Dog Word of the Day: Microchip


Technology today has advanced quite a lot and it’s not surprising if the use of identifying integrated circuits through the use of a microchip has involved dogs. Microchips, implanted for the purpose of reducing the number of lost dogs, has become a quite popular practice nowadays, but it’s important to know several facts about microchipping dogs such as the how microchip work, whether they are painful to implant, how much they cost, what to do when you must change address and any dangers associated with microchip implantation in dogs.

How Dog Microchip Work

A microchip next to a grain of rice.
A microchip next to a grain of rice.

Microchip basically consist of an identifying integrated circuit that’s implanted under the dog’s skin. A microchip uses what’s known as passive Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID).

What does a dog microchip look like? The chip is about the size of a grain of rice and is enclosed in bio-compatible glass. It’s small enough to fit through a hollow hypodermic needle.

Typically, microchip are implanted between the dog’s shoulder blades by a veterinarian using a syringe as when giving a vaccination. However, instead of injecting antigens, the hollow needle, which is larger than the average needle used for vaccines, implants the chip.

The chip contains a unique ID number encoded into its integrated circuit. It is meant to be scanned through a handheld microchip scanner which animal control officers, shelters and veterinary offices carry.

When the chip is scanned, it reveals  the identification number and the phone number of the registry for the particular brand of chip, as long as the dog owner correctly registered the dog with the chip manufacturer, distributor or pet recovery service.

idea tipDid you know? Registering the dog is the most important step in the microchip process. Failure to register a dog with a microchip means that should the dog get lost, the shelter may not be able to trace the dog back to his owners. A chip without contact information is basically useless, yet some people forget to do this!

Handheld Scanner Concerns dog-microchip-scanner

Something to be aware of is that sometimes, for some reason or another, certain scanners may not be able to properly read certain microchip.

Microchip are inert objects that are only activated by a certain radio frequency broadcast by the scanner. The scanner must therefore send a specific radio signal of a certain frequency to read the chip

If that radio frequency doesn’t match the specific frequency of radio wave necessary to activate the microchip, the scanner won’t read it.

While today, more and more microchip manufacturers are trying to craft their microchip in such a way to that all scanners can read them (e.g universal scanners), some can only be read by specific scanners, which can create problems.

For example, some scanners may only detect 134.2 kHz ISO standard microchips, but might not  detect the 125 kHz or 128 kHz non-ISO standard microchipsFortunately though, most microchips can be read after trying different scanners.

 “I can think of a couple of cases over my career where the client said they had a microchip and I couldn’t find it with my universal scanner.  In those cases I recommended going back to the shelter or vet who implanted the chip and have them scan it with one of their scanners.” ~Dr. Chris Bern

warning cautionDid you know? Microchips are not foolproof, sometimes they aren’t read well because of incorrect scanning technique, presence of matted hair covering the chip, excess body fat and a collar with a lot of metal interfering, warns veterinarian Dr. Mary Fuller.

veterinaryDog Microchip Health Concerns 

As with anything “foreign” item introduced to a dog’s body, there are chances the microchip may be “rejected” or that it may cause trouble.

Both in humans and dogs, there are chances that the immune system may react to metals and other inorganic materials.

A series of studies published between 1996 and 2006, found a potential link between implanted microchips and cancer in laboratory animals. The research found that between 1 and 10 percent of microchipped mice and rat developed fast-growing sarcomas, fibrosarcomas, and other invasive cancers closeby or around the microchip.

In dogs, there have been two confirmed cases of cancer developing from microchip implants. While these are small statistics, they are worth considering and it’s important to balance out the chances of possibly losing a pet from escape versus possibly losing a pet to cancer. The WSAVA Microchip Committee came to the conclusion that the benefits of microchip outweighs the potential health risks.1

“The evidence does suggest some reason to be concerned about tumor formations.”~Dr. Chand Khanna, veterinary oncologist.

Dog Microchip Painvet

Does microchip implantation hurt? We found several websites say that it hurts no more than a vaccination, but we think this varies on an individual basis.

As people, dogs have different pain tolerance levels. For instance, one of our dogs yelped in pain when the microchip was implanted, while our other didn’t even notice it.

According to Chewelah Veterinary Clinic, a 12 to 14 gauge needle is used for microchip implantation which is roughly the size of a belly button ring piercing.

What options do dog owners have if they are concerned about pain? They can ask for a local anesthetic or they can alternatively have the implantation done while the dog is under anesthesia such as a during a spay or neuter surgery or dental cleaning.

“At my practice we would never even consider microchipping without some local anesthetic… No matter what you have been told, the procedure hurts — the chip is inserted with a really big 12-gauge needle!”~Dr. Karen Becker

dogsThings to Consider

While a microchip can work wonders for re-uniting a lost dog to his family, it’s still important for the dog to wear his collar and ID tags. Why is that? For the simple fact that most people do not have a handheld scanner to find your contact information. So unless, they bring the dog to a shelter or veterinarian, they may never know who the dog belongs to.

The first thing most people do when they find a lost dog is to check the collar and tags. If your dog wears a collar and tags with information on it, you’re more likely to get a phone call from people who have found him rather than taking him to the shelter. It might also be a good idea to have the dog wear a tag with the chip number and registry phone number, just in case.

What happens to your dog’s microchip if you must move? In that case, you will need to update your contact information by contacting the chip manufacturer, distributor or  registry. Usually, this is done for a fee so that they can process the new information.

warning cautionDid you know? Microchip have a tendency to occasionally “migrate” moving to other areas of the dog’s body away from the original implantation site. For this reason, it’s important to pass the scanner all over the dog’s body so to detect it.

The Bottom Linemaverick-dog

Every year, thousands of dogs are lost and many are not re-united with their owners. When dogs without ID tags  or microchip end up in a shelter, they risk being adopted out or even euthanized, if they cannot be traced back to their owners in a timely matter, points out veterinarian Dr. Concannon..

Also, should a dog escape and get hit by a car and a good Samaritan brings the dog to a vet, the microchip’s information may allow veterinarians to get in touch with the owners quickly for approval of life-saving procedures such as emergency surgery.

Microchip are ultimately the best form of identification presently available. They stay in place for the life of the dog while collars and tags can eventually come off or be lost.They don’t require a surgical procedure to implant and are also fairly cheap to implant. The average microchip implantation for dogs costs between 25 and 50 dollars with the registration generally ranging from 30 to 45 dollars. Some shelters offer free microchip implantation when a pet is adopted.

While a microchip does not have GPS capability to locate a missing pet, as of today, microchips remain the best option for re-uniting dogs with their beloved owners. It’s up to dog owners therefore to make an informed decision about whether it’s something they want to consider.



