicking their tongue against the incisive papilla dogs are better able to detect pheromones. The tongue flicks can also be accompanied by teeth chattering and foaming at the mouth. Once the information (at a molecular level) reaches the dog’s brain (the amygdala to be precise), it can trigger an emotional or physiological response.

Problems to Become Aware Of

Normally, the incisive papilla quietly sits there without creating any problems, but there may be times where things can become slightly problematic.  In the case of a malocclusion, where the dog’s teeth do not do not align correctly, the lower teeth may end up hitting the roof of the dog’s mouth. According to Animal Dentistry and Oral Surgery Specialists LLC, this may cause the incisive papilla to swell. It’s always good practice to get used to the normal appearance of the dog’s mouth so that dog owners can promptly report to their vet any odd looking lumps or bumps in the dog’s mouth.

References:

  • “Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat” by Gary M. Landsberg, Wayne L. Hunthausen and Lowell J. Ackerman,  Saunders Ltd.; 3 edition (December 28, 2012)
  • Animal Dentistry and Oral Surgery Specialists, The Oral Exam of Cats, Dogs, Rabbits and Rodents, retrieved from the web on May 17th, 2016
  • Virtua Vet, Top Five Panic Appointments (That Don’t Have to Be…) retrieved from the web on May 17th, 2016

I am Your Dog’s Anterior Cruciate Ligament

 

Not many people are aware that their dogs have cruciate ligaments. Dog owners often unexpectedly end up discovering this structure the very first time when they are at the vet because their dog is exhibiting rear leg limping that doesn’t seem to be getting any better. This body part is often underestimated and lives mostly in the shadow, yet, it plays a very important role in a dog’s ability to happily romp around. Today is dedicated to this fundamental structure which deserves more attention. So let’s have the dog’s cruciate ligament walk the red carpet today and put him on the spot of honor.

acl dogIntroducing Your Dog’s Cruciate Ligament

Hello, it’s your dog’s cruciate ligament talking! Actually, to be correct, we are actually two: the “anterior cruciate ligament” (ACL) and the posterior cruciate ligament” which is also known as the caudal cruciate ligament (CCL). However, you’ll hear vets talking about the anterior cruciate ligament much more because it’s the ligament that is more likely to cause trouble. So in this article, me, the anterior cruciate ligament (yes, the troublemaker!) will do the most talking. If you take a look at my name, you may notice how the word “cruciate” derives from the Latin word “cruciatus” which means “cross.” The word ligament, on the other hand, derives from the Latin word “ligamentum” from ligare  which means “to bind.” What does this all tell you? It tells you that I am a ligament made of fibrous tissue and that the term cruciate is used to refer to the fact that the anterior cruciate ligament and the posterior cruciate ligament criss-cross each other like the letter “X” as seen in the picture.

I Am A Stabilizer

My main job is to connect one bone to another so to stabilize (‘bind”) an important joint–in this case, we’re talking about the dog’s knee joint to be exact. Both me and my fellow posterior cruciate ligament basically work as a team holding together the femur and the tibia which make up the dog’s knee joint. Your hardly notice my hard work, but rest assured, I am very important! I basically keep your dog’s tibia from slipping forward, while my fellow posterior cruciate ligament keeps the tibia from slipping backwards.

When Things Go Wrongrottweiler cruciate ligament

When all goes well, I help stabilize your dog’s knee joint so your dog can romp around happily without the tibia bone slipping forward and causing an abnormal range of motion, but sometimes accidents happen. How do I rupture in the first place? It’s often an accident. Your dog may have taken a bad step or his leg may have gotten caught in a hole. Dogs who are overweight may be more susceptible to me rupturing especially when they jump off a bed or truck. Large breed dogs are more likely to suffer from my rupture.

If I get torn, things start getting complicating. The knee no longer stabilized, develops an abnormal range of motion and the dog feels pain. Rear-leg limping is the most evident sign of trouble and dogs may engage in sloppy sits (sitting with both legs out to the side) and they may “toe touch” (keep only the tips of the toes in contact with the floor) when standing. Dog owners may delay the vet visit assuming their dog just got a sprain, but it doesn’t get any better after a few days. I am not a fast healing structure, and I can only heal in two ways: a long period of rest (conservative management) or an expensive surgery.

