Dog Behavioral Problems


Eating dirt - Pica

Question: Dear Dr. Mike,

I am the one who wrote you about my dog being given Malotic and she went deaf. About 1 1/2 weeks after discontinuing the medication, some of her hearing slowly returned. I was very happy.

My dog is 13 years old and I control many of her skin and food allergies. Within the last week, I noticed that she is eating dirt. I have not noticed this happening before. I had a complete set of blood work done in July (CBC, liver, kidney, etc. - no thyroid) and everything was normal. I usually feed her Nutro Lamb and Rice since it is something that seems to work to control her allergies. When I noticed this dirt eating behavior, I put her on rice, then people lamb and rice but she is still eating dirt. My vet feels like there is not too much to do since the blood work was normal not long ago. Do you have any information or suggestions? Thanks for your help. D

Answer: D-

The only cause for eating dirt that I can think of is pica (eating or licking unusual objects) associated with anemia. If there is no evidence of anemia, then this isn't very likely. Sometimes pica occurs with chronic gastrointestinal disease, chronic pancreatitis and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency but it doesn't seem to be a prominent aspect of these diseases. There are probably other conditions that this can occur with that I am not aware of, but it is not a sign that can be consistently linked with any condition that I know of except the iron deficiency anemia's.

It would be worth considering repeating the lab work after a couple of months (or sooner if your dog doesn't feel well) just to be sure that there isn't a subtle disease process that might show up in repeat lab work.

Mike Richards, DVM 12/1/2001

Digging holes

Dear Dr. Mike-

You helped with our last question - thank you again! Here is a new question - we have two 6 month old yellow lab puppies (boy & girl) and one 4 year old black lab. The problem is the the 6 month old girl puppy - she doesn't just play with toys she has to completely destroy them and she is an excellent hole digger! She outgrew eating rocks will she outgrow digging? The three dogs spend time together in the backyard and in the house. The older dog is dominant.

Thank you for any help Shirley

Answer: Shirley-

Digging holes is a natural behavior for dogs and these sorts of behaviors are the hardest to stop. However, if a cause for the digging that is treatable can be identified, it may be able t help with the behavior, especially if it is related to separation anxiety.

There are probably a lot of possible causes for digging. They include wanting to escape the confines of the yard, trying to stay cool in the summer or warm in the winter, predation (if you have moles, for instance), separation anxiety, boredom, curiosity (digging at unfamiliar objects in the soil), aggression (wishing to dig out to reach an object of aggression) and displaced aggression (digging out of frustration at not being able to get to an object of aggression). My guess is that there are probably other causes, as well.

For aggression, using some sort of screening (vegetation, fence slats, etc.) to block the view of the world can be helpful. Separation anxiety can respond to behavioral therapy and can also respond, in some cases, to allowing access in and out of the house through a pet door. This might also help with boredom.

Medications may be helpful with separation anxiety and with aggression. Among the medications that might work, clomipramine (Clomicalm Rx), fluoxetine (Prozac Rx) and paroxetine (Praxil Rx) are probably the most likely ones to help but they do work best when used in concert with behavioral modifications.

In the case of puppies, vigorous exercise programs can sometimes make a huge difference in behaviors like this. It is hard to single out the puppy for exercise when there are multiple pets but it can make a big difference. It often takes more than an hour or two or really intense exercise per day to make a difference, though. This can be hard for people to arrange but it is something to think about.

There are veterinary behaviorists who can help evaluate why a behavior is occurring and then help with the treatment of the problem diagnosed. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of board certified behaviorists in the country but it is worth a trip to one if the behaviors are making life miserable for you or for your dog.

Mike Richards, DVM 8/13/2001

Television watching in Great Dane

Question: Dr. Richards:

This matter is not urgent. I know you are busy and I can wait for an answer. If you get a chance, please do email me with advice or where I could further research.

My Great Dane Mix male, Elroy watches television. He watches almost anything including Martha Stewart, The Sopranos, animal shows. When he gets upset, he will charge at the television. We can control this action with his electronic collar. He watches as as long as we have the television on.

What we are concern with is whether television watching is harmful to him physically?

Thank you. Vicky

Answer: Vicky-

I have researched this to the best of my ability and I have not found any reports of dangers to pet health that have been traced directly to watching television, such as visual problems or radiation health hazards, like an increase in cancer rates.

I did find a couple of reports of injuries to pets from knocking televisions off of stands or furniture in the process of attacking the TV -- apparently there are other dogs that get really excited about television images. I guess that I'd leave the TV off if you aren't around to control this behavior, if there is risk of this in your house.

I have a client who reports that her dog has seizures sometimes when watching certain types of television shows (cartoons and music videos). This may be due to some sort of visual stimulation since this effect has been noticed in people, too. My impression of these sorts of reports is that there is a seizure disorder present first and the TV just serves to stimulate seizure activity in a seizure prone patient --- but I am not sure that is the only situation in which this could occur. That is the case for our patient, though (seizures when the TV is off, too). I suspect that this is unlikely to occur in your dog unless it has already happened. I can't be certain that our client is making a valid connection between the TV shows and the seizures but she is pretty sure of it.