  • Todd Lewan, “Chip Implants Linked to Animal Tumors.” Associated Press. September 8, 2007.
  • Blanchard, KT, et al. “Transponder-induced sarcoma in the heterozygous p53+/- mouse.” Toxicologic Pathology. 1999;
  • Tillmann, T, et al. “Subcutaneous soft tissue tumours at the site of implanted microchips in mice.” Experimental and Toxicologic Pathology. 1997;49:197200.
  • Albrecht, K. “Microchip-Induced Tumors in Laboratory Rodents and Dogs: A Review of the Literature 1990-2006.”
  • Microchip Implants, Answers to Frequently Asked Questions, Katherine Albrecht, retrieved from the web on October 19th, 2016
  • Microchip-Induced Tumors in Laboratory Rodents and Dogs: A Review of the Literature 1990–2006, Katherine Albrecht retrieved from the web on October 19th, 2016
  • World Small Animal Veterinary Association, WSAVA microchip survey results – Nov. 2002

Photo Credits:

  • An RFID chip (also known as PIT tag) next to a grain of rice. No machine-readable author provided. Light Warrior assumed (based on copyright claims).No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims). Public Domain
  • Example of an RFID scanner used with animal microchip implants.Oscar111 -RFID scanner Public Domain
  • A vet examines a dog in New York, Archivist1174Own work, Photo of New York State Assemblyman Dr. Stephen M. “Steve” Katz at the Bronx Veterinary Center.CC BY-SA 3.0


Dog Word of the Day: Approach-Avoidance Conflict


Did it ever happen to you to be almost irresistibly drawn to something, yet fear it somehow? Perhaps, cold feet before a wedding or an urge to watch horror movies no matter how scary? In dogs these conflicting emotions tend to happen quite often in what is called approach avoidance conflict. You might therefore see your dog cautiously advance and stretch to inspect something, but at the same time you can tell from his body language that he’s ready to withdraw at a moment’s notice.  What’s going on? As much as it may seem like your dog has an ambivalent personality, this approach/avoidance strategy can be considered quite adaptive, meaning that it’s something that has helped dogs survive throughout the centuries; however, as with everything, too much of a good thing can become problematic.

dog-approach-avoidanceA Closer Look

If your dog seems to be the canine personification of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, rest assured you are not alone. Countless doggies may give the impression of dying to go meet somebody one second, and then act fearfully or even defensive, the next. What’s going on?

These dogs are basically the poster child of approach-avoidance behaviors, approaching and then retreating in what seems to resemble an ambiguity dance. It’s almost as if these dogs are unable to make a decision on whether that “somebody” should be categorized as a friend or foe. However, most likely there’s more going on beyond a rational level and there may likely be instinctive behaviors intertwined.

It may be that perhaps the dog is drawn to a person because he may have stored somewhere in his brain that similar encounters may have produced positive results or the dog may be just plain curious.

Yet, he may be tentative in embracing a new experience because of a past negative experience or it may be that it’s just plain instinct at play taking over. This therefore triggers the need to proceed with caution, slowly and carefully, an inch at a time. Displacement behaviors such as barking or whining, can also be seen in such conflicting situations, explains Jean Donaldson, in the book “Oh Behave!: Dogs from Pavlov to Premack to Pinker.

“Approach avoidance occurs when the behavioral goal is both attractive and aversive.” ~Steven Lindsay (2000)

A History of Reinforcementapproach-avoidance-in-dog

Both approach and avoidance behaviors may be backed up by a history of reinforcement. Reinforcement occurs when behaviors tend to repeat and strengthen.

If the dog in the past approached people and the encounter ended positively such as the person giving the dog a cookie or doing something else that the dog likes, the behavior of approaching is positively reinforced. This means that the dog will likely be open to greeting people more and more in future encounters as the dog feels rewarded from engaging in such encounters.

Just like dogs, people also tend to repeat actions that were positively reinforced. If you love to shop, and last time you went shopping to a particular store you found great deals, you’ll likely want to go to shopping at that store more and more.

However, if in the past, the dog approached people and the encounter ended negatively such as the person suddenly sneezing or doing something else that the dog perceives as scary (eg. looming over him or patting him on the head), the behavior of backing away and withdrawing is negatively reinforced. This means that the dog will likely withdraw more and more in future encounters as the dog feels relieved from withdrawing from such scary encounters..phew!….

Just like dogs, people also tend to repeat actions that were negatively reinforced. If you are terrified of flying and last time you flew you encountered bad weather and terrible turbulence, next time your flight is cancelled due to bad weather, you’ll likely feel great relief and you’ll likely feel tempted to avoid flying in bad weather more and more.

“Approach motivation is the energization of behavior by, or the direction of behavior toward, positive stimuli (objects, events, possibilities), whereas avoidance motivation is the energization of behavior by, or the direction of behavior away from, negative stimuli (objects, events, possibilities). ~Andrew J. Elliot

dog fearBetween Opposing Forces

What happens when a dog is drawn to something and yet at the same time is fearful? Conflict arises. Conflict is the struggle between two opposing forces. So the dog is respectively drawn and repelled to a stimulus at the same time. For instance, from a distance a stranger may appear desirable, but then as the dog gets closer to the person, he or she appears less desirable and even a tad bit scary causing the dog to approach and then withdraw.

For a good reason many  dog trainers and behavior consultants object to having strangers directly hand food out to your dog. The dog is leery of the stranger, but then the treat he is offering is oh, so tempting! His nose is drawn to the outstretched hand holding the treat, yet his body is screaming to be cautious. So Rover ends up tentatively approaching and then stretching his neck, but in the meanwhile he’s realizing how close he is to the stranger, so he may back off startled. Since this fearful reaction is the last thing that happened, this negative impression is what’s likely going to be remembered in any future encounters, so there’s ultimately little to no progress in liking or trusting strangers this way.

“When a dog has both reason to avoid and reason to approach something or someone, she will probably vacillate back and forth between affiliative, aggressive and appeasement signals… The behavior of a motivationally conflicted dog can be a risky situation for a person interacting with the dog because the dog may go either way. If you make a wrong move, the dog could shift into aggressive behaviors.”~ James O’ Heare

An Example of Approach Avoidance Conflict in Dog

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional behavioral advice. If your dog is manifesting behavioral problems, please be safe and consult with a professional.