“Almost all dogs with ACL problems sit to the side, even when sitting for a treat. Sometimes the lameness comes on quickly but often it’s a gradual progressive problem.”~Colorado Canine Orthopedics and Rehab

How does the vet test me to check if I am torn? There’s a very specific test called the “drawer sign.” The vet will basically move the dog’s leg a certain way to see if the knee joint feels unstable. The vet basically feels the tibia bone slipping forward, which is the most distinctive sign when I am torn and no longer keeping things together. However, don’t trust this test blindly, if your dog is tense or if the tear has been there for a while, the joint may appear stable, leading to a possible misdiagnosis. For this reason, some vets will opt to have this test done under sedation. X-rays may help provide some hints to rule out bone cancer and check if any secondary arthritis may have set in, because you see, when I am no longer there to stabilize things, the dog’s bones start slipping and rubbing against each other which can lead to arthritic changes down the road.

 As seen, I am an important structure! What can dog owners do to prevent me from rupturing? Well, you can’t really keep dogs in a safety bubble, but there are some things that may help. According to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, keeping your dog lean and active is a good way to help keep me in good shape as good muscle tone is important!

I hope this has helped you understand me better!

Kind regards,
Your Dog’s ACLDog Pawprint
References:
  • American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, Stabilizing the Stabilizer, retrieved from the web on Match 16th, 2016
  • Colorado Canine Orthopedics and Rehab, Clinical Signs of Canine ACL Tear, retrieved from the web on March 16th, 2016
  • Vet Specialists, Dog Cranial Cruciate Ligament Disease, retrieved from the web on March 16th, 2016
 Photo Credits:

Stunning Dogs With Two Colored Eyes

 

Beyond being the windows to the soul, dog eyes can come in several stunning colors. While the majority of dogs have dark brown eyes, some can also have amber eyes, copper eyes and blue eyes. In some cases though, dogs may have eyes of different colors, meaning that they have one eye of a color and the other one of another. These dogs aren’t really rare or unusual per se’, but we can’t deny that they can be quite intriguing looking dogs! One may wonder if there are any problems with these eyes, but generally there’s nothing wrong with the eyes of these fellows other than being different. Certain dog breeds are more prone than others to develop two eyes of different colors. Today we discover exactly how dogs develop two different colored eyes and what breeds are mostly affected.

Eye color is a matter of melanin
Eye color is a matter of melanin

The Effect of Melanin

Melanin is a pigment that gives color to a dog’s eyes, coat and skin. The color of a dog’s eyes depends on the concentration of melanin found in the dog’s iris, the pigmented structure surrounding the dog’s pupil. The more concentrated the melanin, the darker the eyes will be. When dogs present with eyes of different colors, the concentration of melanin differs between the eyes, therefore, it is not distributed uniformly. So for example, in a dog with a blue eye and a brown one, the brown eye has a higher concentration of melanin while the blue one will have considerably less.

Did you know? The scientific term for having two eyes of a different colors is “complete heterochromia.” Some breeders though like to refer to it as being “bi-eyed.”

husky eyes
Complete heterochromia in husky.

A Matter of Genes

The phenomenon of having eyes of two different colors is mostly because of genetics. In other words, it’s a trait that can be passed down from one generation to the next.  As mentioned, certain dog breeds are more likely to develop this trait compared to others. As appealing as having two colored eyes can be though, in certain dogs breeds it’s frowned upon and considered a fault in the show ring.

Dog Breeds With Two Different Colored Eyes

  • Siberian husky: we are used to seeing these dogs with blue eyes, but some fellows can have a blue eye and a brown one. This is acceptable in the American Kennel Club’s standard; indeed the standard states “eyes may be brown or blue in color; one of each or parti-colored. “
  • Australian shepherd: as with the Siberian husky, at times one may stumble on an Aussie with two colored eyes.  According to the United States Australian Shepherd Association,  Australian shepherds that boast a blue  or red merle coat may sometimes have a blue eye and a brown eye.
  • Louisiana Catahoula leopard dogs:  this all American dog breed that sports intriguing looking coats may also sometimes sport intriguing looking eyes  of a different color.
dog nuclear sclerosis
Bluish-grey haziness in nuclear sclerosis

Possible Eye Problems

There is a reason why in the introduction we said “generally” there is nothing wrong with dogs with two eyes of different colors. The word generally is in italics because there are sometimes exceptions to the rule. In this case though, the eyes generally aren’t of different colors to start with.

Sometimes dog owners may notice how one of their dog’s eyes start assuming a bluish tint or a cloudy look. When this happens, it’s important to report these changes to the vet. Medical conditions affecting the eye that may cause color changes or changes to the appearance of the eye include cataracts, nuclear sclerosis, glaucoma, anterior uveitis and corneal dystrophy. These are eye disorders that are known to possibly cause blue eyes in dogs, explains veterinarian Dr. Becker.