This is just an aside, but in searching for information on dog's reactions to television I found three references to dogs who like the Sopranos. I haven't watched the show but that did seem sort of odd.

Mike Richards, DVM 7/20/2001

Sniffing/digging behavior

Question: I have a female year old mixed breed dog who has just started to dig and lick at the carpets...digs holes and then licks around it...drives me crazy and is wrecking our home.....the dog is otherwise healthy...any suggestions. I enjoy the web site and digest a great deal. Keep up the good work. Both my other dogs have done well on your advice. Thank you, gail

Answer: Gail-

There are several possible causes for the behavior that you are seeing. Some dogs do this when they are having anal sac inflammation and the anal sacs are leaking small quantities of exudates when the dog sits somewhere. This leads to the dog investigating the odor and the digging behavior at times. We have seen this happen in dogs who are incontinent (leaking urine), too. If the urine leakage is minor you may not be aware of it, but your dog would be and it can provoke the sniffing/digging behavior. This could also be a behavioral problem. If it happens mostly when you are gone or when you are unable to pay attention to your dog, it could be a symptom of separation anxiety. In some dogs it is probably a form of compulsive behavior, since digging is actually normal behavior but the times and persistence are not normal.

The first thing to do is to try to rule out the two physical causes. Your vet can check on the anal sacs but you will have to observe carefully for incontinence on your own. If these things aren't present then you have to try to figure out why the behavior is occurring, if possible. If you can identify the most likely behavioral cause, it may be possible to find a therapy that will help. If your vet is not able to help with a behavioral problem there may be a behavioral specialist in your area or you can let me know what you and your vet think the behavior is due to and I can try to provide some information for you.

Mike Richards, DVM 3/19/2001

Playing with toys at night instead of sleeping

Question: Dear Dr. Richards:

I have a 4 month old golden retriever that we've had since she was 8 weeks old. She's pretty well house trained although we still keep a close eye on her when she's not in her crate, which is how we've trained her. We would like to slowly introduce her to sleeping out of her crate at night. We've tried her out of her crate for the past few nights. The problem is, she doesn't seem to know it's time to go to sleep when she's not in her crate and plays with her chew toys constantly when out of her crate. After a few hours we end up putting her back in her crate.

Any suggestions? Vanessa

Answer: Vanessa

I have researched your question and can not find much information on this particular type of behavioral problem. I suspect that most people solve this problem by not allowing the puppy out of the crate at night and providing a chew toy or comforting toy that is not noisy. The consensus of behaviorists appears to be that you have a problem with scheduling the puppy's exercise periods or that puppies that exhibit this sort of behavior fall into the high exercise need category and need some sort of really intensive exercise period during the day.

I have not been successful in resolving this problem in my household. I have a five year old rottweiler who gets up in the middle of the night to play and chew on her toys. She doesn't wake me up with this behavior but it drives my wife crazy at times. She really does a lot better when we can take her running or for long walks during the day but we are like most people -- there are days when we just can't manage that.

I wish I did have a really good suggestion that would be easy to implement.

Mike Richards, DVM 2/10/2001

Puppy dominance of older dog

Question: Hi Dr. Richards, We have a 4 year old female golden retriever and a 6 month old male black lab. Our golden is very submissive and our puppy is moderately dominant. The puppy is displaying a lot of dominant, though not aggressive, behavior such as mounting our golden (but not humping), taking our older dog's toys, rushing to greet us first when we come home, entering the house before the older dog does, and playing tug of war with the older dog. Generally, the two dogs get along okay, but their play frequently turns too aggressive, mostly on our golden's part. The puppy doesn't seem to understand or acknowledge the few attempts our older dog makes at dominance and our older dog doesn't seem to exert her dominance enough even though she gets very snappy with the puppy during play. So, which dog should we encourage to be dominant? I know theoretically the older dog should be the dominant dog, but it's not working out that way. Should we encourage the puppy to be dominant? We really don't want a full blown dog fight to erupt. Thank you, Kathleen

Answer: Kathleen-

The general recommendation among veterinary behaviorists is that it is best to encourage the dominance of the dog that exhibits the most dominant behavior. However, most dogs do not really begin to feel confident about dominant behavior until they are two to three years old. There are exceptions and the puppy is doing things that are often associated with dominance behavior. So far, it sounds like the problem isn't severe. If you begin to feel like there is real potential for harm to the puppy, or retaliatory harm to your female, from the snapping behavior, it might be a good idea to invest in head halter type collars (Gentle Leader is one) so that you can control the behavior quickly and prevent serious harm to either dog. You would also have to decide who to favor at that point, because someone has to be the top dog. It can be really hard to let a younger puppy, new on the scene, become the dominant dog since it seems so unfair to the older pet, but it can sometimes resolve fighting problems. You probably know this, but giving the puppy attention first, letting him go out first, feeding him first and showing other signs of recognizing a dominant status are the things that work to encourage his dominance. If there are fights, you would need to take his side. Breaking up the immediate fight isn't choosing sides but you would have to make it clear that you felt she shouldn't have tried to be dominant, by not paying attention to her or even by reprimanding her. If you can't do that, a reasonable alternative is to figure out what situations cause fights and then intervene before the fight. If they occur at mealtimes, feed them in separate rooms. If fights occur over a favored spot in the room, discourage the submissive dog from ever being in that spot -- it can be hard to anticipate problems but most of the time it can be done.