Dog Word of the Day: Lymphadenopathy


Dogs, just like us, have several lymph nodes in their bodies which are meant to help fight infections. When a dog’s lymph nodes swell, this is often a sign of the body doing its job in trying to get rid of inflammation or an infection. The term ‘lymphadenopathy’ is used to refer to enlarged lymph nodes. When the enlargement is due to an underlying infection affecting the lymph node, the condition is medically known as lymphadenitis. Any time a dog presents with swollen lymph nodes, it’s important to see a vet sooner than later so to help the dog combat the infection, but also because often swollen lymph nodes may be indicative of lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.

dog-lymp-node-location-chart A Word About Dog Lymph Nodes

Dogs have several lymph nodes in their bodies and the most commonly enlarged are the ones found where the lower jaw joins the neck (submandibular) in the front area of the chest (prescapular), behind the armpit area (axillary), by the groin area (inguinal) and at the back of the leg (popliteal).

Lymphadenopathy, the enlargement of a dog’s lymph nodes may occur in different patterns.

For example, a dog may display a single swollen lymph node in only one area of the body (localized or solitary) or restricted to an area where the lymph nodes are usually interconnected (regional) or, as seen in multiple lymphadenopathy, there may be  multiple swollen lymph nodes in more than one area of the body (generalized or multicentric lymphadenopathy).

When lymph nodes enlarge in dogs, they may do so because of reactive lymphoid hyperplasia,  lymphadenitis and cancer.

 idea tipDid you know? The peripheral lymph nodes are the ones that are palpable (capable of being touched by hand), whereas, the internal visceral lymph nodes are those tucked inside the dog’s body which often require imaging techniques to detect any enlargements.

A Matter or Reactivitylymph node

Reactive lymphoid hyperplasia takes place when a lymph node becomes “reactive” due to inflammation or infection present somewhere in the dog’s body.  In this case, the lymph nodes enlarge because they become “reactive”upon encountering a stimulus such as bacteria or viruses and start producing an excessive amount of white blood cells.  The swelling is therefore often due to the proliferation of lymphocytes and plasma cells.

The reaction to stimulation is sort of like a burglar alarm that’s constantly on guard against intrusive antigens. Reactive hyperplasia therefore simply means the lymph node has enlarged in response to an infection; however, there is no actual lymph node infection. Sometimes autoimmune conditions or systemic infections may be a trigger for lymphoid hyperplasia.

lymph-node-face-dogA Matter of Infection

Sometimes, the lymph nodes themselves become inflamed. In this case, the inflammation is within the lymph node (lymphadenitis) and is often secondary from a local infection. Basically, when a foreign invader such as an infectious agent gains access to the dog’s lymph nodes, which work as filters of the immune system, the body responds quickly by triggering an immune system response consisting of increased white blood cell production. This increased production causes the lymph nodes nearby the inflamed and infected area to swell causing “lymphadenitis.

Often dogs have other accompanying symptoms other than the enlarged lymph nodes. For example, if a dog has an infection in a back paw, he might be limping on top of having the lymph nodes further up the leg inflamed. However, limping may, yes, occur because the foot is sore, but also because the enlarged lymph nodes may be painful, explains veterinarian Race Foster. Also, in the presence of an infection, the dog may have a fever. Fortunately, once the infection is treated, the enlarged lymph nodes should return to their normal size.

“Lymphoid hyperplasia is a condition in which the lymph nodes produce an excess of white blood cells in response to an infection elsewhere in the body. Lymphadenitis is an infection of the lymph nodes themselves, either as the primary disease or a secondary condition.” ~Dr. Karen Becker

A Matter of Cancerdog enlarged lymph node neck

Lymphoma is a possible cause of unexplained enlarged lymph nodes.  This condition is quite quick in onset, with owners often noticing painless lymph node enlargement almost overnight. Lymphoma is divided in different stages.

In stage 1, only one lymph node is affected, in stage 2, several lymph nodes sharing the same regional area are involved, in stage 3, there is generalized lymphoadenopathy, in stage 4, the liver and/or spleen is involved, and in stage 5, the bone marrow is involved.

Depending on what substage the dog is in, there may or may not be signs of systemic illness such as loss of appetite, lethargy, weight loss.

Generally, the enlargement of lymph nodes in dogs affected by cancer or lymphadenitis is quite significant with the lymph nodes presenting as five to ten times larger than normal compared to the size involving a benign reactive process, explains veterinarian Michael J. Day.

idea tipDid you know? Sometimes lymph nodes get so enlarged they cause problems. For instance swollen lymph nodes by a dog’s groin area (inguinal)may cause trouble defecating, whereas, several enlarged glands by the neck area can make it difficult for the dog to swallow, eat or breath.

“Four out of five dogs with lymphoma or lymphosarcoma have tumors that start in multiple places (multicentric). There is bilateral and symmetrical swelling of the lymph nodes without pain.”~VCA Animal Hospital

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog has an enlarged lymph node, please see your vet promptly for proper diagnosis and treatment.


  • Clinicians’ Brief, Lymphoma in Dogs: Diagnosis & Treatment retrieved from the web on Oct 5th, 2016
  • DVM360, Cytology in evaluation of lymphoid tissue in the dog and cat (Proceedings) retrieved from the web on Oct 5th, 2016
  • Cytology of Lymph Nodes, CL Davis Drs Thrall and Meuten, retrieved from the web on Oct 5th, 2016

Photo Credits:

  • Lymphoma in a Golden Retriever,,Joel MillsOwn work This is a 12 year old Golden Retriever with lymphoma. The left submandibular lymph node is swollen. CC BY-SA 3.0
  • Diagram of a lymph node, Cancer Research UKOriginal email from CRUK, CC BY-SA 4.0

Dog Word of the Day: Booster Shot


If you own a puppy or dog, you may stumble on the word “booster shot” upon visiting the veterinarian but what exactly are booster shots in dogs? As the name implies, booster shots are vaccinations that are meant to boost your dog’s immune system so that he is better protected against disease. Puppies are often given a series of shots starting at the age of 6 to 8 weeks which are given about every three to four weeks until the puppy is about 16 to 20 weeks old. Adult dogs get booster shots too throughout their lives oftem on a yearly basis, but frequency of shots often remains a subject of heated debates.

dog-booster-shotThe Role of Memory Cells

A booster shot is basically an extra dose of a vaccine that is given after an earlier dose (prime dose). Basically, it’s a  re-exposure meant to increase immunity so that the dog’s memory cells are reminded about the antigen. To define it extra simply, a booster shot can be described as a ‘reminder’ to your puppy’s or dog’s immune system.

To better understand this, one must learn how the immune system works. Interestingly, the immune system has special memory cells, in the sense that when the body fights virus or bacteria, these memory cells remember their invaders so that they can fight them readily a second or third time.

