Behavior

The DiVot Code

      While conducting some ‘field research’ for my latest article, I was fortunate to stumble upon a secret society that knows the answer to one of the world’s most perplexing mysteries.  For years, The Knights Fescue have closely guarded the truth, but they let me into the inner circle and now I can finally explain “Why do dogs eat grass?”

     Insisting that we meet on his turf, the Chief of The Knights Fescue gave me directions to his hidden fortress—the Temple of Sod.  It was located in the old, seedy side of town.  The Chief Knight was dressed in green and wore a ceremonial blade around his waist.

            When I asked why dogs eat grass?, the Knight answered, “Because they don’t have thumbs.”  He went on to explain that dogs understand their world based on how it feels in their mouth. Dogs test everything for pressure, taste, and texture. Since they can’t pick things up with their paws, everything ends up in the mouth!

            “But some dogs will chew on grass to make themselves sick.  Why is that?”

            The Knight leaned forward and spoke in hushed tones.  “That’s not exactly true,” he said.  “Dogs can actually throw up any time they want.  It’s as easy as wagging their tail.”  I couldn’t believe it!

            “Really,” he continued, “they can control the muscle up and down their esophagus—so when they want to throw up—they just do it.”

            “Yet, all dog owners have seen their pet eat some grass and then become sick.”

            The Knight germinated on this for a moment.  “Yes, we have to weed out the fact from the fiction. Some dogs will eat grass to try and settle their stomach.  This is a lot like a person who will eat a few crackers to curb nausea.”

            “Why do so many dogs have upset stomachs?”

            “Usually, it’s because they ate too quickly or too much. Sometimes, it’s because they ate some people food or cat food!”  I liked this Knight . . . he was down-to-earth.

            “Is there a special nutrient in grass that helps settle the stomach?”

            “No, grass is about 80 percent water and about 20 percent fiber. It doesn’t have much nutritional value—particularly when you only have one stomach!  Dogs and people digest their food the same way—when is the last time you saw a person eating hay?”

            “Are dogs eating grass out of some instinctive need for more fiber or vitamins in their diet?”

            “Ha ha,” he laughed, “you do have a fertile imagination.  No, dogs can’t sense the nutrients in grass any more than you crave bran muffins when you’re constipated. Or do you?”  Though his piercing look could have mowed me over, the cutting edge answers were beginning to grow on me.

            The Knight continued, “Let me plant this idea--- when it comes to eating grass, dogs are pretty simple. If the grass smells good, has a nice texture, or tastes good, then they are going to eat it.  Dogs eat grass for the same reasons that people chew gum—it gives them something to do. ”

            A bell chimed in the Temple of Sod and I knew that our interview was at an end.  Without another word, the Knight Fescue jumped on his riding lawn mower and puttered away.

           

           

            

I know why the caged mouse sings . . .

A Story of The Birds and The Bees  . . . and Mice

                 "I Want You To Want Me"

                "I Want You To Want Me"

          A few years ago, researchers discovered that male mice sing. You may have heard the news, but you haven’t heard the singing, because mice apparently sing at frequencies beyond our range of hearing.  Thank goodness for that, Alvin and the Chipmunks are annoying enough.

This ‘discovery’ seems to have caught scientists and Mouseketeers by surprise.  Yet, it doesn’t shock me.  Males of all species will do anything to get the attention of females. Whether it is through brightly colored feathers or fur, elaborate dances, or singing in a high school rock band, males expend a lot of energy to get noticed.

Now the race is on to determine if other species of rodents also like to serenade their potential girlfriends.  Perhaps there will be some useful applications for this knowledge. I can’t wait for the first mouse trap that emits the ultrasonic love song of mice—they could call it the “Love Shack—Mice Check In But They Don’t Check Out.”

After hearing about the singing mice, I started to wonder if males go through elaborate courtship rituals because they have to “prove” that they are worth the trouble to their mate.  Just the same, performing a song or a dance still isn’t a very big price to pay when compared to the difficulty and risk of pregnancy—whether you’re a mouse, bird, or a humpback whale.