I hope that this helps some.

Mike Richards, DVM 2/1/2001

Aversion to walking on slick surfaces

Question: Dr. Richards,

My 10 month old Collie has developed a hatred, fear and neurosis relative to slick surfaces -- such as my entry and kitchen floors. He'd rather die than walk on them. Apparently, something must have happened to him (on one of those floors or surfaces) when I was not aware of it. He has done beautifully in learning his basic obedience commands, but I won't *cave* in and put rugs down (permanently), to ease his fear. I did use rugs temporarily, to no avail. I've already tried walking him on a choke and lead using a lot of praise, and offered him an edible treat when he began showing willingness. I don't ordinarily use treats (as bribery) in my training, my dogs live for praise. However, I'm running out of tolerance with this unacceptable behavior, but won't use any harsh methods on him either. Collie's are just too sensitive ... this one is unusually stubborn though -- at least concerning *this* issue. What do you believe could be the root of this problem and, what training method do you suggest I try next?

Regards, Vox

Answer: Vox I can't explain why some dogs will not walk on certain surfaces, usually slick ones like linoleum. However, these floors can be hard to walk on, making the dog nervous. This produces a more "tip-toe" walk, which makes the problem worse and making the dog's fear even worse. The only behavioral recommendations I can find for this problem are to put down rugs or carpet for the dog to walk across or to bribe the dog to enter the room by leaving desirable food a short distance into the room, so the dog is aware of it but it isn't so far into the room to be discouraging. I realize this doesn't quite fit the behavioral approaches you would like to use, but I have no other useful suggestions.

Mike Richards, DVM 11/29/2000

Chasing Shadows in Sheltie

Question: Hello,

Thanks for the information you gave me the other week with regard to Pixel's upper respiratory problems. I had no idea that you were experiencing a medical problem yourself. It is good to know that all the tests you underwent were negative.

Now I have another question to ask you, to do with a concern I have about my 8 month old Sheltie puppy, Sandy. He appears to have developed an almost neurotic fear of shadows! At first it was cute to see him try to eat the shadows off of the walls, but it has now developed into a nightly ritual. He goes to a place in the kitchen, where the shadows congregate, and waits for one to move (it's usually his shadow). As soon as it moves, he jumps forward, barks at it, and wheels around to do it again. This goes on for long periods of time. Right now, as I write, he's beside me carefully examining the floor and looking for shadows. Is this a problem? How can I deal with this (short of turning off all the lights at night).

Thanks, and all the best,


Answer: Rob-

I am not sure if this is abnormal behavior or not. A lot of dogs like to chase shadows and it is really only a problem when it reaches the point that it is driving you crazy -- or when Sandy starts actually biting the walls or running into them, or something else that might harm him. Some dogs do take this habit to extremes and can become so obsessed with shadow chasing that they are hard to distract from the behavior. Since it seems likely that the barking will eventually become problematic for you, especially if it starts to be an "hours on end" kind of thing, it probably would be a good idea to try to distract Sandy from this behavior now.

Herding breeds usually need lots of exercise and it helps a lot if you are providing this in some manner. Almost anything that uses up energy will work, such as jogging, flying disc chasing, retrieving, herding (if you have something he can herd), agility training, etc. It can take a lot of exercise -- perhaps an hour or two a day, to come close to providing the amount necessary to calm down a really excitable dog.

When he is engaged in the shadow chasing behavior it can help to use distraction in the form of obedience training (just working on "sit", "sit and stay", "down" --- commands like these). In severe cases it may be necessary to use medications such as clomipramine (Clomicalm Rx), which is used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorders. It is best to try to use behavioral modification first.

It is acceptable to live with this behavior if it doesn't bother you. Some people have a lot of tolerance for this sort of thing and other people get driven positively nuts by it. This is usually only a bad situation when people at opposite ends of the spectrum are married and have a dog that does this sort of thing. It is equally acceptable to try to modify the behavior by distracting Sandy with alternative play or alternative tasks and to work at this until he is able to ignore the shadows. If necessary the use of medications to aid in controlling this habit is even OK -- but at his age it would be best to work on behavior modification first.

Hope this helps some.

Mike Richards, DVM 12/10/2000

Digging holes

Question: Hello Dr. Richards,

Can you tell me why this summer a 10 yr old Border collie would start digging holes in the front yard? She hasn't done this other years, and it seems to be when it's hot and humid. Is she trying to tell us something? She isn't confined, she lives on quite a bit of property in the country, but wants to dig right in the front yard where the grass is the greenest.

Please help! Peggy

Answer: Peggy-

It does seem a little odd that your border collie would develop a digging habit at ten years of age. We usually think of digging problems as being a sign of boredom, stress, predatory behavior (if they follow mole runs, for instance) and an effort to keep cool.

If something has changed in your dog's routine that might mean less excitement, such as the death of a playmate, longer job hours for the pet's owners or something along those lines, it could cause digging. Some dogs develop separation anxiety problems when they are older, even though they did not have this problem previously.