The best part, is that when these memory cells readily recognize a bacteria or virus, their time to defeat them greatly shortens as they produce many more antibodies than before. While immunity to a specific virus can be built when a dog becomes infected, the same immunity can be accomplished through vaccination.

A vaccine is basically a very weak or dead version of specific viruses or bacteria that sends your dog’s memory cells on high alert so that they can successfully fight these invaders in future encounters, but with the great advantage of not making the puppy or dog sick. This offers a win-win situation which comes very handy especially when it comes to defeating very dangerous illnesses in dogs such as parvo or distemper.

A Word About Puppiespuppies nursing

Shortly after puppies are born, mother dog produces a special type of milk known as colostrum. This special type of milk is produced by mom only for a brief period of time, usually the first 12 to 24 hours after the pup’s birth.

It’s estimated that puppies receive about 98 percent of their immunity from this milk, explains veterinarian Dr. Race Foster. These maternal antibodies passed to the puppy basically only cover diseases that mother dog had been recently vaccinated against.

The reason why puppies are first vaccinated at around 6 to 8 weeks of age is because prior to that, maternal antibodies will still be in the puppies’ bloodstream, and thus, would block the shot’s effectiveness.

After a few weeks though, the levels of maternal antibodies will drop to a low enough level so that the vaccine will work; however, the level of absorption may not be high enough to provide complete protection.

Did you know? Vaccines do not start working in protecting puppies and dogs immediately after they are administered. When a vaccine is given, the antigens must first be recognized and then must be remembered by the immune system. According to Race Foster, it may take up to 14 days for full protection to be achieved.

vetA Look at Vaccination Schedules

To up the chances for absorption, puppies must be vaccinated following a precise schedule. According to a study, at 6 weeks of age, about 25 percent of puppies can be immunized, at 9 weeks, 40 percent, at 16 weeks 60 percent and by 18 weeks, 95 percent.

These results suggest that at least three booster shots given about 3 to 4 weeks apart will need to be given to provide protection and build up defenses until the puppy is about 16 weeks of age.

Afterward, these booster shots may need to be given on an annual basis. Yearly booster shots often consist of parvovirus, distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, leptospirosis, coronavirus, hepatitis, lyme (borelia) and bordetella (kennel cough) which is often recommended every 6 months. A rabies booster shot is often recommended (depending on locations and other factors) either annually or every 3 years.

“For patients that have low-risk lifestyles or whose owners want less frequent vaccination, your veterinarian may recommend giving certain “core” or essential viral vaccines to your dog on a three year schedule.”~Ernest Ward, DVM, VCA Animal Hospitals

Titer Testing in Dogsdog-vaccine-booster-shot

A main problem with booster shots is that they are often given too often, when they are not really needed.

For instance, according to the Rabies Challenge Fund, contrary to common knowledge, studies have revealed that when the duration of protective immunity was measured by serum antibody titers, protection against rabies appeared to persist for even seven years post-vaccination!

Titer testing is an effective way to determine the level of antibodies against a specific disease in a dog’s body. Titer testing reveals the level of anamnestic response, that is, how good the memory of memory cells is and how quickly they respond after a certain amount of time has elapsed from when the primary vaccine was administered. If the anamnestic response is high, the veterinarian may determine there is most likely no need for a booster shot.

While this sounds great, there are a few disadvantages associated with titer tests. One major one is that according to VCA animal hospitals, a high serum antibody, doesn’t guarantee protection against a specially virulent strain of the disease. Another unfortunate disadvantage is that if a specific antibody titer is found to be low, a booster shot that covers a single disease may not be available, and if it is, it often costs more than a multivalent vaccine that covers several diseases. Finally, titer testing in dogs costs more than the actually booster shot, so people often opt to just give the booster shot instead rather than going through the titer testing hassle.

“In kids, we eventually stop vaccinations after puberty; in adults, vaccinations are usually given in a series. But with our pets, we continue booster shots until they are well into their senior years.” ~Dr. Karen Becker

How much do booster shots generally cost? Generally, the cost for core vaccines like rabies, distemper and parvo are around $20 to $30, not including the veterinary office visit fee which may range between 35 to 75 dollars. Non-core vaccinations such as bordetella, lepto and lyme may cost a bit less, around 10 to 15 dollars.

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. Consult with your veterinarian to determine which vaccines are appropriate for your puppy or dog.



  • Klingborg, DJ; Hustead, DR; Curry-Galvin, EA; Gumley, NR; Henry, SC; Bain, FT; et al. AVMA Council on Biologic and Therapeutic Agents’ report on cat and dog vaccines. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. November 15, 2002 (Volume 221, No. 10); 1401-1407.
  • Rabies Challenge Fund, Why Challenge Current Rabies Vaccine Policy?, retrieved from the web on Sept 28th, 2016
  • VCA Animal Hospitals, Vaccination – Are Booster Vaccines Necessary for Dogs, retrieved from the web on Sept 28th, 2016


Dog Word of the Day: Hematochezia


In simple words, hematochezia is the medical term for blood in a dog’s stool. Dog owners who routinely observe their dogs’ daily outputs are at an advantage as they get to recognize signs of trouble such as diarrhea, the presence of parasites or fresh blood in the dog’s stool. The presence of hematochezia is often concerning for dog owners as they possibly associate the presence of blood in the dog’s stool with serious health conditions such as cancer. However, in dogs hematochezia is not always necessarily as troublesome, but it’s sure worthy of veterinary investigation so to identify the underlying cause and have it addressed.

blood-in-dog-stoolWhat Does Hematochezia Look Like?

Hematochezia in dogs appears as blood in the dog’s stool. Unlike melena, the blood is red, which means it’s fresh, frank blood that has not been digested. The blood may appear as streaks over the stool or mixed within it or there may be a few droplets of blood at the end of the bowel movement. Dogs owners often describe it as “my dog has bright blood in her poop” or “my dog passed blood clots in her stool.” The stool may be firm but it is often soft in consistency and may also appear as liquid diarrhea.

Where is the Blood Coming From?

While melena appears as dark, tarry stools, suggesting bleeding from the upper digestive tract, in hematochezia the presence of fresh, red blood is suggestive instead of bleeding in the lower intestinal tract. This means the blood may be coming from the dog’s descending colon or rectum. As mentioned, the presence of fresh, red blood in the dog’s stool can be frightening to witness, but in dogs it’s generally less frequently associated with life threatening diseases as those seen with melena, explains veterinarian W. Grant Guilford in the book “Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine. ” However, there are several conditions associated with blood in dog’s stools that can be worrisome.

