Ask the experts
Q: Dear DOGSLife,
One of my Aussie Shepherd, Larry, has a favourite activity —chasing his tail. It doesn’t cause us any real problems (although it is a little embarrassing when he does it down at the dog park!) but I was wondering is there a scientific explanation for why he does this? It’s not a problem, is it?
Monica, via email
Dr Kersti Seksel says: Hi Monica, there is a scientific explanation for most things our dogs do. Tail chasing can be quite a normal behaviour for some dogs as puppies but it can become problematic when a dog does it too much, cannot be distracted from tail chasing or starts to damage the tail. If Larry starts to chase his tail too much or chasing his tail affects his quality of life, then it is a problem.
The most common reason for tail chasing is that the dog has an underlying anxiety disorder or an obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is often expressed when the dog is in a high state of arousal, for example when they are really excited about being fed, or anticipating going for a walk. They may also perform this behaviour when they are frustrated and cannot do something, for example, get inside or play with other dogs.
While this behaviour may not be hurting your dog now, it is his way of telling you he isn’t able to deal with how he feels in a certain situation. You do not say in what other situations Larry does this, but as you say it is his favourite thing to do it appears that he does it quite frequently. It makes sense that Larry may do it more at the dog park. The dog park is a very exciting and stimulating place. Dogs can sometimes find this emotionally overwhelming and not know how to deal with their feelings, so they may tail chase.
If you can distract Larry from tail-chasing and he does not immediately go back to chasing, or he only performs the behaviour occasionally, less than a few seconds a day, then it may not be a problem. However, if he does it more than this then it would be best to take Larry to your veterinarian. They will be able to assess him and give you advice. They may also refer you to a veterinary behaviourist if needed. It is best not to ignore the tail chasing or wait until he damages his tail before seeking help.
Q: Dear DOGSLife,
I have two Staffies, Nala and Olive. About three years ago, when Nala was five and Olive three, they had quite a few big arguments, to the point where Nala needed stitches. Since then, they’ve been fine. Recently, however, they’ve started having a few small spats again. Nothing has changed in the household but I’m a few months pregnant and I’m worried about this happening when we have a child. Is there any sort of medication you could suggest? Or any way to manage this behaviour? It never happens when myself or my husband are around — it’s only when we’re either out or in another room so we have no way of monitoring for triggers etc.
Louisa, via email
Dr Michael Archinal says: Hi Louisa, thanks for contacting us as you have already identified a potentially very serious situation. Your dogs have sorted out most things in their relationship, but you may be surprised that there are day-to-day interactions together which may not be all that friendly, but just not that obvious to you. Avoid feeding them together as fights often occur over guarding resources like bones and also competing for affection etc. I would strongly suggest you get some expert advice about introducing your imminent baby to your four-legged household members to ease the transition and any possible tension on the canine front. When your baby arrives, things will potentially get more confusing for your two dogs and the situation may escalate. Medication is available for anxious dogs and works very effectively. It is not, however, a simple measure. The dogs would need to see a veterinarian with a special interest in this area who will strongly recommend intensive behavioural training as well to complement this. Unfortunately, there is definitely no “quick fix” and it is dangerous to rely on medication (which will need to be lifelong in many cases).
Q: Dear Dr Renee,
I have a Dalmatian, Charlie. He lies outside in the sun a lot and I’m worried about him getting sunburnt. I was wondering if you could recommend a sunscreen that would be good for him because he’s sensitive to chemicals. I have a Wotnot sunscreen which I thought might be okay, but I wanted to make sure. Also, where should I apply the cream?
From Zoe, via email
Dr Renee O’Duhring says: Hi Zoe. Sunscreen is certainly useful for dogs and cats with pale skin and/or thin fur, or those that love to spend hours sunbaking. It needs to be applied to any areas that are at risk of sun damage — often the belly, on top of the nose, and sometimes around the ears as well. Dr Zoo makes a natural, plant-based sunscreen that is safe for pets and is the one I recommend.
Many people find it difficult remembering to apply sunscreen effectively every day, however, so other measures should also be considered, such as keeping your dog out of the sun from 10am until 3pm. This may mean having an area inside the house where your dog can spend time if you are at work during these hours on warm days. Providing a fenced run in a shaded area of the garden is another option, or investing in a sun suit such as the Bromelli sunsuits that are made to order and can be bought online. It is certainly important to do something as many dogs end up with sun cancers on their belly if they spend hours sunbathing.
You should also feed your pet a natural diet made from fresh whole foods that are high in antioxidants. If there are less circulating toxins in the body, the skin is less prone to sun damage.