Stress is always hard to evaluate but a new baby, new pet, changes in family routines, a new neighborhood dog, construction noise the dog can hear and all sorts of other things can lead to increases in stress and sometimes that leads to behavioral changes. Older dogs sometimes seem to need to be close to the family much more than they were in the past and separations may become very anxious times for them.

Avoiding heat is the "natural" reason that dog dig holes. The holes are a little cooler, sometimes provide shade and provide a little hiding place, as well. Things that might increase the need to avoid heat include hypothyroidism, hyperadrenocorticism (HAC, Cushing's disease), heart disease and respiratory problems. Your vet can determine if any of these problems are contributing to the digging behavior.

If this isn't a medical problem and if you think that stress or boredom may be contributing factors, solutions would include bringing her inside more and possibly the use of calming medications, such as clomipramide (Clomicalm Rx). Your vet can also help you decide if it is worth trying medications for the digging behavior. This is a frustrating problem to treat, unless it is possible to provide a lot of interaction between the dog that digs and the people that care for it -- enough to take away the time that the dog uses for digging.

Mike Richards, DVM 7/21/2000

Puppy play behavior

Question: Hi. Thanks for the service. I just brought home two 6 1/2 wk old labs. I am aware that many feel this is unwise because they might not bond as well as they need to with our family. I have three young children (4,5 and 7) who are willing playmates with the pups. I stay at home and think we have enough time to manage this. In the morning, when they are most frisky and ready to exercise, they wrestle/growl/play aggressively. While I realize that this is normal puppy behavior, it seems to be all the behavior that I am trying to get them to stop exhibiting. When they begin this behavior, they pretty much ignore everyone (us) else and obsess over each other. Questions: What should I do? Should I be concerned? We currently crate them together. Should I separate them?

Should we just play with them separately a lot? Should I leash them all the time to prevent this? (we live on a secluded private drive on 12 acres) I should add that this behavior happens primarily first thing in the a.m. when they have been crated for the night. And it doesn't happen until they have pottied, been fed and start to exercise/play. It happens less as the day wears on. By the afternoon, I come downstairs to find the kids reading books/playing games and the dogs asleep under their feet. So after only 3 days they *do* seem to be bonding. Thanks in advance for your help. Tamara

Answer: Tamara-

Puppies are able to distinguish between behavior expectations when interacting with another dog or puppy and when interacting with people. So I would not worry much, or try to change, the interactions they are having between themselves, unless they do start to carry over to interactions between them and the children (if the excitement level gets so high they stop making proper distinctions in behavioral expectations).

While it is likely that the puppies will develop close ties to each other and that may slightly decrease their bonding with the family, I think that may be a really good thing when there are young children, because puppies need to expend A LOT of energy and it is probably best they have each other to expend it on, as this will be easier for the children to take. After the puppies have used gotten over the morning exuberance it will be easier for everyone to play together.

I am not a behaviorist but I don't think there is a problem with the situation as you are describing it and I don't think I would change things. It may help to separate the puppies a few minutes a day to work on simple commands, like sit and stay, or to work on leash training for a few minutes. They may be less distracted if you do separate them to work on these things.

Most of my clients who purchase two puppies at the same time are happy with the decision, so I hope you will be, too.

Mike Richards, DVM 7/9/2000

Fearful of vet visit

Question:We are again taking the girls to Italy for the summer. This entails a number of jabs against Rabies etc. Coco, you will recall, after her three operations (so far successful) for the excision of MCTs, is (understandably) terrified of visiting our vet. Should we give her a tranquilliser before she goes? If so, what do you recommend?


Answer: I am starting to favor the use of a sedative and narcotic pain reliever for dogs that are nervous, especially if pain seems to be part of the fear.

We usually use acepromazine and butorphenol but in a boxer I think I would use diazepam (Valium Rx) and butorphenol or hydrocodone. It would be best to give these medications about an hour prior to the office visit. These medications are available in pill form in the US, so I hope that is the case there, too.

Mike Richards, DVM 5/31/2000


Question: Doctor Mike,

I am so thankful for this website. I need to ask another question regarding my Dalmatian. He is ten years old and within the last year he has started jerking while he is sleeping. Sometimes his paws appear to move in a manner consistent with running but at times the motions get quite aggressive. If I call his name, he stops immediately. If he wakes up he's okay but if he doesn't wake up fully, he resumes the jerking motions within a minute. I assume he is dreaming but he never used to have all this motion. I searched your website for Dalmatian information and there were several messages regarding Dalmatian and seizures, however, he does not loose bowel or bladder function and there is no frothing at the mouth. Occasionally he makes little noises too - like a very muted bark. Is this a common occurrence in older dogs?

What are your thoughts? Donna

Answer: Donna-

This really does sound like dreaming. A number of my clients, over the years, have noticed that their dogs dream more frequently and with more motion or vocalization as they age. You can videotape this and let your vet look at the tape, if you want to be more sure.

Mike Richards, DVM 4/22/2000

Stress from boarding, heat stroke are possible

Q: Dr. Richards,

I have question which I'll ask.