What Does it Mean?vet

What causes hematochezia in dogs? Colitis, the inflammation of the dog’s colon is often a common culprit. Affected dogs typically have blood and mucus in the stool. Typically, the dog’s stools start off on the soft side and then become progressively gelatinous, shiny and with mucus, explains veterinarian Dr. Fiona. The mucus is produced by the colon when inflamed, while the blood is caused by erosions that trigger bleeding. Colitis is often seen with dietary indiscretions, abrupt food changes, presence of parasites or protozoans and even stress. In puppies, vomiting, diarrhea and bloody stools can be indicative of parvo virus which needs immediate veterinary attention. Other possibilities that require immediate veterinary attention include hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, blood clotting disorders and ingestion of rat poison.

Did you know? Dog owners often assume their dogs have hemorrhoids when they notice fresh blood on a dog’s stool. Dogs though don’t get hemorrhoids like humans do, but are more likely to get an impacted/infected anal glands, explains veterinarian Dr. Peter. These can sometimes be oozing bright red blood. Other possibilities are polyps in the dog’s colon or rectum, trauma to the anal area and sometimes cancer of the lower bowel.

What Should Dog Owners Do?dog pain goes away at the vet

Blood in a dog’s stool can be a minor, temporary problem or it could be a serious one that needs immediate veterinary attention such as parvo virus, a blood clotting disorder or ingestion of rat poison. It’s always best to play the “better safe than sorry” practice.

Blood in a dog’s stool is not normal and should be investigated by a veterinarian so that the underlying cause can be addressed. Bringing a stool sample along for the vet visit is a good starting point so that the vet can confirm or rule out presence of parasites or protozoans.

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog has bloody stools, please see your vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.

DVM Greg Martinez Discusses Mucus and Red Blood in Stool



Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Saunders; 7 edition (January 7, 2010)

Photo Credits:

  • A vet examines a dog in New York, Archivist1174Own work, Photo of New York State Assemblyman Dr. Stephen M. “Steve” Katz at the Bronx Veterinary Center.CC BY-SA 3.0

Dog Word of the Day: Flirt Pole


Among the many toys and gadgets purposely crafted for a dog’s entertainment, the flirt pole deserves a spot of honor as it can provide loads of fun and allows a great outlet for dogs who like to chase things. Not many stores are equipped with flirt poles, but they are becoming more and more popular as more and more dog trainers are suggesting them for dogs in need of expressing their prey drive in a non-destructive way. Since flirt poles increase exercise, they benefit dogs in many ways such as improving their balance and motor skills and strengthening those  joints and muscles.

flirt-poleIntroducing the Flirt Pole

Also known as “flirt stick,” a flirt pole can be described as the giant version of a classical cat toy where feathers are attached to a string  to entice lazy kitties to play. This comparison after all, is not too bad, considering that the purpose is the same: to coax the animal to chase a fast moving object. A flirt pole though is a tad bit different. It’s best described as a pole made out of light wood or plastic with a lure attached at the end, quite similar in appearance to a fishing pole, only that unlike a fishing pole, the string cannot be retracted. The lure attached at the end usually consists of a toy, but can also be a rag, pieces of fleece or an animal’s hide.

Uses for Flirt Poles

Flirt poles can be used in different ways. The lure can be dragged on the ground to stimulate a dog to chase it around. The owner may stand still in one spot and move the lure snapping the pole around erratically, or by swinging the pole higher, the owner can entice the dog to jump in an effort to catch  the lure, but be careful though, as this can hurt the  dog’s joints, especially in young dogs who are developing. Always talk to your vet first before engaging your dog in jumping activities ans high-impact sports. A warm-up period is recommended to prevent muscle sprains. Here are some ideas on how to use the flirt pole.

  • Flirt poles may come handy for puppies and young dogs who have lots of energy and live in small places.  Make sure the area is clear of anything that can be knocked over.
  • Flirt poles can provide an alternative to chasing squirrels or wildlife.
  • It can make a fun rainy-day activity for bored, under stimulated dogs.
  • A flirt pole can be also used as a way to improve a dog’s performance in certain doggy sports.
  • Does your dog have too much energy on walks? Use a flirt pole to tire him out before a walk.
  • Use it to train toy-motivated dogs by allowing them to play with it after performing a wanted behavior.
  • Dogs can be taught to catch and release the lure on cue as done with tug toys. Praise your dog for catching and then ask to release. Then, resume the game. If you wish to attain better impulse control you can ask a dog to sit or lie down before resuming the game..
  • Use a flirt pole to work on the “stay” cue, “leave it”  or “drop it” cue to improve your dog’s obedience training.
  • Keep it handy on walks, when you need to distract your dog from something that he focuses too much on.

A Word of Cautionflirt-pole-2

Laser pointers, special gadgets that emit a small red dot of light that dogs chase around, have been known for causing obsessive behaviors in dogs. A main problem with laser toys is that they stimulate a dog’s nervous system triggering the chasing instinct, but since dogs never get a chance to physically catch the red dot, they never get a sense of closure and this can cause obsessive behaviors to put roots. “I’ve seen light chasing as a pathology where they will just constantly chase around a light or shadow and pounce upon it. They just spend their whole lives wishing and waiting,” explains Nicholas Dodman, veterinary behaviorist and professor at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

Flirt poles, on the other hand, are a preferable option as the dog actually is given the opportunity to interact with and catch the object at the end of the pole. It’s therefore important to allow the dog to eventually catch the lure and play with it every now and then, something dogs cherish  doing since they ultimately never get to catch those squirrels in yard (hopefully)!

Did you know?  Trainers of bomb and drug sniffing dogs know for a fact that fruitless searches where they never get to find anything may overtime cause them to become mentally drained. To prevent this mental fatigue from interfering with their jobs, trainers must occasionally take their dogs on dummy missions where they finally get to find something and are rewarded for it.

DIY Flirt Pole For Dogs

For those who like to hand craft their own things, a flirt pole can make an easy Do-It-Yourself project. Simply arm yourself with about 3 feet of PVC pipe and thread an 8 feet long rope through it making a double knot so that it doesn’t slide out of the pipe. Next, securely tie a toy such as a small stuffed animal at the end of the rope and you’re done! Don’t feel like making a flirt pole yourself? No worries, if your local pet shop doesn’t stock them, you can always find them in many online stores today who can deliver it straight to your door.

Did you know? Play behaviors which include elements from predatory behavior activate a dog’s endogenous reward system, explains Mechtild Käufe in the book “Canine Play Behavior: The Science Of Dogs At Play.”