Of course, there is one group of animals where the male carries the young, and that’s Seahorses.  A quick internet search revealed that even in the case of seahorses, it is the male that approaches the she-horse and impresses her with upside down swimming and fancy color variations.  So, it appears that showing off is a male thing, regardless of the species.

In our domestic cats, however, it is the female that does most of the talking when she’s “in the mood.”  (Though, I hardly think that her vocalizations are considered to be singing by any person within functioning ears.)  Female cats are called Queens, and when it comes to getting pregnant, they really are royalty. Every time a female cat is bred, the likelihood of becoming pregnant is nearly 100 percent, because the act of mating actually induces the eggs to be released just in time for fertilization.

Female dogs emit special scents to signal when they are looking for love.  And every intact male dog within nose range gets the message. I end up treating a lot of dogs in the clinic that were hit by a car or injured when they escaped from the backyard in the hopes of sniffing out their future mate.  In the dog world, looking for boyfriend or girlfriend may be hazardous to their health!

As you know, mice are similar enough to people that they are used in the laboratory to learn more about ‘what makes us tick.’  Perhaps this discovery about singing mice will help explain the peculiar popularity of bars that offer Karaoke singing . . . but probably not.

 

Please feel free to distribute this article (at no charge) via all media— all I ask is that you give credit to the author and furrbits.com.  You will find Dr. Jon Klingborg at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital. www.vahmerced.com  Copyright 2012 by Jon Klingborg.

Getting Dogs Over "The Hump"

leg.jpg

          Since this blog is rated PG-13, we must approach the current canine problem in a delicate fashion. However, leg humping in dogs is a serious problem that is serious-- seriously embarrassing, that is. . . 

         After watching commercials during sporting events, I’ve noticed that embarrassing problems are given initials, so from here on out, I am going to refer leg humping as Canine Mounting Behavior-- and we're going to call it  'CMB.'

CMB is usually seen in young puppies.  Male or female, this problem behavior is not gender specific. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that CMB isn’t even a sexual behavior in most cases, because these puppies haven’t gone through puberty.

     Instead, CMB is a sign of dominance, or ‘ownership,’ as I like to think of it.  When a puppy displays CMB on a pillow or toy or another dog or a person’s leg, that puppy is actually saying “I own you.”  Left untreated, CMB is not only embarrassing for the owner, but it also creates a bratty dog that thinks that he owns everything and will refuse to respect everyone.

  It’s not “puppy love” that is making your dog mount toys, blankets, or your leg.

It’s not “puppy love” that is making your dog mount toys, blankets, or your leg.

     If your puppy is less than 6 months of age and is displaying CMB, then this most assuredly is a behavior problem and not a sign that she or he is “in love.”  Remember, most puppies go through puberty between 8-9 months of age (though it can be as early as 6 months of age in some cases.)

     Adult dogs tend to be very forgiving with puppies, and they will tolerate CMB because they realize that young dogs have no manners. However, if you allow the puppy to repeatedly display CMB on the adult dog, then you are actually sending a message that the puppy may be in charge.

     It is important to correct CMB as soon as it begins, and it starts with a clear, loud, firm “No!”  Clapping the hands or providing some other sort of distracting noise can send a message that this behavior is unacceptable.  For goodness sake, don’t laugh at the dog, because this just encourages more bad behavior.

     Some puppies are so stubborn that we need to place a long leash on them and give a firm tug on the leash whenever he’s being naughty (and say “no.”) Of course, if a puppy continues to “own” a particular pillow or toy, then take it away.

     A repeat offender doesn’t deserve to play with the rest of the pack (human or canine), and isolation can be an effective punishment for some dogs, but the puppy must be immediately isolated as soon as the behavior begins.

 The alpha rollover-- used appropriately-- can send a message to a bad dog that he needs to behave!

The alpha rollover-- used appropriately-- can send a message to a bad dog that he needs to behave!

     It is important for your dog to respect you and the normal pack order within your household. If a dog keeps displaying CMB with people or dogs, then he doesn’t respect those individuals.  In extreme cases, I have had to roll a dominant, misbehaving puppy on his back (just like a top dog would do) in order to teach him that I am the boss and he isn’t.