Other Types of Heterochromia

Sectoral heterochromia in dog
Sectoral heterochromia in dog

As discussed earlier, complete heterochromia is having one eye color that is different from the other, but many may not be aware that there is another form of heterochromia in dogs known as “sectoral heterochromia.” In this case,  within one eye, there is one color that is of a completely different color from the rest of the eye. This can sometimes be seen in the Australian shepherd, border collie, Welsh corgi,  Catahoula cur and great dane. It can also be found in other dog breeds that are known to also have the merle trait. An exception is the Siberian husky, which does not carry the merle trait but that may at times sport  two  different colors within the same eye.

 

Did you know? According to an ancient Native American legend dogs who had two different colored eyes were known as having”ghost eyes” because they were capable of seeing simultaneously heaven with the blue eye and earth with the brown eye.

 

References:

  • American Kennel Club: Siberian Husky Breed Standard, retrieved from the web on May 14h, 2016
  • Pet Education: Heterochromia: Eyes of Different Colors in Dog by Race Foster DVM, retrieved from the web on May 14th, 2016

Photo Credits:

Do Dogs Really Perceive Their Crates as Dens?

 

We often hear that dogs see their crates as dens and therefore we assume that they must be naturally drawn to them and therefore seek them out for comfort, but how true is that?  Last time we visited a pet store we overheard a store clerk recommending a crate for an owner who just purchased a puppy. The store clerk was emphasizing how puppies  love their crates and easily adjust to them due to their strong “denning instinct”. We never figured out if this was just an astute marketing strategy and if the clerk really believed in his claims. Regardless, today we went on our quest to discovering if  dogs really have this strong “denning instinct” as many pet store owners claim.

gopherThe *Real* Denning Animals 

“Denning is a natural instinct in dogs,” how many times have we heard this statement? First things first, what exactly is a den? From a human perspective, a den is often considered a small room, typically, a room that resembles a living room, but not that big to be considered a family room. In other words, it’s a place destined for comfort and tranquility.

In the animal world, on the other hand, a den is a burrow, a hole that is built by some ground-dwelling animals who have called their den their home. Their dens are meant to keep them safe from predators, and warm and dry from the elements.

What animals are the denning animals par excellence? Move over Rover, as last time we checked dogs weren’t part of this classification. Common den animals are gophers, groundhogs and moles, ground-dwelling animals who have made of their den, their primary residence.

So despite the fact that some dogs may have an instinct to hide in small places, or love to snuggle in blankets, despite what people say, dogs are not classified as denning animals. Even if we look back, prior to when dogs were domesticated, there is no proof of them living year-round in their dens as the actual denning animals par excellence do. So don’t expect Rover to magically emerge from his den in Punxsutawney on February 2nd!

 So Where Did The Instinct Come From?

Puppies are born in a helpless state.
Puppies are born in a helpless state.
It’s normal to be wondering then how all these denning instinct stories have become so popular over the years. Well, there’s a half truth when it comes to dens and dogs.
It perhaps all started because prior to domestication, the dog’s ancestors were raising their pups in what are known as “maternal dens.” Basically, when mother dog was getting ready to give birth, she would dig up a place to raise her puppies so they were safe, warm and dry. Puppies. being altricial, are born in a pretty much helpless state being deaf, blind and unable to regulate their temperatures, so the use of a den was a good choice to up the pup’s chances for survival.
Even as today, mother dogs still retain the instinct to build a den. Owners of pregnant dogs (and female dogs going through a false pregnancy), often observe how, as the birthing day nears, their dogs are prone to start digging on couches, sofas and in closets for the purpose of building a maternal den.
These behaviors are referred to as “nesting behaviors” and they are reminiscent of when the puppies were kept safe in a den until they reached about 10 to 12 weeks of age. Past this age, the pups would then start using their dens less and less and rely more on special rendezvous areas that can be compared to open-air kindergartens.

cribRegressing into the Crib

Because of the fact that puppies were once temporarily raised in maternal dens, we now assume that crates are the equivalent of dens, and as such, puppies should instinctively seek them. This has become a strong marketing propaganda where crates have often been compared to comfy dens.

New puppy or dog owners may therefore stumble on an element of surprise, when after purchasing the crate they come to realize that their puppy or dog doesn’t like to use it as they hoped.

This may cause frustration and some dog owners are so upset they give up using the crate or return it as if it was defective or perhaps believe their puppy or dog is “weird” since the denning instinct is not there.