Major problem yesterday with my Irish Setter Kirby. Kirby is a two-year-old male who is generally very hyper and active, extremely affectionate and runs a lot. Took him yesterday to my vet for day boarding because my female is in season; was locating a better kennel ,training area but had to take to the vets for the day. Nothing was done other than boarding. Technicians say that nothing happened-no fights, nothing. When he was picked up he was very lethargic, shaky, cold, wouldn't stand up, shaky on legs, and not himself. Only other problem had been past ear infection which was diagnosed as yeast infection and was treated with Otomax.

Took him to Emergency Animal clinic where they did fecal float, blood panel and exam. Heart rate was a little high when he first came in, then settled down, negative on everything except albumin and WBC which vet claimed could be just stress related and dehydration. Injected fluids subcutaneous, which to my my amazement, the camel-like hump was gone within an hour.

Weather has been hot and humid here but Kirby was inside. Still isn't drinking much although I did coax him to eat some chicken and rice in a chicken broth-and added about an extra cup of water. He was discharged with 750mg twice a day of Cephlexin. No diagnosis-no answers. He was very quiet on the bed all night-hardly moved. Did get him to walk this morning and urinate. Have not seen any stools, although they have been softer lately. Help! Looking for answers. Could it be as simple as stressed out to be left at vets combined with ear infection that won't go away? Any help would be greatly appreciated. He's with me right now at the office-resting. Pat

A: Pat - The short answer to your question is that some dogs do react this badly to being separated from their owners and the stress of an animal hospital or kennel. Especially if they have the bad fortune to be there on a day with a dog that barks incessantly or an aggressive dog charges the front of its cage or run all day. Or if he is one of the dogs that gets upset and barks all day or paces or worries. If you think about it, a dog in a veterinary hospital or kennel really does have a lot to worry about -- he doesn't know if you are coming back, he doesn't know why the other dogs are frightened, or seem hurt, or act sick, etc. That has to be stressful.

I have seen a number of male dogs get these kinds of signs when their housemate, neighbor, or dog down the street is in heat. Male dogs are worse than male humans, even, when it comes to females.

We have seen several dogs in our practice who got heat stroke while inside the house, including at least one case in which the dog died from heatstroke inside an air conditioned house because he was a bulldog and got really excited about a party his owners where holding that day. I could see this happening in a boarding situation pretty easily, too. Especially if he didn't want to drink at the vet hospital because he was upset or if he was pacing and tipping over his water bowl. We have had to take a couple of our patients out of their cages and hold them still long enough for them to drink in order to give them water, because they constantly knocked water bowls out of the holders and tipped them over.

It is still a good idea to have an examination done -- as you have done --- AND to consider having another exam if the signs of inactivity persist. It would be a good idea to check is prostate if another exam is done. Sometimes male dogs seem to get prostatitis when they are excited about females in heat. Prostate gland enlargement and pain will cause rear leg weakness or lameness in some dogs and we have had at least three or four male dogs who refused to stand when affected with this condition, unless forced to do so.

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can cause lethargy for several days. It is important to keep patients affected with these conditions cool and quiet for at least three or four days to try to avoid setbacks in the recovery and secondary complications. It won't hurt to be cautious about this.

I think that your vet would tell you, but the use of a sedative to calm him during the day at the vet hospital is the other possible cause of the observed behavior that I can think of. Very few vets would use a sedative without your permission and without informing you -- but I know of one or two instances in which people have discovered after the fact that their dog was sedated during boarding. This is not likely to be what happened but it has to be included in a list of thoughts on why a boarded dog might have symptoms similar to what you have seen.

Hope he has recovered by now -- but keep him cool and quiet even if he seems fine. And think about a re-examination if the signs persist. And don't forget that there is a reason they use the term "love-sick" -- it could be the problem, too!

Mike Richards, DVM 7/16/99

Dog Chasing cats

Q: Hi Dr. Mike,

I adopted an 8-month old dobe yesterday (65 pounds). He's a very sweet, lovable dog. I also have two cats, one nearly 6 years and another 18-months old. We are having problems with the dobe chasing the cats. They are indoor cats only. The dobe is indoor/outdoor. He just wants to play but when they run he chases. How do I train or condition the dog not to chase the cats?

I have the cats closed off in a separate area because I don't want to encourage the chasing. I've tried using a spray bottle and firm voice while the dobe is on the leash but he still wants to go after them.

The cats are terrified of him. Even when the dobe was outdoors today the cats would not come out of their room. Later, I tried holding them to introduce them with my husband holding the dobe on a leash but that didn't work either. I really want this to work out but need professional help. The rescue lady will take him back if it doesn't work but we would hate doing that. Is there hope? My husband is doubtful. Your advice would be much appreciated.

Thanks, Diane

A: Diane-

It is very hard to stop a dog from chasing cats when it has a strong urge to do so. The hardest behaviors to change are the instinctive ones and chasing small animals is pretty instinctive in dogs. It is possible to change this habit in many dogs (not all) but it does take time and patience. If it is your impression that he really wants to catch the cats and possibly harm them, I think I would recommend letting him go back to the rescue group. If not, then there may be more time to think this through.

I am at home, without my behavioral reference texts. I am not even close to being a behavioral expert but the texts may have some advice. I will check on those tomorrow and relay any information I find.