Canine Play Behavior: The Science Of Dogs At Play, Mechtild Käufe, Dogwise Publishing (22. Oktober 2014)

Photo Credits:

Dog Word of the Day: Sloppy Sit


There are normal sits and then there are sloppy sits in the world of dogs. While many dogs tend to sit sloppily, it’s important to consider that at times, sloppy sitting in dogs can be an early sign of a medical problem. Not all dogs show outward signs of discomfort or pain when they are hurt, and many dogs are pretty stoic when it comes to hiding their chronic pain, often causing small manifestations to be missed by dog owners. Sitting sloppy may be one of them, therefore it’s important to carefully evaluate whether there’s a physical problem at the bottom of this behavior, preferably with the aid of a veterinarian to play it safe.

sloppy sit 1A Dog’s Sloppy Sit

What does it mean for a dog to sit sloppy? Normally, when a dog sits, the rear legs are tucked nicely under the hips and kept close to the body. In a sloppy sit, the legs are kept loosely and off to one side or perhaps one or both legs are stretched outwards in front as seen in the dog in the picture on the left.

The sloppy sit in dogs is often compared to the position of a lady riding a horse with the legs placed sideways. Also known as lazy sit, slouch or frog sit, a sloppy sit is a sit often seen from a dog who may be tired, lazy or simply relaxed.

Sloppy sits are often seen in puppies. On several occasions, a puppy may be seen sitting with his hind legs to the side, but is that something to worry about?

According to veterinarian Dr. Gwen, sitting with the legs to the side is a common puppy posture that is commonly seen when pups are going through those awkward growing stages. At times, this type of sit can be seen when puppies are getting a bit lazy during training. Because sloppy sits in dogs and puppies can be also due to medical problems, it’s a good idea to mention this habit to the vet.

dog pain goes away at the vetPossible Medical Problems

There are several possible medical conditions behind dogs who sit with their legs to the side, especially when it’s a new behavior that pops out almost out of the blue. So it’s best to see the vet rather than chalking it up to laziness.

Hip dysplasia, for example, often causes pain in dogs and dog may sit sideways as a way to adjust their bodies to prevent discomfort. Dogs affected by hip problems often become sore after running and may have a hard time getting up from a sitting or lying down position.

The yellow Lab in the picture below, sits this way because he was in a car accident and had to have surgery on his hip, but the surgery didn’t go too well so he was left a bit crippled.

Other orthopedic problems causing a dog to sit with the legs splayed out are arthritis, a temporary inflammatory response, knee pain caused by luxating patellas quite common in smaller dogs, and if a dog is sitting to the side and also limping on a rear leg, a torn cruciate ligament may also be a possibility.
 Sometimes sitting sloppy is not related to an orthopedic problem, but something else. Back pain caused by a herniated disk, anal gland problems and a painful tail are other possibilities among several others.

sloppy sit dogGetting a Straighter Sit

After ruling out medical problems, dog owners mat wonder how to fix a sloppy sit. While this may not be a big deal with owners training their dogs to simply be companions, those who have special ambitions such as putting titles on their dogs, may need to be a bit more picky about getting nice, square sits.

Many dog trainers frown upon sloppy sits as a side-saddle sit can result in loss of precious points in the obedience ring.

A good way to fix sloppy sits, if you’re using a clicker is to click and reward only straight sits, so that sloppy sits eventually start reducing and eventually fade.

For obstinate cases, it may help to ask a dog to sit when he is between two piles of books or when “in drive” such as ready to pounce to get a ball or when doing fast fronts in a sequence so that the dog is ready to sprint in action.

Of course, the earlier a straight sit is taught, the better, as sitting sloppy can become a bad habit once muscle memory kicks in if allowed to happen all the time. With young puppies instead it’s simply a matter of timing as things start to get better in the sitting department once they develop their muscular-skeletal system, explains dog trainer Pamela Reid in her book ”Ex-celerated Learning”.

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional veterinary advice. If your dog has trouble sitting or lying down, see your vet to rule out medical problems.


Pamela Reid, Excel-Erated Learning: Explaining in Plain English How Dogs Learn and How Best to Teach Them, James and Kenneth Publishers; 1st edition (February 1996)


Dog Word of the Day: Brachycephalic


You may occasionally stumble on the term “brachycephalic” when hearing discussions about dogs. Learning more about this term is important because brachycephalic dogs are prone to certain medical conditions so if you ever own a brachycephalic dog or have one in your care, special attention is needed. By tinkering with genetics, the practice of selective breeding has generated a vast array of dogs of different shapes and sizes. Brachycephalic dogs have a distinctive shape of the skull which can be appealing to people, but that comes with several serious drawbacks. In a past post, we talked about dogs with dolicocephalic features, which is the total opposite of brachycephalic.

brachycephalic dogA Matter of Head Shape 

The term brachycephalic derives from the Greek word “brachy” which means short, and the word “cephalic” which means head. Put the two words together, and you have “short head.” The term brachycephalic is therefore used to depict dogs who feature a short and wide skull and a distinctive pushed-in face. There are several brachycephalic dog breeds such as boxers, pugs, English bulldogs, French bulldogs, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Pekingese, Boston terriers, Pomeranians and shih-tzu. The looks of these dog breeds are often cherished due to their neonatal traits. A concerning trend is the widespread practice of breeding dogs with more and more extreme brachycephlic traits which has caused a host of significant problems.

“The serious welfare problems suffered by brachycephalic dogs like Pugs are easily prevented – if breeders consciously avoided selecting for such extreme head shapes, the welfare problems highlighted would not exist.” ~RSPCA

Prone to Major Problems

dog stenotic nares picture

Dogs (and cats) featuring brachycephalic features are prone to a variety of problems, so much so, that veterinarians started categorizing them under the umbrella term “brachycephalic airway snydrome.”  Dogs suffer from this syndrome to varying degrees. First off, the nostrils reduced to tiny slits predispose them to what is known as “stenotic nares,” which makes it difficult for them to push air through their nostrils either because of the small openings or the fact that they tend to collapse inwards during inhalation.

Then, comes the elongated soft palate, which is what causes them to snore, snort, gag and have trouble breathing since their long soft palates protrude into the airway interfering with the movement of air into the lungs.

Some dogs even have quite narrow windpipes, which leads to hypoplastic trachea, while everted laryngeal saccules, which are soft tissue masses, can cause respiratory problems since they can be pulled into the dog’s windpipe. Several of these conditions can be corrected through surgery. Small nostrils can be widened, excess tissue from the soft palate can be removed and so can laryngeal saccules.

Did you know? According to the American College of Veterinary Surgeons, many dogs suffering from an elongated soft palate develop a preference for sleeping on their backs for the simple fact that this position likely causes the tissue to fall away from the larynx.