Truth is, there are many reasons why crates are not similar at all to dens. First off, dogs are domesticated and many centuries separate them from their ancestors, but even if certain instincts may have persisted, when puppies are introduced to crates they are way past the age of when puppies in the wild were using maternal dens.

Most puppies are welcomed to their new homes around 8 to 12 weeks of age which is when in nature, pups are coming out of the den and are starting to explore their open- air rendezvous areas! No wonder why puppies aren’t naturally drawn to them and would rather stick around their family to explore their new surroundings and play! Sticking a puppy in a crate at this age is similar to putting a toddler back into a crib, right when he was getting the chances to enjoy the exhilarating sensation of exploring and walking around!

So What are Crates Then?dog crate

So if crates are not considered dens, what are they? Steven Lindsay in his book Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Procedures and Protocols” offers a good explanation. He claims: “The crate would not be a home, nor would it be a den, but more appropriately would simply be a “place for confinement.”

This explains why many puppies and dogs require a period of adjustment to start accepting their crate and why many dogs who were never used to a crate won’t instinctively start loving it just because of the “denning instinct.”  Shoving a puppy or adult dog in the crate and expecting them to be happy in them is a tad bit unrealistic.

It’s therefore important to create positive associations with the crate so that the puppy or dog doesn’t feel trapped in a place with no way out and starts to panic.

For dogs who have been kenneled in a shelter for possibly days, weeks or months a crate is the last place they want to go, especially since a crate is much smaller than the average kennel. Even puppies are often hesitant to enter a crate for the the very first time and may need some coaxing such as placing treats, a soft blanket or a toy to perk up their interest and reduce their tentative approaches.
Keeping the crate open at first is advisable so to not make the crate appear like a trap with no way out. With patience and positive associations, most puppies and dogs can learn to accept the crate just as they do with collars and leashes and crates can be used to confine them temporarily. And just as a reminder, a crate should not be used as a place to send the dog for punishment, unless you want the perfect recipe for a dog who hates it!
” “The crate would not be a home, nor would it be a den, but more appropriately would simply be a “place for confinement.” ~ Steven Lindsay

 dog dennBut My Dog Loves to Seek Out Den-Like Enclosures!

Many people may attest that their dogs naturally seek out a place where they can feel safe and comfy, so does that mean that he has a natural denning instinct and would do well in a crate without any need to give him time to adjust?  Not necessarily.

Fact is, when a dog goes under a table or chair when he feels overwhelmed by the grand kids or is scared of thunder, that’s a normal instinct to hide. Even cats do this when they are scared or looking for a quiet place to curl in a ball and sleep, and cats are definitively far from being den animals!

While it’s true that dogs used to make their soft sleeping areas by stepping on tall grass and it’s true that dogs often dig holes in the dirt to cool off in the dog days of summer, these sleeping areas are a far cry from a crate.

They are not made of plastic, but most of all, dogs go to these places voluntarily and they do not have a door that locks them up and fails to open for indefinite periods of time. And while it’s true that many terriers and dachshunds are drawn to sleeping under blankets, according to  Dr. Brenda Forsythe,  a certified applied animal behaviorist, these dogs are naturally attracted to cuddling under fluffy comforters because they were actually bred to burrow.

Other theories have it that dogs are attracted to “cavelike slumbering under blankets” simply because they are looking for warmth or have a desire to snuggle with their family, and yes, it has also been theorized that it may be a leftover trait from when in the old days pups were raised in small, dark maternal dens. However, once again, this doesn’t mean all dogs will come to love their crates without any previous conditioning to help them like them. This article is therefore simply to debunk the over-inflated notion that dogs perceive their crates as dens because they are denning animals by nature.

References:

  • Why Does My Dog… Crawl Under the Covers?, by Linda Fiorella, retrieved from May 12th, 2016
  • Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Adaptation and Learning, by Steven Lindsay,  Iowa State University Press; Volume One edition (January 31, 2000)

Study Reveals Plane Travel Stressful for Dogs

 

With spring in full swing and summer around the corner, more and more people will be planning on going on a trip and perhaps this involves taking Fido along for a plane ride. If plane travel can be scary to humans, it should not be hard to imagine how it must feel to dogs. While dogs cannot talk about their fears or join a fear of flying chat room for support, there are several ways to assess how they react emotionally and physiologically to plane travel. A study conducted back in 2002, evaluated how dogs reacted during air transportation and their findings confirm that yes, air travel can be quite stressful to dogs. Knowledge is however power, so if you are planning to travel with your dog, there are many things you can do prior to departure day to make the trip less stressful for both you are your four-legged  travel companion.