If you are determined to work this out and there is a certified animal behaviorist or board certified veterinary behaviorist in your region, they would be a good source of qualified help. Your vet may be able to refer you to one of these people if someone is available in your area.

For now, keeping them separate is a good idea.

Mike Richards, DVM 2/8/99

Eating rocks

Q: Dear Dr. Richards,

We have just adopted an 11 week old Saluki puppy. He has been with us now for only 4 days. His breeder mentioned that the entire litter had started to consume rocks recently— A sudden thing. Well the puppy is here and he does consume rocks. Lots of them and large ones too— 1" or so in diameter. Last night he threw up a couple of that size. He also passes the smaller ones in his stool. I feed ams brand minichunks combined with Iams lamb and rice puppy food and supplement with whole boiled eggs, tuna fish, cottage cheese, occasional table scraps that include vegetables etc. he has a good supply of bones to chew on and a variety of different textured toys as well. He is a little thin, even for a saluki, but looks and acts very healthy otherwise. His stools look healthy too. I am worried that the rocks may eventually lead to an intestinal blockage, since I have seen it happen twice in an adult borzoi with that same habit. Is this just a normal phase that he'll outgrow, or is there any thing dietary or otherwise we can do to contain it? If you reprimand, it only causes him to swallow whatever is in his mouth that much faster.

Your newsletter is an enormous help. Thank you for this wonderful service.


A: Daniela-

I will search for more information on this for you but currently, I am not aware of a good way to stop rock swallowing. I have researched this pretty well in the past because my rottweiler went through several months of swallowing any rocks picked up and we were worried that it would cause problems, too. As you already know, this is a realistic fear. I have had to remove rocks surgically several times because they were obstructing the intestines and in at least one of those cases we had to remove a fairly large portion of the intestine due to the damage caused by the rock obstruction. In a dog with this habit stops eating it is essential to consider the possibility of an obstruction.

I'm sorry I can't help more with this problem.

Mike Richards, DVM

Anxiety behavior (destructive)

Q: Dr. Mike, I have a 6 yr. old mutt (doberman & lab) who, up to 2 days ago, has been a very even tempered dog. She's at home with a cat all day while I'm at work. Two days ago, she jumped through a screen after having chewed through it and ran 2 miles away, thankfully caught by the police in town. Yesterday, my mom checked on her mid afternoon and found that she, again, tried to escape from the house as evidenced by digging up the vinyl floor in the kitchen, chewing at the doors (only at the back of the house) and more screen damage. She appears to be very agitated after these incidents. She seems to be trying to flee from something. She's never acted like this before. I moved into the house 4 months ago, so I don't think it's an adjustment problem, I'm thinking she's being provoked to the point of being so frightened she tries to flee the area (also unusual for her). Any thoughts? Thanks renee

A: Renee- Dogs hear much better than people do and will sometimes react to things like construction or changes in traffic noises that are inapparent to their owners unless they are very observant. Dogs will also sometimes manage to injure or frighten themselves in some way at home that is inapparent to their owners. We have had several instances of sudden onset separation anxiety that related to things like this. In one instance a neighbor was having rock delivered for a sea wall and one of my client's dogs became very upset about the construction trucks, running away from home for the first time in eight years of living there. She continues to be frightened of trucks with no known reason for it (no evidence she was injured in any way by the presence of the trucks).

Despite the sudden onset and the severity of the signs you are seeing this sort of behavior will often respond to the typical treatments for separation anxiety . It can be helpful to use anti-anxiety medications for the first few weeks while attempting to retrain a dog to accept the absence of its owners. Your vet can help with this aspect of treatment and you can check out the information on separation anxiety found on our site by checking the Dog Index.

Good luck with this problem. Mike Richards, DVM

Fear of Noise

Q: My 7 month old female border collie is extremely afraid of noise. eg. helicopter goes overhead, mix master, vacuum, saw. She will run away and hide. Can you help me help her get over this. J & J

A: You may be able to condition your dog to these sorts of sounds by getting recordings of them (they sell sound effect CDs and records) and playing them at very low volume on the stereo, then gradually increase the sound intensity until your dog becomes accustomed to the noises. It is probably best to get advice on this from a behaviorist, if possible, since the conditioning technique works better if you can recognize the first signs of nervousness and just push to that level with the sound. Also, different dogs need to work at different speeds and having the help of someone who has done this sort of thing before is useful. A very nervous dog might do better if an anti-anxiety medication is used in conjunction with training. You might want to talk to your vet about this, since these are prescription medications. Your vet may know of a good behaviorist in your area, too.

Hope this helps some. Mike Richards, DVM

Chewing problems

Q: Dear Dr.Mike, I have a male black lab, Dalmatian mix who is almost a year old that still chew EVERYTHING in sight. He cannot be left alone at any time, unlike our other Dalmatian that has free run of the house when we are home. He has to stay in a metal kennel at night with a metal bottom because he chews all of the blankets we give him to shreds. I tried laying down a piece of rug on the bottom of the kennel, but he demolished it. He chews anything he can, including the walls and carpeting. Is he still teething? We didn't have this problem with our other dog, ever. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, n.