Exophthalmos in pug
Exophthalmos in pug

More Than Trouble Breathing

On top of their respiratory problems, several  dogs with smushed-in faces are prone to developing eye problems. Because their eyes bulge so much and their eye sockets are shallow, dogs with these eyes are more prone to trauma and the eyes can even pop out of their socket, a condition known as exophthalmos, often seen in pugs and Boston terriers.  In some dogs, the eyelids may not be closing properly which can also lead to eye problems down the road.

Enclosed in a small space, the teeth of brachycephalic dogs are often crowded and the lower jaw is longer than the upper jaw which predisposes these dogs to malocclusions and the formation of plaque. Not to mention skin problems due to the skin folds in the face which provide the ideal environment for bacteria and yeast. If these dogs need to undergo surgery, special precautions are needed when undergoing anesthesia. According to board-certified veterinary surgeon Harry W. Boothe, anesthesia in brachycephalic dogs  requires meticulous pre-anesthetic preparation and attention to detail both during and after anesthesia.

“When we have to intubate brachycephalic dogs for surgery (which involves placing a soft, plastic tube into their trachea to deliver oxygen and anesthetic gases), they will often wake up with the tube in place after the procedure and seem quite happy to have an open and bigger airway for the first time in their lives. Most other dogs can’t wait to get the dang tube out!”~Dr. Tony Johnson

Things to Be Aware ofdog brachycephalic breed

The physical features of brachychephalic dogs makes them prone to several problems that impact their daily lives. These dogs may overheat easily and develop trouble breathing when stressed, which is why many airlines have implemented embargo rules that do not allow these breeds to travel in the cargo compartment. The brachycephalic features make it difficult for these affected dogs to effectively cool down by panting which predisposes them to heat stroke. Too much exercise may also cause respiratory problems.

Many brachycephalic dogs appear to be suffering from respiratory problems, but owners often dismiss them as being normal for the breed. According to research conducted by the Royal Veterinary College, 58 percent of surveyed owners stated that their brachycephalic dogs were not having trouble breathing despite over two thirds of them showing signs of respiratory issues during exercise. These respiratory difficulties prevent several brachycephlic dogs from enjoying all the simple pleasures of a dog’s life such as exercise, play, food and sleep, further points out the Royal Veterinary College at University of London.

brachycephlic dog harnessTips for Exercising and Training

Because of the anatomical features of brachycephalic dogs, these dogs should wear a chest harness (all dogs really benefit from one). Collars put pressure on their trachea and even on their eyes if they pull enough.When exercising these dogs, it’s important keeping an eye that they don’t overheat or exercise too much. Short, slow walks are ideal avoiding the warm and humid peak hours of the day. Keeping brachycephalic dogs fit and trim is important as  obese dogs tend to have much more serious respiratory difficulties. Owners should also be informed that the wrong types of muzzle can be dangerous in brachycephalic dogs since they rely a lot on open mouth breathing. Last but not least,  keeping these dogs’ life as stress-free as possible considering that stress can exacerbate their problems.

“Dogs with brachycephalic airway syndrome should be fitted with a harness that does not tug at the neck area. It is not advisable to use a regular neck collar for these dogs, since the collar can put undue pressure on the neck.”~Cheryl Yuill, DVM


  •  American College of Veterinary Surgeons, Brachycephalic Syndrome, retrieved from the web on August 31st, 2016
  • VCA Animal Hospitals, Brachycephalic Airway Syndrome in Dogs, retrieved from the web on August 31st, 2016
  • RSPCA, The Pug: an Example of Exaggerated Features, retrieved from the web on August 31st, 2016
  • DVM360, Brachycephalic airway syndrome (Proceedings) retrieved from the web on August 31st, 2016

Photo Credits:

  • Wikipedia, Boxer Stenotic nares before and after surgery CCBY3.0 by Gatorvet01
  • Wikipedia, Exophthalmos in a Pug, CCBY3.0 by JoelMills

Dog Word of the Day: Back Chaining


Let’s face it: dogs are quite talented when it comes to chaining one event with another. You place your hand on the handle that opens the wardrobe and your dog’s antennas are up, and next you know, he comes running to you as he already has guessed what your next move is. Yes, your dog has learned that most of the time when you open that wardrobe, you’re getting your jacket, and next, you’ll grab the leash and take your dog on a walk. And if you’re wondering, no, your dog is not telepathic, he’s just amazing in paying attention to what you do. Dogs with separation anxiety, know all the routine too well, they chain up all those different pre-departure cues such as brushing your hair, putting on your shoes and grabbing the car keys with you leaving the house. So since dogs are blessed with such an uncanny ability to chain one event with another why not put it to good work?

dog basketForward and Back

When dogs are first introduced to the ABC’S of dog training, they are taught to perform simple, single behaviors such as sit, down and come. In more advanced training, dogs can be taught to chain together several single behaviors.

There are two ways dogs can be trained to chain behaviors: one of them is forward chaining and the other one is back chaining. In forward chaining, the dog learns to chain a series of behaviors starting from the first behavior first and then progressing towards the last in an orderly fashion.

Basically, the behaviors are taught in the exact order they are carried out once the training is complete. So if say, we wanted to train a dog to grab a toy and then place it in a basket, we would follow this sequence: 1) train the dog to go to the toy 2) train the dog to pick up the toy, 3) train the dog to carry the toy towards the box, and then, finally 3) drop the toy in the box. While this method can work well, dogs seem to be respond with less enthusiasm when compared to back chaining.

In back chaining, the dog is taught the last behavior of the chain first, then the behavior before that, moving in a backwards fashion. So back to training a dog to place a toy in a basket, one would therefore start by training the dog to drop the toy in the basket, and every time the toy is dropped in the basket, the dog is rewarded.

This is repeated several times so the action of dropping the toy in the basket has a strong history of reinforcement and the dog performs the behavior reliably. Then, the dog is trained to walk towards the basket and drop the toy in it and is rewarded, and so forth until the whole sequence is completed.

Advantages for Dogsdog ball

What’s the advantage of using back chaining to train dogs? There are several advantages. Firstly, it may feel less overwhelming for the dog learning the behavior in small steps as it’s easier to assimilate and these small incremental successes can help instill more confidence in the dog.

As the dog progresses through the steps, anticipation builds due to the eagerness to complete the final one for the well-deserved reward. Just like a child who visits grandma and eagerly eats the four-course meal just to eat the sundae with the cherry on top, the dog eagerly progresses through the whole sequence of behaviors.