airplaneWhat The Study Found

In the study,  physiological and behavioral reactions to air transport were studied by observing several beagles. Some beagles were sedated prior to travel and some were not. It was found that the cortisol concentration levels of these dogs were high after ground and air transportation. During their whole trip, the highest increase in heart rate was registered during the loading and unloading procedure. During the trip, dogs were found to spend 50 percent of their time lying down and they were found to be inactive 75 percent of time, except during take-off. Since these findings were similar even in the sedated dogs, this seemed to suggest that the sedative used (acepromazine) didn’t seem to affect the dog’s physiological and behavioral stress responses. This though could have been likely because it was administered 5 hours prior to take off when pharmacokinetic studies had shown that its sedative effect tend to last about 4 hours when given at a dose of 1.3 to 1.5 mg/kg.

So How Stressful is Air Travel?

Not surprisingly, the study revealed that air travel is indeed stressful for dogs. Despite the study showing that transportation by road or by air were both stressful for dogs, their levels of stress though were lower than the levels measured by Beerda et al in a study where dogs where exposed to a loud noise, a falling bag or electric shock. However, there are chances that the discrepancies are due to the fact that, by the time the samples were collected, the dogs may already have habituated to the transport stressor.

dog crate
Keep the crate open the first few days.

What To Do

While the study revealed that both ground and air transportation can stress out dogs, there are many thing dog owners can do to reduce the stress. It’s quite normal for dogs to get stressed out by unconventional forms of travel due to the novelty of it and the fact that dogs are taken away from their comfort zones. Taking steps to get the dog more accustomed to travel can help make it less stressful and less scary, here are a few tips:

  • Purchase the crate your dog will be traveling in several weeks before the big travel date and get him accustomed to it from day one. Make the crate comfortable and cozy and make great things happen in it. Feed your dog his favorite treats in it and let him chew on his favorite bone in there. You can start off by keeping the door of the crate open at first.
  • As the study has shown, ground transportation can be as scary as air transportation. Get your dog used to traveling in his crate in the car weeks before travel date. Make fun trips to places your dog loves.
  • If you live near an airport, take your dog to the airport for brief “practice trips” and to get him gradually used to the noises. Make the trips there fun and don’t forget to bring high value treats to feed while there.
  • If the airport is far, you can  play recordings of airport noises and planes taking off and landing while you play with your dog and feed him treats so he can form positive associations with the noises. Make sure you start paying these recordings at low volume first and then increase the volume gradually.
  • Since loading and unloading seems to be the most stressful part of the whole trip according to the study, it might not hurt to place your dog in the travel crate, place the crate on a cart, and stroll around as you talk to your dog in a happy, reassuring tone. Make it fun!
  • Do not sedate your dog! The International Air Transport Association’s Live Animal Regulations warns against tranquilizing pets for air travel. Sedatives may lower blood pressure and may interfere with an animal’s ability  to regulate body temperature which can become problematic during airline travel. Also, sedatives may interfere with the dog’s ability to balance in the case there is turbulence during the flight.
  • Dr. Jeannine Berger, a board certified veterinary behaviorist suggests using Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) spray in the kennel or the collar version which can be placed on the dog 24 hours prior to the trip. Anxitane (L- theanine), a natural anxiolytic can also be used help reduce your dog’s anxiety and fear.
  • According to a study by Wells DA, aromatherapy may also be helpful. A touch of lavender on a cloth in the car may help sooth mildly anxious dogs.
  • Walk your dog prior to having him board the plane and give him the opportunity to relieve himself.

” It is recommended that you DO NOT give tranquilizers to your pet when traveling by air because it can increase the risk of heart and respiratory problems. Short-nosed dogs and cats sometimes have even more difficulty with travel.”~American Veterinary Medical Association

References:

  • Renée Bergeron, Shannon L. Scott, Jean-Pierre Émond, Florent Mercier, Nigel J. Cook, Al L. Schaefer, Can J Vet Res. 2002 July; 66(3): 211–216.
  • Beerda B, Schilder MBH, van Hooff JARAM, de Vries HW, Mol JA. Behavioural, saliva cortisol and heart rate responses to different types of stimuli in dogs. Appl Anim Behav Sci 1998; 58:365–381.
  • Beerda B, Schilder MBH, van Hooff JARAM, de Vries HW. Manifestations of chronic and acute stress in dogs. Appl Anim Behav Sci 1997;52:307–319.
  • Wells DA. Aromatherapy for travel-induced excitement in dogs. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2006;229:964-967.
 