A: You Dalmatian is not still teething, all of the permanent teeth should be in by 8 months of age. This is a behavior that is occurring for some other reason.

There are several common reasons that dogs destroy property. This can happen if the dog is a high energy playful dog that just destroys things because it is playing inappropriately. It can occur in dogs that are frustrated by territorial invasions they can not respond to because they are penned, in the house or in a crate. Some dogs are afraid of something that happens when owners are away (an example would be construction noises in the neighborhood that an owner might not even be aware of). Other dogs have separation anxiety. These dogs are so distraught over the absence of their owners that they tear up doors, crates, windows, etc. in an apparent attempt to free themselves or just to rid themselves of the anxiety. Dogs do not seem to be spiteful -- at least they don't seem to be able to put together a plan like "I'll get even with those people for leaving me alone by destroying the couch". So it is important to remember that if the underlying problem can be found and treated there is a very good chance of successfully overcoming the behavior.

It would be very helpful with the degree of problem you are seeing to talk with a veterinary behaviorist if at all possible. Your vet may be able to refer you to a behaviorist in your area. If this is not possible perhaps your vet would be willing to let work with you to resolve this problem.

Increasing the time spent interacting with your dog in an activity that uses a lot of energy can be helpful with almost any behavioral problem. Writing a log of when the problem occurs and what happens each time for a week or so will sometimes give you insight into which of the possible problems is leading to the destructive behavior. Mike Richards, DVM

Difficult Pup

Q: Dear Dr. Mike, My family recently adopted a 9 month-old male Australian Shepherd. He is a very active dog and I spend time each day training and walking him. I previously owned a Border Collie mix that required just as much work. The problem that I am having is that the Australian Shepherd chases my cats and just today tried to kill my cockatiel. My Border Collie was raised around cats and birds and never had attacked other animals. It was my understanding that Australian Shepherd were very similar to Border Collie in terms of personality and behavior. I know that Aussies are raised as herding dogs, but our puppy was raised around cats and birds. Also the Australian Shepherd tends to jump on my 4 year old trying to knock her over. I have been working with him to train him not to jump on her. I am at my wits end. I don't feel it is fair to my 2 cats and cockatiel to have to be in constant fear of a dog attacking him. I need to know if there is anything that can be done to modify his behavior. My vet has just said it takes time for the animals to get used to each other. I feel that if I don't give the dog back to the breeder I will end up up with a dead cat or bird. (My 2 cats are very passive and don't even go after the bird). Please advise. The chaos is getting out of hand. Thanks.

A: Sometimes it is best to cut your losses and give up on a situation. I think that you may be in that position right now. It is very very difficult to change behaviors that are fun or instinctive.

I am not that familiar with Australian shepherds but most herding breeds like to chase cats so I think it is actually unusual that your border collie doesn't. This is both instinctive and fun -- a very hard combination to control.

A young child almost never has the strength, physically or mentally, to discipline a dog on a consistent basis. This makes teaching them not to jump on children more difficult, especially at 9 months of age or so. Many dogs do seem to recognize that jumping on children isn't fun after they do it a few times and the child quits playing or quits paying attention to them but that does not consistently happen.

Unless you have a lot of time and your vet or someone you know can refer you to a very good trainer or a good animal behaviorist, I think that you will find it hard to train this puppy.

I hate to be so pessimistic but over the years I have been in practice it seems to me that most people have a very hard time training a difficult pet without help. It can be done but it is uncommon. If you are determined to keep the puppy (which is an admirable thing, if so) then get the help you need. If you feel you can not handle the situation, everyone is probably better off.

Good luck with this. Mike Richards, DVM

Probably Dreaming

Q: I sent a question on my cat - this about my dog Male neutered Lab Dalmation mix. I don't know if he is a little hyper or if just has an attitude, but I have been concerned about him. He was a stray and we were told that they saw the people that had him just drive by and throw him out the window of the car. He was aprox 3 months old. He was very leery of people when we brought him in. Abused? We don't know . Anyway I wanted to know if you think he could be having seizures or just bad dreams? He's almost a year old now and I have just been noticing this for about 3 months. It doesn't seem to be when he is awake, only when he's asleep or just starting to doze. His eyes will roll, his body especially his hind legs will get stiff like a muscle cramp, and his breathing gets very fast and irregular, and he makes high pitched sounds that almost sound like crying in a sobbing rhythm. Not screaming or loud but loud enough to hear him in another room. I go to him massage his muscles try to wake him soothingly and after he wakes he's fine sometimes it will happen as soon as he goes back to sleep, sometimes not. Any ideas what this is?