Q: Hi DOGSLife,
I have two Australian Bulldogs named Frank and Ivy. They are wonderful dogs but Frank is aggressive when it comes to playing with his toys. Frank is around 30kg so he is heavy when he jumps on you. Sometimes, my children have friends over and will pick up his toys and try to throw them, but before they can Frank will knock them over by jumping on them. Frank is not trying to be playful but is trying to get the toy off them. Sometimes he might even scratch. How can I prevent this from happening?
Bella, via e-mail
Peta Clarke says: Hi Bella, bulldogs are dear to my heart. I love bully breeds, have shared my home with many and certainly can see where they get the reputation that they do. They are often thick-skinned and forthright, using their bulk for their own benefit — just as we have bred them to be. No wonder some people label them “stubborn”.
Any label though, is simply that — a label — and lucky for us, it is humans who have the ability to think things through, plan and manage. And this is exactly what we need to do to keep everyone safe in your home. We need to use our bigger brain.
First thing for me is management. We can totally prevent any accident by ensuring that all dog toys are away when kids come over to play. That is a 100-per-cent cure and an easy-fix. It is also putting the responsibility where it lies — with us humans, not with Frank. I bet there are several times a day where you pick up toys and invite Frank over to play, so the picture for him of a human doing that is obviously linked with play.
If we have the toys away, we can begin our training very easily — almost without thought. We want to link a verbal invitation to the game and then go get a toy from the toy box — not the other way around. Make this a habit when you’re playing with Frank and Ivy. Toys are away as a rule and only come out when you say “Wanna play a game?” or something to that effect. It doesn’t matter what you say, just as long as you keep it consistent.
We can also spend time training Frank that if kids pick up his toys (or anything that a 30kg Bulldog may wish to investigate) it is a signal that he is going to get a treat. It’s easy to create the association — start by having him on-lead if you feel you need to for safety. Have some treats on the table next to you and get one of your kids to pick up a toy, say his name and give him a treat. Repeat this over and over. Do it in different rooms and out in the yard (trainers call this generalising the behaviour) so that he knows it works everywhere. Sometimes don’t have the food out — have your child pick up a toy and call him and run to the dog cupboard to get a treat. He will soon learn to leave the kids alone!
Q: Dear DOGSLife,
I’m going to try washing our Cavvie, Molly, at home for the first time since we got her three years ago (we’ve always taken her to the groomer). Is there anything we should know health-wise or when choosing a pet-care product? For example, I have sensitive skin so I always spot test shampoo before using it in case of reactions. Is this something I should do with my pet?
Emily, via email
Dr Michael Archinal says: Hi Emily, there are a few main differences between human and canine skin. Your dog’s skin is much thinner, the acid level is more neutral than it is in people (which is more acidic), and the skin cells turn over 25 per cent quicker. Their coats also tend to grow with the seasons, whereas human skin experiences continual growth. For these reasons, we need to treat our dogs very differently dermatologically.
Never use a human shampoo on your dog and make sure all products are thoroughly washed off. Do not use anything too perfumed as it may smell nice to you, but a dog’s sense of smell is between 1000 and 10,000 times stronger than yours and it may be overwhelming.
Groom the coat as much as is practical beforehand and use tepid water. Re-enforce positive behaviour and make the experience fun (hopefully for both of you!).
You can warm blow-dry the coat if Molly is okay with the noise, and always wash in the morning so she can be totally dry by night time. Try not to get water in her ear canals as this can lead to infections, so always spend a bit of time drying your dog off after the bath.
Q: Hi DOGSLife,
My dog, Snippie, a Maltese x Poodle, has a habit of sitting down and refusing to move when I take her for walks. She does this many times throughout the walk and at any random spot. She has done this for quite some time now and we just can’t find a solution to the problem. Do you have any advice?
Danica, via email
Dr Kersti Seksel says: Hi Danica, I can imagine it would be very hard to get Snippie to walk when she doesn’t want to. Sometimes it can be hard for us to understand why our dogs do what they do. Although Snippie appears to randomly sit when out on a walk, for her there is a real reason why she doesn’t want to move.
First of all, we have to rule out if Snippie is in any physical discomfort. You do not say how old she is but even small dogs at a young age can have problems with their hips and joints that can go undetected on a routine examination. It would be worthwhile taking Snippie to your veterinarian for a full physical check-up, letting them know about Snippie’s history of not wanting to walk. Also walking her on a harness rather than a flat collar may make it more comfortable for her to move.
Second, we have to remember that dogs perceive the world in an equally complex but different way from us. She may be smelling things that are disturbing to her or perhaps she has had a bad experience when on a walk before.
You mention you have tried everything to get Snippie moving. Offering her tasty treats with lots of praise is the best approach to reward her for moving forward. Yelling at her or tugging on her lead is likely to make her less likely to want to move.