     Don’t expect a dominant puppy to like getting that message—many will try to bite their owner and have a tantrum when being held on his back.   You must hold the puppy until he has submitted by no longer struggling or having a tantrum.

     When adult dogs engage in CMB with people, it is a very worrisome sign that they don’t respect those people at all. An owner who tolerates CMB in their adult dog actually reinforces the message that the dog is in charge—and that dog will assert his dominance in other ways—often by soiling in the house, refusing to eat dog food, or running away whenever he is called.  I don’t recommend rolling adult dogs on their back—unless you have been advised to do so by a dog training professional who knows you and your dog.

     Having a pet spayed or neutered (at about 6 months of age) will eliminate a lot of the dominance (ownership) behaviors that we see in intact pets.  Even ‘fixed’ dogs have a certain pack order, but they don’t usually need to assert it as much as intact canines.  Certainly, if your adult dog is exhibiting CMB, he or she should be fixed (immediately!) and enrolled in obedience classes—both activities will improve your dog’s overall personality, as well as his respect for you and the rules of the household.

 

Please feel free to distribute this article via all media— all I ask is that you give the author and Valley Animal Hospital credit.  You will find Dr. Jon Klingborg at the best veterinary hospital in Merced, California– Valley Animal Hospital.  www.vahmerced.com  You may reach him at docjon@furrbits.com.  Copyright 2012 by Jon Klingborg.

About Talking to the Animals

by Dr. Jon Klingborg

I always seem to have an ongoing conversation with my pets.  From asking them ‘how is your day going?’ to ‘would you like a treat?,’ every thought is conveyed in  a complete sentences.  At least the family dog makes me feel a little like Dr. Dolittle, the fictitious English physician who could talk with the animals.  Our cat seems to regard every conversation as a prompt for me to fill his food dish, whereas the chinchilla and finches aren’t very interested in what I have to say.

            There are a few studies published that maintain dogs can understand over 100 separate words.  It is said that some dogs have the ‘vocabulary’ of a three-year old child.  In 2004, scientists were excited to find a dog named Rico was shown to possess a cognitive skill called ‘free mapping.’ 

            Free Mapping is a sort of process-of-elimination, and is one of the ways that children learn to pick up language so quickly. If you ask a child to get a type of fruit that she’s never seen (a tangerine, for example), if the youngster sees and identifies the bananas and apples that are also in the fruit bowl, she will select the tangerine because it is not one of the fruits that she recognizes.

            Rico the dog was also able to use the process of free mapping to select the correct object when it was placed with other toys that he had already ‘named.’  Certainly, most dog owners have eventually reached the point where they are spelling key words such as t-r-e-a-t or w-a-l-k in front of the dog.  Whether or not dogs have a three-year old child’s vocabulary, they definitely don’t seem to spell very well.

            So, how do we develop this cognitive skill in dogs without having to buy “Canine Einstein” DVDs for them to watch?  Dog trainers will tell you to use simple key words that have one or two syllables at most, a different word should be used for each command, and the words shouldn’t rhyme with “No.”              One word that owners mistakenly use in two contexts is “down”.  Owners will order a “down” when a dog has jumped on them when they should have used the word “off.”  A real “down” is used to direct a dog to lie down after a “sit.”

            It’s important to keep the language simple because dogs are masters of reading the owner’s body language more than just focusing on the words.  With my (not-so-gifted) pooch, whenever I move toward the door and ask her ‘do you want to go outside?,’ she gets up and goes outside.  Now, if I move toward the door and ask her ‘do you want to get eaten by a bear?.’ she will still get up and go outside with enthusiasm.  However, if I move toward the door and say ‘do you want a treat?’— well, shame on me--- I just uttered a magic word that will cause conflict and confusion to her doggie brain. 

            There are many types of intelligence, and your dog doesn’t have to know 150 words to be at the top of the class. In fact, instead of a spelling bee to test your dog’s smarts, perhaps it would be more fun to have a “smelling bee.”  That’s a competition your dog is bound to enjoy!