Bach chaining therefore comes very useful when you are training your dog to perform a series of complex behaviors such as seen in the sport of  Canine Musical Freestyle, agility, trick training or as seen in the performance of  several service-dog related tasks.

Did you know? When using back chaining, since you are building on the final behavior of the chain, you don’t need to reward your dog for every single behavior you insert into the front end of the chain, just the final part.

pianoApplied by Teachers

Back chaining works so well that many teachers apply it when teaching children how to pronounce polysyllabic words. For instance, to teach a child how to pronounce the word “hippopotamus” the teacher may start by pronouncing the last syllable, in this case “mus” allowing the child to repeat after her. Next, she would add the prior syllable and would therefore pronounce “a-mus” then, “pot-a-mus,” then “po-pot-a-mus” and then finally the whole word “hippopotamus.”

Even music teachers find it advantageous to use back chaining to teach their students how to put notes together and play a nice piano piece. They’ll therefore focus on teaching the last part first, then they’ll link the second to the last piece and so forth up until the whole piece is played. When the piece is finally played, the musician feels relief from ending the performance and his performance is often further reinforced by the teacher’s praise or people clapping their hands if playing in front of an audience. But there’s more to that from a chemical standpoint, according to the quote below.

“Recent research shows that there is a release of endorphins when the musician reaches the end of the piece… Endorphins are our “treats” at the end of our “tricks”.~Larry McDonald, guitar teacher

Things to be Aware of stacking rings backchaining

While quite effective, there are several things one should be aware of when using back chaining as a training method. For example, in long chains, the performance may become sloppy at times and the dog may start skipping some behaviors so to get to the final chain of  the behavior, the one that is strongly reinforced. What should one do with such a smarty pants dog?

Should this happen, it’s important to not reward as you don’t want to reinforce a sloppy performance that’s missing parts! So take a step back and recognize the “weakest link,” the behavior in the chain that your dog doesn’t perform too well. You can have the dog try again or you can otherwise take this behavior temporarily out of the chain and work on strengthening it separately. Once it’s fluent enough, you can then re-introduce it into the chain.

“The procedure of breaking a task into small steps to facilitate training is called task analysis. A task analysis identifies the stimulus and response for each step of the chain.”~Mary Burch, Jon Bailey


  • How dogs learn, by Mary Burch, Jon Bailey, Howell Book House; 1 edition (May 1, 1999)
  • The Science and Technology of Dog Training Paperback – June 1, 2014, by James O’Heare, Dogwise Publishing (June 1, 2014)


Dog Word of the Day: Muzzle Punch


Dogs are masters in communication when it comes to body language resorting to subtle signs such as a quick flick of the tongue to more evident ones such as an air snap or a muzzle punch. It’s important to take notice of these signs and learn what dogs may be communicating, so to understand what is triggering them in the first place and address the underlying emotional turmoils. Muzzle punches in dogs should be taken seriously as based on context they can sometimes be a warning of an impending future bite and therefore a professional should be consulted for safety.

muzzle punch dogPack a Punch

As the name implies, a muzzle punch is when a dog purposely bumps into a person or other dog with his muzzle while the mouth is closed. The “punch” can range in intensity from a slight poke of the muzzle to a more forceful push. When dogs deliver a muzzle poke or punch they may target different body parts.

A muzzle punch can take place when the dog is jumping up towards the face of a person or it can be targeted towards a person when he or she bends down towards the dog perhaps to kiss or hug him.

If you have ever been muzzle punched by a dog, you likely know it as your nose of jaw may be hurting. Some people even develop nose bleeds.

According to Patricia McConnell, a muzzle punch may fall into several different categories: attention-seeking  muzzle punches, playful muzzle punches, affectionate muzzle punches and warning muzzle punches.

As with several other behaviors in dogs, it’s important to look at the context in which muzzle punches occur and other accompanying postural signals so to better understand under what category this behavior may fall into.

Punching In

A dog may playfully deliver a muzzle poke to the owner’s hand or back of the leg to elicit attention or as an invitation to play or seek affection. Muzzle pokes can also be directed to the shoulder of another dog as a way to test (in a rude way) whether the other dog is willing to play. In these cases, the muzzle pokes may be a distance-decreasing signal meaning that the dog wishes to decrease distance, get closer and interact. Below is a video of a dog who barks and repeatedly ‘muzzle pokes” another dog to get him to play. Or in other words  he is “pestering the dog” to convince him/her interact.

Punching Out

Some muzzle punches can be a distance increasing signal meaning that the dog is trying to increase distance so to stop an interaction that isn’t welcomed. In this case, the muzzle punch can be a precursor to a bite. A dog may for example give a hard stare and then deliver a muzzle punch in the face when he’s chewing a bone as a warning to tell the person or dog to move away from his resource. Or as mentioned, it can take place when a person bends down as to loom over the dog to pet him or perhaps deliver a kiss or hug.

Below is a video of a dog who happens to muzzle punch a person who is kissing him/her. The person was very lucky not to get hurt. Notice the “pre-muzzle punch signs” consisting of whale eyes  and the dog trying to turn the head away.

Muzzles and Muzzle Punches

Often, people assume that when dogs are kept on a muzzle they are completely safe to be around as they may not be able to bite. Yet, dogs can still cause injuries despite wearing a muzzle. A muzzle doesn’t prevent a dog from delivering a forceful muzzle punch which can injure a child or small dog, and on top of that, basket muzzles still allow fingers to make it through the openings. Sometimes, dogs even manage to remove them.

A muzzle is therefore not a tool meant to solve behavior problems and a dog wearing it is not supposed to be exposed to situations he’s not ready to deal with. A muzzle is meant to be used in conjunction with behavior modification techniques as the dog progresses. As you can see in the video below, a dog can still potentially harm even when muzzled which can lead to potential injuries.

“Muzzling is not a guarantee of safety and caution should still be exercised when working with an aggressive dog. Dogs wearing a basket muzzle can still cause injury by performing a muzzle punch…” ~Debbie Martin



dog tipDid you know? A muzzle punch is classified as a level zero (along with air snapping without contact to the skin) on a Cara Shannon Dog to Human Bite Hierarchy. While level zero may seem low, it’s still suggestive of an intent to harm and should be taken seriously.

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional behavioral advice. If your dog is muzzle punching or showing other signs of aggression, please consult with a behavior professional.



  • Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses, By Debbie Martin, Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (November 17, 2014)
  • Raising Canine, Cara Shannon Bite Hierarchy, retrieved from the web on August 17th, 2016
  • The Other End of the Leash, Muzzle Punches, Air Snaps and Tooth Clatters Revisited, retrieved from the web on August 17th, 2016




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