For Snippie, whatever you are offering may not be enough to convince her to move. This does not mean Snippie is being disobedient, but simply that she may be too scared or anxious to concentrate on what you are asking her to do. Some dogs can have anxiety or other mental health disorders. If you see her yawning, lip-licking or averting eye contact when she stops, this may be an indication that she is concerned. If this is the case, you may need to see a veterinary behaviourist to help her with her anxiety.
Most importantly, remember that although dogs need physical and mental exercise, they do not need to go for walks to achieve this. Many dogs are just happier at home so don’t feel like you have to walk her every day. Take her out when she is happy to go, bring her home when she stops, and enjoy time with her at your place when she does not want to go out.
Q: Dear DOGSLife,
I know we’re not supposed to feed our dogs human food, but with all the festivities going on at Christmas, there have to be a few treats we can slip off our plates, right? Is there anything you would recommend?
Alex, via email
Dr Renee O’Duhring says: It is true that dogs have an anatomy and physiology that is very different to humans so their dietary requirements differ vastly from ours. This does not mean, however, that they should be fed processed foods that come packaged in a bag or tin. Imagine eating only boxed cereal and canned meats your whole life — how healthy do you think you would be? Dogs, like us, thrive when their diets are made up of fresh, raw, whole foods, which for them means raw diced meats and organ meats, raw meaty bones, pulped leafy greens, and some healthy fats like eggs, sardines and coconut, with a meal of ripe fruits or leftovers every now and then. My dog often shares in the green smoothies I make for my family’s breakfasts, and usually has a meal of healthy leftovers once or twice a week.
There are foods that dogs should avoid, such as corn on the cob (there is a risk of intestinal blockage if your dog eats the cob), cooked onions, large amounts of garlic or salt, cooked bones — especially pork and chicken bones — fatty cooked meats like ham or bacon, and chocolate. Citrus fruits and grapes are also best avoided. Most other healthy human foods are fine for dogs as long as they are fed as a small proportion of a healthy balanced diet.
Barking Border Collie
Q: Dear DOGSLife,
My Border Collie puppy is 12 months old and he won’t stop barking. It is driving me crazy! Even in the morning he barks and I think he is about to lose his voice! We have tried everything but he just barks. When people walk behind our fence he barks. Could you please help? Is he trying to keep us safe?
Jasmine, via email
Peta Clarke says: Hi Jasmine, oh, the barking dog dilemma. I think we have all been on the “neighbour” side of this one. It is annoying and frustrating. “Why won’t they shut up?” we wonder. The simple answer to that question is “because they are dogs”.
At 12 months of age you have one very inquisitive, mentally needy dog. While many people have wonderful lives living with Border Collies in suburbia, many learn the hard way that they are not a backyard breed. Remember, this is a dog that has been bred to work alongside humans for long stretches of time.
So my first question to you is, are you giving him what he needs mentally and physically? Is this simply a result of a dog that has a huge need for mental stimulation, reacting to the world because he is bored? Dogs that are bred to work will make up their own job if we don’t give them one to do. Do you do training? And not just basic obedience — that’s kindy work for Border Collies! Finding a trick training class or a K9 nose work class would be fantastic for him — both would be even better!
If you are time-poor there are some things that you can do in your daily management of him that might help. First I would recommend that you throw away your food bowl and invest in some puzzle feeders and do some DYI enrichment for him. There are lots of different things you can do and there is a lot of information out there that a quick surf on the net will get you access to. You need to give your dog’s brain something to do.
Maybe you are doing all that and you’re the world’s best Border Collie owner! So what else can we do?
Is he trying to keep you safe? I don’t know the answer to that one — in fact, no one does. Barking has many reasons but what we do know is that barking is communication. Sometimes I think dogs continuously bark simply because no one bothers to listen to them.
I know you say you have tried everything, and I am sure that it feels that way, but the truth is you haven’t. It’s important for me to put that on you (and everyone else reading this and even me writing this) because with every problem we have with our dogs, we must take responsibility rather than put it on the dog. Dogs simply do what dogs do and in the absence of us helping them be successful (in other words, behave the way we want them to), that’s what we get — normal dog behaviour. Thankfully you have taken responsibility and reached out for help.
Have a look at this article on tlcdogtraining-dgarrod.blogspot.com.au/2009/04/barking-3-bark-rule.html. This is a program for barking dogs which is by far the best way of developing communication about barking behaviour. Read through it a few times and put it into practice. But remember, you have chosen a breed that has a huge need for mental stimulation, so without providing for him in that area you might always have a problem. Get out and spend time with him and enjoy your dog!
Make sure your furry friend is always looked after at our DOGSLife Directory