Dog Behavior - Normal or Not?

Does your dog enjoy barking at things out the window? How about stopping every three feet on walks to smell things? Or perhaps they love digging huge holes in your backyard? What if we told you that these are all completely normal canine behaviors? That’s right, barking, digging, humping… all completely normal behaviors for dogs.

Barking - There’s only one breed of dog that doesn’t bark, which means your dog most likely has that ability. And they’re probably going to use it. Barking serves multiple functions for a dog - it can be a warning, attention-seeking, play barking, frustration-based, or even out of boredom. While barking can be loud and annoying, your dog is performing a completely normal canine behavior. Luckily, consistent, positive training can help with barking. 

Chewing - Destructive chewing is an understandably frustrating behavior… but it’s also completely normal. Dog’s aren’t automatically born with the knowledge of what makes an appropriate chew toy, so it’s up to their owners to teach them what items are appropriate, and which are off limits. This behavior can become abnormal if it is related to separation anxiety (dogs who become so agitated when their owners leave that they chew and destroy items around the house, or even windows or doors). It is also abnormal if your dog chews and then ingests non-edible objects (which can cause intestinal blockages). 

Humping - This one can be embarrassing, especially if your dog decides they want to hump your dinner guest’s leg, or all of the dogs at the dog park. This can be normal, especially for intact (un-neutered or un-spayed) dogs. It can also be a form of play, especially in undersocialized dogs. Sometimes it can also be a response to stress or excitement. While neutering often helps reduce this behavior in intact animals, some dogs will always have a tendency to mount other dogs (or people). Luckily, this can be managed with training and behavior modification. 

Digging - Do you have a dog who digs? Some dogs find digging tons of fun, and will gleefully dig through your flowerbeds if given the chance. While annoying, especially if you really enjoy your garden, this one is mostly harmless, unless your dog is digging its way out from under your fence. Giving them an alternate place to dig (like a sandbox or designated dirt area) can be very enriching for your dog!

Food Guarding - Food can be a valuable resource for a dog, so it’s no wonder that some dogs react when other animals or people get near them during mealtime. Oftentimes this can be easily dealt with with simple management. Other times, like if there are small children in the house, training may be needed to teach the dog that humans approaching their food isn’t cause for concern. 

Aggression - Aggression? Normal? Absolutely. Dog’s aren’t aggressive just for the sake of being aggressive - there is almost always something driving that behavior. Often, it is based in fear, and the dog is reacting to an external stimulus (such as receiving a vaccine at the vet). Understanding what is happening to cause that behavior can help us determine how to deal with this behavior. Dogs can behavior in an aggressive manner for any number of reasons - they can be fearful, in pain, territorial, defensive, protective, or even predatory (like a dog chasing down a rabbit). Training and behavior modification can go a long way in dealing with aggression. This behavior becomes abnormal when there are no stimuli driving the behavior (or when there is seemingly no reason for it). Cases of aggression are often referred to a Veterinary Behaviorist for management. 

Behavior Changes in Senior Pets

Age-related behavior changes are common in senior or geriatric animals, although you may not immediately realize those changes are occurring. Cognitive dysfunction can affect both cats and dogs, and knowing the signs of those brain changes could make caring for your aging pet a little easier. 

Dogs who are experiencing cognitive changes often seem disoriented - forgetting which side of the door they are supposed to go through, or wandering restlessly around the house. They may also seemingly forget behaviors that they’ve known for years, like sit or shake. They may become clingier, wanting to be around their owners more often, or alternately, they may prefer to keep to themselves. Often they will show regression in their house-training, and begin having accidents in the house more frequently. Some dogs will also show signs of interrupted sleep, and may wake up in the middle of the night to move around or pace. Older dogs showing signs of cognitive dysfunction can also become fearful or anxious in situations where they weren’t before. 

Cats can be affected by cognitive dysfunction as well. Many cats are living longer and longer, sometimes into their late teens and early twenties! Unfortunately, with old age often comes chronic medical issues and cognitive changes. Behavioral changes in cats often include a change in litterbox habits, a change in sleeping patterns, confusion and disorientation, and vocalizing, often at night. You may also see a change in eating and grooming habits. 

It’s important to rule out any medical reasons for behavior changes. Animals are quite good at hiding signs of pain, and many older pets are prone to chronic pain from arthritis. They may spend more time lying down or sleeping, move slower on walks, and may not seek out physical attention. They may growl or snap when a person or another animal touches them in a painful area, and while it sometimes seems like this behavior comes out of the blue, it’s often driven by chronic pain. 