A: I think that being thrown out of a car window counts as abuse, but the history prior to that is hard to know, as you point out. What you are seeing is almost certainly dreaming. The "R.E.M." or rapid eye movement sleep portion of sleeping is the time when people seem to dream and probably the same is true for dogs. Why some dogs have more restlessness when dreaming is hard to say --- but I suppose they could be having nightmares or very exciting dreams. Mike Richards, DVM

Strange behavior after vet visit (dog):

Q: I just had my 2 year old, male neutered pitbull mixed to the vet for his annual visit and shots. This visit is so traumatic, that my dog must be tranquilized (acepromazine) before hand. Visit was a success, dog healthy. However, 2 days after the visit, I came home to find him mounting a chair cushion in the middle of the room. He must have been doing this for some time, as his tongue was hanging out and he was exhausted. This behavior has continued for several days, I am at home all day now. The last time I remember this behavior was after him being neutered for a period of time (1 1/2 yrs ago). Is this a normal reaction to the stress or should I be concerned and take corrective measure??? Thanking you in advance

A: Some of the adrenal hormones do have enough resemblance to the sex hormones that it might be possible for stress to induce this kind of behavior. I don't recall any similar cases from our practice, though. I am not aware of this sort of problem as a reaction to acepromazine, either. I do think it might be worth waiting it out just a bit, though. Mostly because the only things I know to do for these sorts of problems involve administration of progesterones and they do have significant side effects in some dogs. So I wouldn't rush into using them. It would be a good idea to call your vet, too -- I only know what I have experienced or read and there is a lot of information out there. Mike Richards, DVM

Car sickness

Dogs generally become sick in the car because they are frightened, not because they have real motion sickness. It is necessary to reassure your dog that these fears are groundless (which might be hard depending on how you drive). You need to get your dog used to the car by taking trips that are short enough that your dog does not exhibit the typical signs of car sickness- drooling, vomiting, etc. It may be necessary to start out by just sitting in the car together and giving your dog a treat after a few minutes. Then take very short rides followed by a treat - even if you can only make it to the end of the driveway. Gradually increase the length of the trips until your dog enjoys the car rides.

If you don't want your dog in the car, but find it necessary on occasion, you can use tranquilizers to control the nervousness with good success in most dogs. Your vet will have one that works well for him or her.

Some dogs really have motion sickness. It is possible that dramamine will work in these dogs but even in these dogs tranquilizers like acepromazine that also have anti-emetic properties usually work well.

Mike Richards, DVM

Introducing Dogs and Cats

Q: I have a 2 year old German shepherd mix and my partner has 2 cats. We are in the process of consolidating our two households into one. What are the best ways to have our animals meet and accept each other. They have not met up to this point. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

A: I have not seen much advice from behaviorists on introducing cats and dogs in a household. There is some information on introducing cats to cats or dogs to dogs. So I can only give you a little advice, based on what I have seen.

There are two big potential problems. If your dog does not like cats, particularly if he or she has a track record of chasing or hurting them, that would be a major complication. If the cats have not met a dog before or are already conditioned to respond to the approach of a dog aggressively, that is also going to be a major problem. I am hoping that neither of these problems are present since you didn't mention them.

If your dog has never met really met a cat and your partner's cats have never really met a dog, I think it would be best to introduce them at the cat's house. This way, your dog will be a little hesitant to be aggressive and a little more likely to give the cats a chance. Plus, the cats know the territory so if they are frightened they may chose to run for a favorite hiding place rather than respond aggressively. Keep your dog on a leash and don't make a big deal of the cats. Just make a few trips to the house and let them notice each other at their own speed. As long as things seem to be going OK, you may find that there isn't a worry and that the cats and dog will do fine. If a problem occurs it would be best to try to find a veterinary or animal behaviorist in your area to help with the introduction. Your vet may be able to refer you to one.

If it is not possible to find a behaviorist, then it might help to follow the advice for introducing cats to cats. The standard advice in this case is to keep them separated in different parts of the house -- but to switch the part they occupy each day so that they have to get used to each others scents and presence. When the searching activity slows on your dog's part and the cats seem less nervous/aggressive/frightened then try slowing introducing them while keeping control of your dog -- only because your dog is more likely to be able to seriously harm the cats than the other way around. Eventually, dogs and cats seem to accept each other in almost all cases. If your dog does show aggression, it may be a long and difficult process, though.

Mike Richards, DVM

Electronic Fence - will it help with anxious dog

Q: Hi, our 1 year old labrador retriever is a beautiful pet, except!!! he eats the walls in our laundry room. It is a small room [8x10] where we keep him when we`re not home [which isn`t very often]. He only started this at about 8 months of age and he doesn`t do it every time. We also have a 12 year old Lab who has the run of the house. We can trust her. Do you think the cause of this is being separated from her? We don`t want to leave him out with her because he pesters her so much and she has a bad leg. Any corrective methods we can use? We tried putting tabasco sauce on the wall but he just went to a different place, the wall has about 9 holes now. Help before their totally gone!

A: The most likely problem is separation anxiety. The electronic fences work if the dog is trained according to the directions and they are not one of the dogs who are willing to take the shock of the fence in order to chase cars or play with other dogs. They have one major drawback, which is that they do not keep other dogs from coming onto your property. This is a big problem if your dog is aggressive towards other dogs or if aggressive dogs visit your property. Also, they can be a problem if your dog is aggressive towards people like mailmen or delivery men who may not notice that the dog is free in the yard. Overall, I'd say that more of my clients who use these fences are happy with them than are not happy with them. I have worked on two dogs who chased cars despite the fences and were injured by the cars. One of these dogs died, so there can be serious consequences when the fences don't work.

Mike Richards, DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...