What’s Up With Dogs Acting Odd Around Lemons?

 

Let’s face it: dogs can sure act weird around lemons. If you have never noticed that or given it a thought, consider that there are many testimonies about this, courtesy of the many YouTube video compilations of  dogs reacting to lemons. The latest one, features a cute Bernese Mountain dog pup dealing with Mr. Lemon (we featured this video at the bottom of the article in case you missed it). The videos are often hilarious to watch, but one question worth pondering is; what exactly makes dogs react this way? It’s not like the lemon ever did anything to the dog to deserve such a treatment! Yet, show them the yellow fruit and you’ll see dogs bark at it, fight against it or back away as if it was their worst enemy. What’s up with the citrus fruit?

eeks

Go Suck a Lemon

In the human world, lemons don’t have a very good reputation. We refer to crappy cars as lemons and when people are bothered by others they may tell them to “go suck a lemon.” Well, guess what? In the dog world, lemons are frowned upon too.

Dogs don’t need to suck on a lemon to detect its bitter taste as their powerful sense of smell may be enough to make them pucker up or drool in total disgust.

And no offense to lemons, the hatred is directed to many other specimens of the citrus family including limes, grapefruit and sometimes even sour oranges and mandarins. So yes, don’t expect to see Rover anytime  soon selling lemonade at the country fair stand!

 

The Effect of “Lemon Law”scared

We can’t blame dogs for their reactions to lemons. After all, even us humans make all sorts of sour faces when we try to eat a lemon, so for  a moment, let’s imagine how a dog who has a greater sense of smell may feel. Let’s just say it’s an effect of “lemon law” to make us and our dogs react this way!

A dog’s reaction to bad tastes though is there for a good reason. According to Stanley Coren, in a natural setting, bad tastes are often a red flag that informs animals that they may be dealing with something that can be potentially harmful, indigestible or even poisonous!

dog tipDid you know?  A dog’s reaction to bitter/bad tastes is why products like Grannick’s Bitter Apple Spray are effective in discouraging dogs from fur biting, hair chewing and licking of hot spots. However, surprisingly these products do not work  all the time and there are some dogs who can care less or even seem to  somewhat enjoy the bitter taste!

lemonA Good Reason to Hate Them

While it may be funny to watch dogs reacting to lemons, it could be that dogs may have a “gut feeling” that lemons are something that they should be somewhat “wary” about.

According to the ASPCA Poison Control, lemon plants can be toxic to dogs, toxic to cats and toxic to horses. Citrus limonia, the scientific name for the lemon tree, is known for containing essential oils and psoralens that can cause clinical signs of vomiting, diarrhea, depression and sensitivity to light due to its toxic principles.

While these problems are likely associated with the ingestion of parts of the lemon plant, according to the ASPCA, other than the problems associated with ingesting the stems or leaves of the citrus plant, the peels, fruit and seeds can also be a problem. Citrus acid and essential oils are to blame for causing irritation or even central nervous depression when stems, leaves, peels, fruits and seeds are ingested in large amounts.

The ASPCA though claims that small doses are not likely to cause anything more than a minor stomach upset. Luckily, in most cases, this is a no-brainer as most dogs don’t seem too eager to eat the yellow fruits!

“Small doses, such as eating the fruit, are not likely to present problems beyond minor stomach upset.” ~ASPCA

So What’s Up With Dogs and Lemons?

So if dogs don’t like lemons, why do they interact with them and act so oddly around them? The answer is that until dogs can talk and give us an exact explanation we won’t know for sure. Many dogs seem to show approach/avoidance reactions where they investigate the lemon, then they get a whiff of its intense smell or a bit of its sour taste, and then they back away only to go back to “attack it.” Other dogs try to avoid lemons like the plague after getting a whiff and some others will  try to play with them or bark at them as if they’re their worst enemies. Regardless, we can’t deny that their reactions are quite entertaining to watch and some are adorable too!

Funny Dogs Reacting To Lemons Compilation

Bernese Mountain Dog Versus Lemon

 

References:

  • ASPCA, People Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pets, retrieved from the web on May 12th, 2016
  • ASPCA, Lemon, retrieved from the web on May 12th, 2016
  • Psychology Today, How Good Is Your Dog’s Sense of Taste? by Stanley Coren, retrieved from the web on May 12th, 2016

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