For older dogs, try to give them their own space, where they can get away from small children or younger pets. Regular exercise helps with keeping muscle condition, and can help stiff joints moving. Continued training has been shown to help with cognitive function, plus it’s a fun way to spend time with your dog, especially if they are no longer able to keep up on long walks. 

With cats, making changes for aging bodies can go a long way. Older cats who suffer from arthritis can benefit from a litterbox with lower sides, making it easier for them to get in and out. If they are having difficulty jumping up onto furniture or windows, many companies make small steps or ramps for older pets. Continuing to interact with them by offering toys, food puzzles, and playtime can help keep both their mind and body active. 

Regular veterinary visits are recommended for senior pets. We perform full physical exams, checking for any new lumps or bumps, assessing vision, hearing, and dental health, and checking for any changes in mobility, or pain during normal range of motion tests. We also check bloodwork for any metabolic changes that could be affecting your pet’s behavior. Age is not a disease, but knowing what changes to look for can make the aging process a lot easier for both you and your pet.

Road Trips - How to Turn Your Pet Into an Easy Rider

Warmer weather, longer days - summer is in full swing! And with this season many of us finally hit the open road to tackle long awaited travel plans.  Whether it be a quick trip to a backyard barbeque, a day-long drive to the beach, or a cross-country road trip, our pets often hitch a ride and join us as travel companions. 

Traveling can be exciting, but also stressful even for the most organized and seasoned traveler. Our pets can also become stressed , whether by sensing our own travel anxieties or being triggered by suitcases, the crate, or changes in schedule.  Here are some tips to turn the rough waters of travel into a smooth sailing vacation!

Be Prepared

Ideally, the first time your pet experiences a car ride should not be the start of a multi-day road trip. Try to acclimate your pet to car rides by taking them on shorter drives leading up to the big trip. This way, you can determine how your pet behaves in the car. Do they get horrible motion sickness and vomit? Do they stress, pant, and whine the entire time? Be sure to talk with your veterinarian to determine if your pet would benefit from anti-nausea or anti-anxiety medications prior to travel. 

Crated Confinement

For car rides, it is safest for your pet to be confined in a crate large enough for them to stand up and turn around in.  If your pet must ride outside the crate, there are harnesses that clip into seatbelts, because everyone should always buckle up! Despite it’s adorable imagery, having your pet stick it’s head out the window can be dangerous, as we can never predict how they will react when scared or startled - and your joy ride may turn into a foot race if your pup decides to jump out the window!  Debris from the road and air can also cause serious damage to the eyes.

Identification is Everything

During any travel, always make sure your pet has identifiable tags and a current rabies license. That way, should your pet decide to go on a walkabout or if they get into a rumble with another traveling canine, you can be appropriately alerted. Additionally, microchipping is a permanent way for your pet to always be linked to your contact information. 

Bring a Doggy Bag

Your pet needs a suitcase, too! Be sure to bring a leash, waste bags, a travel or collapsible water bowl, and bottles of water. That way, even if you aren’t near a rest stop you will be able to meet you pup’s hydration needs. Additionally, it is also a good idea to prevent your pet from drinking from unknown water sources or puddles to prevent tummy upset or worse, bacterial and parasite infections. Be sure to also bring any medication your pet needs, a favorite toy, and a blanket or pillow with the familiar smell of home. Depending on how well your pet tolerates the car, you may want to avoid feeding them during active travel. Rather, feed them an hour or two before and again once you have checked in for the night. 

Papers, please

It is always a good idea to travel with your pet’s rabies certificate, as it is required when entering certain states. Depending on where you are traveling, your pet may need a domestic health certificate as well, with proof of recent vaccinations. 

Stop at Rest Stops

Even though your pet may be a champion at bladder control, a car ride is not the time to test their limits! Be sure to make frequent stops every 3-4 hours to allow your pet to stretch, go for a walk, and relieve themselves.  

The Cardinal Rule…

NEVER leave your pet unattended in the car! They pose a serious flight risk if you end up leaving the windows partially open. If you leave the windows open just a “crack” to keep them confined within the car, the interior temperature can rise 10-15 degrees every 10 minutes! That means that even on a cool 70 degree summer day, a quick 20 minute stop at Starbucks can turn your car into a 100 degree sauna! Left in these temperatures, pets can develop heat stroke, which is a potentially fatal condition.